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July 24, 2009

Identity, Bias, and the Reasonable Man Standard

When I first heard Henry Louis Gates Jr. proclaim that he was arrested for being a black man in America, I had to laugh. His story reminded me of a similar encounter my husband (a white, male Marine Colonel) had with a police officer during his two week leave from a year long deployment to Iraq. I was there when it happened, and I saw the whole thing.

We were driving along a back country road near our home in Western Maryland. We threaded our way through woods and corn fields and suddenly came upon something we did not expect: a construction site with bulldozers and enormous trucks. One half of the road was closed off, forcing us to detour into the oncoming lane of traffic. Normally when this happens, there are flagmen out to direct traffic. But since this road was deserted (we hadn't seen another car in over 5 minutes) it seemed reasonable to assume drivers would look ahead onto the stick straight roadway for oncoming cars before venturing into the other lane to bypass the cones on our side of the road. It seemed unreasonable to detour 10 miles out of our way and there was no indication the road was closed, so we pulled into the oncoming lane to pass the cones and continued on our way.

Our passage through the construction site was uneventful.

But a very short time after we passed it, we were puzzled to come upon a line of cones stretching all the way across the road. This time, both lanes were completely blocked. Again there was not a soul in sight, nor was there a sign to let us know why the cones were there. Looking to the right and left of the cones, the grass was tamped down where other vehicles had obviously driven around them and so, because there was no "road closed" signs at the first set of cones or at this one, it seemed reasonable that the cones were there to block traffic from the other direction rather than to prevent us from going on. I do not know what my husband (the driver) was thinking, but I know I thought to myself, "Well this is irritating. What the hell are we supposed to do now? Turn around and drive a good 10 miles out of our way to get to 270?"

I also thought, "It really frosts me when construction crews forget to take cones down after they're done". This happens all the time in the DC area; you'll be zipping along the highway at 60 mph and suddenly everything comes to a crashing halt. Signs indicate a lane closure ahead. Everyone slams on their brakes, traffic backs up for miles, and to really put the icing on the cake when we finally get to the blocked off lane there is not a construction crew in sight.

My husband swore softly under his breath, a thing he rarely does. I said, "It seems that people are pulling around the cones, hon." He nodded his head and carefully drove around them. About a third of a mile later we approached an intersection. Well off to the right side there was a utility truck with two men who appeared to be working on something. They both looked at us as we stopped at the stop sign, but neither appeared concerned or said a word. Looking across the intersection, the road ahead was blocked off with another set of cones. Again, no sign and no one attending what now appeared to be a deliberate road closure. To the left and right of the intersecting road were two more sets of cones, blocking traffic. At each of these sets of cones was a police cruiser turning oncoming traffic back in the direction it had come from. The cones to our right weren't more than 50 feet away. The cop standing outside his cruiser looked at us but didn't gesture or seem concerned.

After a brief discussion (what to do? what to do?) we slowly turned left and approached the police cruiser parked there. As we approached, we slowed down to speak with the officer and let him know what we were doing. We never got the chance.

He was a young man, obviously hot and irritable, and the first words out of his mouth were, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" uttered in a tone of voice that, had I used it with my husband, would have elicited an accusation that I was yelling at him. In reality, the officer was not yelling at all. But his voice was raised quite audibly and he came across to me as angry and slightly hostile. He demanded my husband's license, cutting him off in mid sentence as he tried to ask if it was OK to detour around the cones. Ignoring any attempt to elicit information, the officer stalked off to his car and returned to deliver a $90 ticket and a lecture about obeying the law. Briefly, again, my husband tried to explain but the officer was having none of it. Only then were we told why the cones were there. Apparently a power line was down, the utility folks were repairing it, and the roads in all four directions had been closed to keep us safe. As he spoke, I glanced in the side rear view mirror and saw another car at the stop sign we had just gone through. It slowly pulled into the intersection and continued around the cones on the other side of the road without incident. The officer continued to lecture my husband about how dangerous live power lines are. I wondered why, if they were so dangerous, no one had bothered to inform us at the stop sign?

I could tell he was extremely angry at being talked to in such a patronizing tone of voice, but wisely he remained silent. As we pulled around the cones and continued on our way, I told him I would contest the ticket in court since he would surely have returned to Iraq by then.

How is any of this relevant to the Gates matter? It's relevant because of his reflexive assumption that he was being treated unfairly or disrepectfully on account of his race. Repeatedly, Gates has asserted that a white professor would not have been treated the same way. But how does he know that? Has he ever been a white professor? And more importantly, would a white professor have become indignant and abusive at a police officer who (as it turned out) was investigating a report of a break in in progress - of his own home - by two white men?

Or would he have been grateful and cooperative?

There is no doubt that my husband didn't feel he was fairly or respectfully treated by that young cop. I didn't think he was either, but at the same time I understand that we all have our limits. Yes, the cop could have handled the situation better. But also, as I watched their interaction that day, I saw two males (one a mature and self possessed - if angry - Marine and one an inexperienced and angry cop) butting heads in a scenario that has played out over and over again since human societies began to make rules and then try to enforce them. There was no mistaking the implied challenge in the officer's demeanor, nor my husband's unspoken resentment at being forced to submit to treatment he considered arbitrary and unfair.

And none of this had diddly squat to do with race or class.

On the court date I retold the story, this time adding two pieces of information that never came up during our mostly one sided conversation with the officer at the scene.

My husband was an active duty Marine officer serving in Iraq. If there is one thing Marine officers understand, it is the need to obey the law and submit to legitimate authority. Had we thought for an instant that we were doing anything wrong, I told the judge, we would have turned around and driven 10 miles out of our way. In retrospect, we may have made the wrong decision, but our behavior was not unreasonable based on the information we had at the time.

The other piece of information is that our oldest son is a cop. I'd like to think one reason he became a police officer is that his father and I taught him that society doesn't work very well when people think they are above the law or that ordinary rules of civilized conduct or self restraint don't apply to them.

As I left the court, the young police officer ran up behind me and said, "Why didn't you TELL me your husband is a Marine and your son is a cop? I replied that it would never have occurred to us to do so. Our identity was irrelevant to how we should be treated under the laws of the state of Maryland.

How often we react angrily or with indignation to a tone in someone's voice, to words that seem designed to provoke or hurt us. How often we assume what it is unreasonable to think we can ever fully understand: what is in another's mind or heart.

What is That? (Τι είναι αυτό;) 2007 - The funniest home videos are here

Professor Gates has repeatedly asserted that he "knows" Officer Crowley's actions were influenced by a racial narrative; that they were arbitrary and driven by spite:

Now it’s clear that he had a narrative in his head: A black man was inside someone’s house, probably a white person’s house, and this black man had broken and entered, and this black man was me.

But it seems clear that Gates' actions were driven by his own racial narrative: he assumed from the get go that the white cop who showed up on his doorstep was "a danger" to him. One wonders, would he have responded this way had the cop been black?

All of a sudden, there was a policeman on my porch. And I thought, ‘This is strange.’ So I went over to the front porch still holding the phone, and I said ‘Officer, can I help you?’ And he said, ‘Would you step outside onto the porch.’ And the way he said it, I knew he wasn’t canvassing for the police benevolent association. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I realized that I was in danger. And I said to him no, out of instinct. I said, ‘No, I will not.’

I have little doubt that there was suspicion in Crowley's voice when he asked Gates to step outside. However, that suspicion was not unjustified given the report that two black men had just been seen breaking into the house. Gates did not know about the 911 call, of course. But he did know that his driver had just jimmied the front door open. How many people, having locked themselves out of a structure, break the door lock rather than calling a locksmith? And as it turns out, he had no idea what Crowley was thinking. Like our post racial president, he made an assumption based on his own racial biases:

Crowley, 42, said that, when he first saw Gates, in "my mind, I'm thinking, 'He does not look like someone who would break into the house.' " At the same time, however, "from the time that he opened the door, it seemed that he was very upset, very unhappy that I was there."

This is what is wrong with the notion that we are all driven by our racial or sexual identities: it assumes that biology will always trump education and intellect; that we are helpless to overcome the amount of melanin in our skin or which hormones flow from our endocrine glands.

There is no doubt in my mind that unconscious racial stereotypes played an enormous role in the confrontation between Gates and Crowley. What many people are missing is that a good many of these racial stereotypes came from a celebrated black professor who (had he truly believed Officer Crowley posed a threat to him) would never have dared to scream "THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO A BLACK MAN IN AMERICA".

That the incident escalated into an arrest for disorderly conduct was unfortunate. In a perfect world, Officer Crowley would have ignored Gates' repeated insults (and let's keep in mind here that Crowley's backup, a Latino officer, corroborates Gates' arrogant, abusive, and uncooperative behavior).

Of course, in a world free of racial bias, the President of the United States would have remained neutral until all the facts were in rather than stoking the fires of post-racial prejudice and resentment. In the end, regardless of race or sex, we are all human beings. We get mad, we make unfounded assumptions, we speak in haste and repent at leisure.

It seems to me that if blacks expect whites to step outside their own skin and see life that way a black person sees it, it is not unreasonable to ask them to step outside their own racial identity for a moment and realize that the world - and race relations - may look profoundly different to someone of a different color. And it seems to me that a Harvard professor who has spent his life studying race relations ought to be smart enough to realize the injustice of demanding others extend to him the benefit of the doubt with no expectation of reciprocal consideration.

Thanks to MaryAnn for the video.

Posted by Cassandra at July 24, 2009 08:27 AM

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And it seems to me that a Harvard professor who has spent his life studying race relations ought to be smart enough to realize the injustice of demanding others extend to him the benefit of the doubt with no expectation of reciprocal consideration.

The trouble is that I believe the "life spent studying race relations" was really nothing of the sort. He's interested in grievance mongering and racial stereotyping, as he clearly states himself:

"I realized that I was in danger." Because there was a policeman there, he was afraid. Now, even when I get pulled over by a cop, my instinct is NOT to be afraid. And in that case, I'm pretty sure I've done something wrong. And I'm still not afraid so much as embarrassed. He was anticipating trouble, and his behavior stemming from that anticipation brought about trouble. His very fears caused what he feared to come about.

I'm practicing not being so verbose, so I'm quitting here. But do thank MaryAnn for that video, it was quite moving.

Posted by: MikeD at July 24, 2009 11:54 AM

As much as I don't like Gates, I'd like to extend him the benefit of the doubt. He's an old man.

Maybe (with or without justification) he truly was afraid. It's hard to credit that since he kept saying "Do you have any idea who you're dealing with?" and "THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO A BLACK MAN IN AMERICA" over and over again, but some people respond to fear with a show of belligerence. People aren't always logical.

What bothers me is that he demands everyone else consider his "narrative" about race without once trying to understand what it is like to sit on the other side of the fence. He also refuses to consider how his behavior and the default assumptions about race that underlie it may have contributed to how he was treated.

As I've repeatedly pointed out, men and women make reflexive and unjustified judgments about each other all the time. Men do it to men (the story the other day about the janitor at West Point) and women do it to women.

The key here is extending someone the benefit of the doubt -- not assuming the worst, or even that you know why someone did what they did. Gates failed that test.

Arguably his abusive and obnoxious behavior didn't rise to the level where he should have been arrested, though clearly it does meet the elements of the MA statute in substance, though perhaps not in degree/severity.

The amusing thing is that there are (apparently) police tapes of this entire incident. So the facts will come out. And as the mother of a cop whose son has already been accused of racial harassment and exonerated by the police tapes from his cruiser, I can say I'm sure glad we have such devices now.

Initially I thought they were a bad idea, but the evidence so far indicates they protect cops more often than not, and if a cop has behaved badly we need to know that, too. Sadly, we never hear about all the times a recording reveals a false accusation and I think that skews public perception.

Either way, we'll know soon enough :p

Posted by: Cassandra at July 24, 2009 12:06 PM

It seems to me that if blacks expect whites to step outside their own skin and see life that way a black person sees it, it is not unreasonable to ask them to step outside their own racial identity for a moment and realize that the world - and race relations - may look profoundly different to someone of a different color.

Among the types of which the professor is emblematic, it's most definitely unreasonable. They are ALWAYS the aggrieved party and whites need to bow to them for the behavior of whites' ancestors. It makes me nuts!!

Posted by: FbL at July 24, 2009 12:11 PM

Why do people keep giving him wiggle room claiming "he's an old man"...he's only 58.

Posted by: Falze at July 24, 2009 12:15 PM

Answering only for me, I thought he was at least 10 years (and maybe more) older. But I was going on his photo.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 24, 2009 12:19 PM

Extracted from his Wikipedia bio: Gates went to Yale and gained his B.A. summa cum laude in History, and was the first African-American to be awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship. The day after his undergraduate commencement, Gates set sail on the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 for the University of Cambridge, where he studied English literature at Clare College. With the assistance of a Ford Foundation Fellowship, he worked toward his Ph.D. in English.

That's his "black experience."

I'd like to extend him the benefit of the doubt. He's an old man.

He's younger than I am, darlin' girl, and I don't have any heartburn with cops asking me for ID, even when it's obvious they're on fishing expeditions.

Metaphorically speaking, of course...

Posted by: BillT at July 24, 2009 12:25 PM

They are ALWAYS the aggrieved party and whites need to bow to them for the behavior of whites' ancestors.

Gates' own ancestry is 50% white...

Posted by: BillT at July 24, 2009 12:28 PM

This whole thing reminds me of an argument I got into with my best friend when we were 15 or so.

Our school had recently been integrated and one sad by product of that was that some small number of the black students who were bussed in made a habit of picking fights with white students or harassing/intimidating them.

Having moved all around the US all my life, this behavior didn't surprise me. I had been threatened and bullied by many people in many states, and the overwhelming majority (there is really only one exception) of the aggressors were black.

Now this did not cause me to fear blacks, nor to assume all blacks act that way because I had black friends too and they hated the bullies as much as I did. But like my best friend, I definitely noticed that any open mention of a phenomenon we all privately deplored would draw reflexive accusations of racism.

Our argument occurred b/c I, while not excusing this behavior, argued that we couldn't really understand what it was like to be black and so we ought to at least try to understand the pain/anger that lay behind that undeniably unacceptable behavior. In my book, you can understand why someone did something without for one minute saying it was the right thing to do.

And I believe it's important to keep the two things separate and distinct: understand or even sympathizing as a human being, and condoning an action you know to be wrong.

My friend got mad at me. She thought I was disloyal b/c, while I understood her anger and frustration at being asked to answer for the supposed sins of her supposed forbears (and here it gets funny b/c she was a first generation immigrant and so her ancestors had no part in American racial struggles), I also thought we ought to take that history into account. It should not influence our judgment of right or wrong. Bullies are wrong, whether they're white or black.

But it did help me not to assume that just because nearly all the bullies I encountered at school where black, that all blacks were bullies.

Because they aren't.

I think identity and experience does affect how we perceive life. I also think that we have to try hard to step outside who we are and extend the benefit of the doubt until someone gives us good reason not to. That's what Gates didn't seem able to do, and what he can't see is that his behavior didn't encourage anyone to treat him with the respect or deference he seems to think he was owed.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 24, 2009 12:32 PM

Gates saw this as an opportunity to revel in the sort of racism he teaches as a professor but never personally experienced. He stated that he was aware of "every" racial outrage ever committed in this country since records were kept. His actions are indicative of someone who lives in the past, wears the badge of victimhood today, and uses both as he interacts with the future. By the way, their was a black officer on site as this went down. Of course he would be characterized by Sharpton and Gates as an Uncle Tom but we have not heard that yet.

The last time that happened to us we had arrived home early from a vacation that was abruptly terminated. Our RV was rearended in L.A. by a Mexican truck driver with a load of tomatoes and no insurance. We drove home with what we could salvage in a Penske truck. We totally forgot that we have notified our neighbors of our plans. When they awoke the morning after our nocturnal arrival they noticed the truck backed up against our gate and assumed we were being relieved of our belongings.

We were awakened by our yorkie who alerted on the policeman who had climbed over our fence and was checking out the premises with his partner and backup. I opened the door and put my hands out so that he could see I was unarmed. He took note and explained why they were there. I told my wife to bring our ID's to prove that we were who we said we were. I congratulated them and our neighbors for their service and involvement. We invited them in and offered cappuccino or coffee or whatever. They declined and left. Of course I am white and so was the cop. The ties that bind were we both enjoyed not being shot at in a case of mistaken identity and he had every right to be there assuming the worst and it was up to me to prove my bonafides. The fact that my wife was in her nighty probably helped diffuse the situation but that is another story. Note to the ladies, never answer the door in a see-thru nighty backlit by the rising sun, unless...

Posted by: vet66 at July 24, 2009 12:40 PM

He's younger than I am, darlin' girl, and I don't have any heartburn with cops asking me for ID, even when it's obvious they're on fishing expeditions. Metaphorically speaking, of course...

Smart a$$ :)

I apologize profusely for that unwarranted display of Ageist bias... heh.

My point was that an older man who walks with a cane might easily interpret threat differently than a younger, stronger man would. Gates' assumption that Crowley was a "danger" to him was unwarranted by any objective fact, but I don't discount that race and perhaps physical condition could affect someone's perception of their ability to defend themselves.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 24, 2009 12:40 PM

Note to the ladies, never answer the door in a see-thru nighty backlit by the rising sun, unless...

Oh Lord. I have a funny story about that, but I should probably not relate it here :p

Posted by: Cassandra at July 24, 2009 12:42 PM

My point was that an older man who walks with a cane might easily interpret threat differently than a younger, stronger man would.

An older man with a cane is an older man who is armed with a shillelagh.

I have a funny story about that, but I should probably not relate it here.

You're absolutely right, of course.

You have my e-addy...

Posted by: BillT at July 24, 2009 12:57 PM

Michael Graham and Imus were discussing this topic. Michael Graham so this police officer is supposed to go home and explain to his children why the President of the U.S. called him stupid.


Posted by: Ree at July 24, 2009 01:03 PM

Note to the ladies, never answer the door in a see-thru nighty backlit by the rising sun, unless...

Well, on behalf of our brave men in law enforcement, I'd actually disagree. By all means answer your door for the police like that. :)

And Cass, you can't just throw out a "I have a funny story" then refuse to tell it. That's just mean!

Posted by: MikeD at July 24, 2009 01:34 PM

Cassandra wash your mouth out with soap! I'm 65--Gates is 58--and neither of us is an old man.

Now I will say in your defense (having had my father die a few years ago at age 95) that some old codgers may get a wee bit testy.

I am a bit upset by the young cop's subsequent reaction "Why didn't you tell me your husband was a Marine, why didn't you tell me your son was a cop?" None of that should have made any difference. But perhaps the young cop still has some growing up to do--and since he's a "young man" I'll cut him some slack!

Posted by: Mike Myers at July 24, 2009 01:35 PM

"What Mike Meyers said", said the old man on the cane.

Come to think of it, What MikeD said too. =8^}

Posted by: bt_the_resident_curmudgeon_hun at July 24, 2009 01:45 PM

Will it help if I assure you gentlemen that I don't consider 65 "old"? :p

Honestly, my "old man" comment was relative. My Dad will turn 80 this year. He is 30 years older than I am, and I still don't consider him "old". I think age is often more a reflection of your health and attitude than anything else, but Gates has repeatedly invoked the pitiful image of an older gentlemen who has to use a cane to walk so it didn't seem unreasonable to assume such a person might feel threatened more easily than someone more hale and hearty...

So to speak :)

re: the young cop. I agree - and that's why we didn't bring it up. I sure didn't mind beating him over the head with it in court, though. That was a bit underhanded, but no way was I walking out of there with a $90 fine and a moving violation on my husband's driving record if I could help it. Especially after watching about 50 speeders get their charges dismissed.

Traffic court is such a racket.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 24, 2009 01:45 PM


Maybe someone ought to point the learned, or put upon, scholar to the relaxing, dare I say empowering, hobby of Cane Fu.

Yup, TC is a racket. Don't get me started on traffic light camera enforcement and the shorted cycle of green-yellow-red that always seems to follow their installation.

Posted by: bthun at July 24, 2009 01:59 PM

Yikes, I just shortened, shortened...

Posted by: bthun at July 24, 2009 02:00 PM

This is an excellent letter in and of itself, but the comment by American Akhmend provides valuable and inargueable insight, at least IMHO.
"As a naturlized American from a middle eastern background, it shames me to go through an airport terminal these days.
I know the security will be tight and looks more stern and suspect. But I smile. I have nothing to hide So I help them check my bag, my wallet, my drink, my shoes, my trousers -- make humor of the whole thing to make the securitry folks feel at ease, and myself more human. They are mostly honest descent Christians doing their job. And god bless them, the police and the military, for without them, there would not be an America.

However, every trip makes me more bitter and more upset with those of my own race, culture and color who brought this on so many of us innocent folks. Thanks to some mad, sick human beens who looks like me yet have no regard for humanity, or human life, I will always have to deal with that extra check, extra precautions, or what you called "inconvenience". But even the harshest and most intense inspections never troubled or offended me. Agian, These guys are simply doing their job.

As you said, "any inconvenence is preferable to knowing others out there Maybe/are suffering because we've decided to walk on an eggshell."

Knowing all that goes on in this world, only a fool or a racist would be offended by what security people do."

Posted by: DL Sly at July 24, 2009 03:16 PM

I agree, Sly. Context is everything.

It also happens to be what people often lack in dealing with each other: the full context that makes them do what they do. And so we all too often bring only our own context and experiences to a situation.

If events in the past have hurt us, our sense of self protection can cause us to take offense where none was meant. That's what I was trying to convey to my friend. Certainly stepping outside your own skin isn't easy - most of us aren't good at it, whether we're black or white, male or female.

I still think it's worth doing, especially when you consider how few of us see things exactly the same way. If there's any such thing as objective truth, we're more likely to find it if we don't close off anything outside our ken.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 24, 2009 04:03 PM

Cassandra I was simply pulling your chain about your old man comment; I was not offended in the least.

And I admire DL Sly's thoughts above. Part of wisdom and maturity is being able to "get over your own self".

I confess that, on more occasions than I like to admit, I've not been able to do that. I've been rude and dismissive to people who were simply doing the task they'd been assigned in the best way that they knew how. It is a terrible trait in anyone who is in a position where he or she has to exercise leadership, and it always hurts the team. I've regretted it every time I've made that mistake.

I'm certain that Professor Gates was not able to get over himself in this instance; and that Sergeant Crowley, perhaps justifiably provoked, perhaps not, couldn't get over himself either. It's a human failing that virtually all of us share.

Has this, in the Obama Team's new spin, become a "teachable moment". Maybe so, and may the current occupant of the Oval Office learn from it.

Posted by: Mike Myers at July 24, 2009 04:06 PM

Gates has repeatedly invoked the pitiful image of an older gentlemen who has to use a cane to walk so it didn't seem unreasonable to assume such a person might feel threatened more easily than someone more hale and hearty...

I don't have all the facts (sorry, couldn't resist) but I did skim part of his Root interview and his cane seemed to come up a lot as did his insistence that he couldn't have been yelling because he was still suffering from some type of respiratory illness. I wondered to what extent Gates was deliberately emphasizing the elements of the story that put him in the best light - or at least put Crowley in the worst light. A young, healthy man of any race could be considered threatening or dangerous or out of control; an old, sick, crippled man couldn't. Ergo, it *must* have been racism that prompted Crowley to arrest Gates.

It has also occurred to me that Gates may have provided himself - deliberately or not - with a graceful exit from this mess if he decides he wants one. He's got that respiratory infection, was taking meds, they affected his judgment.

Posted by: Elise at July 24, 2009 04:13 PM

Cassandra I was simply pulling your chain about your old man comment...

Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Posted by: BillT at July 24, 2009 04:15 PM

He's got that respiratory infection, was taking meds, they affected his judgment.

Depending on what the videotape shows, he may have to claim that his memory was affected, too.

Posted by: BillT at July 24, 2009 04:18 PM

Metaphorically speaking, of course.

You are never going to let me live that one down, are you? :)

Posted by: Cassandra at July 24, 2009 04:27 PM

Metaphorically speaking, of course :p

Posted by: Cassandra at July 24, 2009 04:28 PM

Sounds like Rahm Emanuel told BHO to deal with this major distraction and make it go away. Invite the aggrieved parties to the WH for a lunch of wagyu beef, baked beans and wave the flag.

Instead of controlling the urge to say what he did he turned the opportunity into a Freudian Slip. Another peek into the real BHO.

Posted by: vet66 at July 24, 2009 04:51 PM

Ummmmmmm -- no.

Posted by: BillT at July 24, 2009 04:56 PM

Referring, of course, to Cassie's comment, not vet66's.

Darn time lag between the 21st Century and the 7th...

Posted by: BillT at July 24, 2009 04:58 PM

I just read Gates' interview with his daughter over at The Daily Beast and if Crowley's police report is accurate and he can back it up, I'd say Gates is walking awfully close to opening himself up to a libel suit from Crowley.

After reading that and carefully reading his Root interview, I was surprised by Gates' surprise at having his belt, keys, and wallet removed by the police when he was booked. He seems particularly outraged by the police counting the money in his wallet. I thought all that was pretty standard: the belt goes so you can't hang yourself (or hurt someone else, I assume); the keys ditto; and the wallet at least partly so your fellow prisoners won't steal it. I imagine the police count the money so they won't be accused later of not returning everything that was in there. Gates' recounting of all this reminds me of Bush I's surprise at super-market scanners. (Yes, apocryphal, I know.) It's as if Gates has never watched an episode of Law & Order, never read a murder mystery.

I read Gates' Wikipedia entry and from that he doesn't really sound like an Al Sharpton type which makes his Daily Beast interview even weirder. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Posted by: Elise at July 24, 2009 07:12 PM

Gates is 58

Holy CRUD, you're joking! My dad is 59 and is still as active a rancher as he was at 30-- I would've thought the guy in those photos was at LEAST in his late sixties, maybe even seventies.

Oh, I've been hearing that the police union is *pissed* in part because the standard response when you have a report of a break in is to ask anyone in the house to step outside, because they might be under duress-- no way for you to know if there's a guy holding a gun behind the door, ready to shoot the guy who just opened it for you. Makes sense to me.

Posted by: Foxfier at July 24, 2009 09:51 PM

Being the owner of a lead foot and a lover of big engines, I've been pulled over a fair number of times. Mostly deserved, a few I thought a bit unfair.

But there have been times even when I was definitely speeding that the treatment I received from the cop(s) was ludicrous.

The most egregious occasion was when I was pulled over at 2 am on a moonless night in Waskom TX. I note the location because it's still a speed trap! According to the ticket I was going 71 in a 65.

What bothered me were the actions of the officers. While I was handing my driver's license and insurance papers to one through the driver's side window, a 1000 candlewatt spotlight suddenly appeared through the passenger window.

Frankly, this scared the you-know-what out of me. The partner had snuck up beside my car and obviously wanted to "illuminate" something (someone?) discriminating before I had a chance to "cover it up" or something.

Then I got angry.

Then the cop who had my driver's license and insurance ordered me (not asked, nothing even close to polite) to get out of my car. His partner continued to inspect the interior of my car with her spotlight.

Oh, I should mention here that all participants in this fiasco are white.

The officer now has me standing between his patrol car and my car. This in itself scares me because my sister was a cop at the time and I'd just heard about a colleague of hers who lost both legs because somebody hit the patrol car from behind.

So, I'm nervously checking the traffic, which increases the cop's suspicion of my overall innocence... and he starts asking me lots of questions about the stuff in my backseat.

And he wanted to know my destination.

And I started to get more angry... but I answered his questions in the softest tone I could muster.

All that junk you see? It's parts of ballet costumes and fabric for a wedding dress (real suspicious stuff, eh?) I'm sure he thought it was covering up tons of dope...

My destination? I'm going HOME you moron!!! I've just spent the past two days measuring my daughter for her wedding dress and buying stuff to make it.

Since then, I've annoyed many people by driving at least one mile under the speed limit through Waskom TX on I 20 (have you guys got that location down yet? LOL)

I drove to Waskom's city courthouse the next week to pay the $78 ticket. I was just as syrupy sweet as a Southern Belle can be as I explained to the city clerk why I was so upset at the way the ticket was written.

I told her about the highway patrolman in Florida who had lost her legs and explained how frightened I was being forced to stand between the two cars. I said I hoped the young cop's mother didn't know the risks he was taking with his limbs, if not his life.

We had a wonderful conversation, that city clerk and I. I have no doubt that the young man was reprimanded in more ways than the law actually allows for.

Yeah... I'm not really a nice person.

Posted by: Donna B. at July 24, 2009 10:32 PM

I got pulled over at 2am on a lonesome stretch of Route 206 in Joisey -- the troopers also asked me to join the partner between my car and the cruiser.

When I pointed out we'd be toast if some drunk waffled the cruiser from the rear, we hastily adjourned to the shoulder of the road.

*No* ticket.

Posted by: BillT at July 25, 2009 07:19 AM

Very well reasoned argument.

We have three observations about the Harvard professor incident:

1. We find it interesting that the fact that this was the professor's home was evidently not established early on way before the dispute escalated;

2. We find it fascinating that the versions of two members of society, who most would ordinarily view as responsible and honest citizens (this obviously does not include politicians), would vary so dramatically from a factual point of view.

3. Finally, considering that the reading and viewing public were not present at the scene (and thus have no first hand knowledge), and that there is no video tape to our knowledge of the sequence of events and what was said, how so many have formed conclusions, and made assumptions, about who did what and who was wrong.

There are some things which Professor Gates might have considered upon the arrival of the police, no matter how incensed he may have been.

Posted by: Reggie Greene / The Logistician at July 25, 2009 10:31 AM


The public was there at the scene in the form of his neighbor who made the 911 call that started it all. She made a report based on her observations as a concerned citizen with no axe to grind.

The 9/11 tapes are available and being discussed for release to the public. The tapes of Officer Crowley's converstations with his station including a request for the Harvard police to participate is a matter of record so that a sequence of events are established.

A fellow officer, who is black, verifies what Officer Crowley and witnesses have stated for the record. Gates copped an attitude that went all the way to the WH and through congress at a critical time of Governance. Gates thought of nobody but himself in this made-up brouhaha to further his own biased ends against the establishment. I challenge anybody to discuss the feeling of empowerment that appears to be exercising Mr. Gates in the shadow of POTUS Obama.

Posted by: vet66 at July 25, 2009 10:51 AM

This was actually something I found a little confusing. I think there is both a tape of the 911 call AND tape of what happened at the house because Officer Crowley's mike was open during the encounter. I gather they're talking about releasing one or both of those. Does anyone else have a clearer understanding of this? And if my understanding is correct, why not just automatically release both tapes?

Posted by: Elise at July 25, 2009 11:33 AM

And if my understanding is correct, why not just automatically release both tapes?


1. the departmental investigation is still ongoing to insure all the tees are crossed and the ayes are dotted, or

2. they're giving Gates sufficient rope to make a spectacular rebound when he hangs himself, or

3. Crowley is going to sue for libel and defamation, and release of the tapes would prejudice the case.

Posted by: BillT at July 25, 2009 12:12 PM


My understanding is the same. We all know that 911 calls are recorded. And my understanding is that the there is a recording of the incident. Why has it not been released to date? I'm sure the authorities have their reasons. Some might hinge upon things like whether the good professor brings a lawsuit against the police/city, and who knows what other considerations.

For once I proof my blather only to see the Bill covered this from soup to nuts. I'm particularly fond of the dead cat bounce theory. Bill's #2 point.

Reggie, to speak to point #3. I suppose folks might take the record of all involved, their history and behavior, together with the sworn statements of those on the scene, and assume a position on one side or the other in much the same way that a jury has to weigh the available evidence and arrive at a verdict in a trial. Only in this case, the blogger's and commenter's do not carry the burden of having to actually decide guilt or innocence as they would in a trial.

One might consider the commentary on this case in the same way that one considers the comment of an individual who knows that all cops are thugs or that Cheney shredded the US Constitution. The evidence may not support that conclusion, even so, it is still debatable, and treated as fact, in some circles. Just like when the government felled the twin towers.

Posted by: bthun at July 25, 2009 12:30 PM

Alright, this is the FIFTH place I've seen the post from Reggie posted verbatim as far as my memory can tell-- where is this originating? (under all different names, BTW, so it's gotta be a meme)

Posted by: Foxfier at July 25, 2009 01:35 PM

I once made a dumb error and turned the wrong way on an (empty) one-way street for half a block after leaving a downtown parking lot. I turned at the corner and was going the right way on the next street, not even realizing what I'd done, when I was pulled over and given a ticket. I thought the cop probably was going a little overboard and that it would have been nice if he'd cautioned me and let it go at that, but what the heck, I had gone the wrong way. He was polite to me, I was polite to him. While he was screwing around with the paperwork, I continued chatting with my companion in the driver's seat.

After the cop finally went away, she surprised me by bursting out that she couldn't believe I had been so relaxed with the cop and had even automatically said "Thank you" to him as he walked back to his car. It turned out that she was outraged by the whole thing -- but then, she is deeply hostile to cops as a routine matter and even, apparently, rather afraid of them. For myself, I felt like an ordinary citizen who normally depends on cops to protect me by doing a hard and dangerous job.

I've never had the police surprise me while I was breaking into my own house. If I had, you'd better believe I'd be putting all my effort into showing them by word and deed that I was not a threat and that I appreciated their efforts to protect my home and regretted having put them to the trouble of investigating a false alarm.

And on the subject of the President's silly response and subsequent weaselly non-apology, my suggestion would be for him to call a press conference and state that he had "acted stupidly."

Posted by: Texan99 at July 25, 2009 01:43 PM

"Alright, this is the FIFTH place I've seen the post from Reggie posted verbatim as far as my memory can tell-- where is this originating? (under all different names, BTW, so it's gotta be a meme)"

*shrugs shoulders, ventures a WAG* Charles Ogletree?

Posted by: bthun at July 25, 2009 01:48 PM

Insightful comments from a wise Terrapina.

Posted by: Jules Bernard at July 25, 2009 06:11 PM

If I was Sgt. Crowley I would have keyed the mic during one (or all) truly vituperative outburst from Gates to broadcast for all to hear and to be recorded. Radio communications are recorded, 911 calls are recorded, and dash cams provide a video and audio of what is happening in the field of view.

Given Gates' ignorance of police procedures he probably doesn't understand what that 'mic' is on the Sgt.s epaulet, how it works, where the various repeaters are throughout the city and how many channels are available for transmission.

Posted by: vet66 at July 25, 2009 06:37 PM

*grin* done and done...

Posted by: Foxfier at July 25, 2009 08:34 PM

Hi Cass .... long time. As you know, I live in the Boston area, and this is a big story here. The URL I've put in this comment ( http://audio.weei.com/m/25432556/sgt-james-crowley-cambridge-police.htm ) is SGT Crowley on a local radio station explaining himself as best he can under the rules he follows. Seems to me, that the racial profiling here was all on Gate's part ... he say a "white" police officer responding to a call from a "white" neighbor, put two and two together and turned a routine police response into a national debate. Gates is backing away now from the confrontation as it appears his attempts to make Crowley seem like a racist are failing miserably. The fact that Crowley teaches a course (at the request of his former black police chief) in racial profiling, has at least one high profile case in which he tried to save the live of a prominent black basketball player and that his actions were endorsed by a fellow black police officer who was on the scene for Gate's ranting. The fact is, if you ever watched an episode of Cops, you have probably see some poor redneck be arrested for basically the same behavior ... in those cases the majority of people think it is funny and the guy got what he deserved. But when it is a prominent black professor it becomes a cause celeb.

Posted by: Frodo at July 27, 2009 12:02 PM

vet66 - "If I was Sgt. Crowley I would have keyed the mic during one (or all) truly vituperative outburst from Gates to broadcast for all to hear and to be recorded."

You never know, some of it may be on the tapes that the police have threatened to release. But I doubt they could do this as a matter of course as it would tie up the radio frequency which is shared by other police responding to other situations ... you don't want to jam their requests for help just to record the ranting of a jerk.

Posted by: Frodo at July 27, 2009 12:06 PM