Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Racism or Just a Cop Being a Control Freak A-Hole?

This story about a Harvard professor getting busted in his own home is going to be presented as an example of racist cops in Cambridge, MA. And it may very well be just that. But from what I've heard about cops from a journalist friend of mine (Bert. Q. Slushbrow who has posted comments on this blog before), this could have happened to a white home owner too. One sure way to get a cop to abuse his authority is to question his authority to do whatever he wants. A lot (not all) of cops are the guys you knew in high school who liked to pick fights and push people around.

So imagine this. A cop responds to a call about a break in. He arrives to meet the home owner, recently returned from a trip to China (so probably tired and grouchy). The home owner starts questioning the cop's reason for being there. The cop now has a choice. A) Apologize to the home owner and go away. or B) Shout back at the home owner and demand that he "respect my authoritah" and escalate the shouting match until he ends up arresting the home owner for some BS charge like disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct (in his own home).

I'm not saying that race didn't play a part here. It probably had something to do with why the police were called in the first place. It may have played a role in why the cop was so unwilling to just shrug and walk away. It may have played a role in why the homeowner in question was so belligerent himself. But I don't think it needed to be racial for this to happen. Many cops are just equal opportunity, control freak, A-holes.


Anonymous said...

In 1965, I was driving home from a double shift in a plywood mill.

All of the sudden I have flashing lights behind me as I drove down the street at legal speed.

I pull over, cop pulls over. I wait, nothing happens, I wait some more. I wasn't upset or belligerent, I was tired and wanted to get home.

I opened the door to my car, got out, turned toward the police car.
Standing in front of me was a police officer that I had never seen, who had his service pistol aimed at me. He checked everything. All clean, OK, go on home.

At 6 AM, I was knocking on the door of the chief of police's house. He lived three doors down from us and I had known him for about twelve years.

By 8 AM the new cop was fired.

However, any time a cop comes near me I raise my arms with hands showing no weapon. If I am in a car I hold my hands out the window turning them to show no weapon. Forty years of this shit because of a fucking gun crazed moron. The crazy thing is that I never dealt with any cop in the United States (after the first time) when I was not carrying a concealed weapon.

Any case by the cops, I always believe the person accused.

I was called for jury duty once, when the judge asked if anyone knew anyone involved in the case, I asked to speak to him privately. I told him that I knew of the arresting officer and that he was a known liar and that there would never be a conviction for anything if I served on the jury. I was excused.


The Law Talking Guy said...

To answer your question, RBR, both. Racism is what led the cop to assume that the black man was not in the right place. For a white person, the story "I live here" would have gone over without much of a thought.

The control-freak part of it is why he was not able to let it go. Policemen often suffer from this personality trait, because it draws them to the field, and can help them succeed.

For the same reason, many - if not most- of us lawyers are assholes.

I also know that as a clean-cut and reasonably prosperous non-punk white male, I almost never get this kind of treatment. I knew I was approaching middle age when I got a "warning" rather than a ticket for speeding (I was totally guilty).

The most bullshit part of the story was the cop ginning up a phony reason for entering the premises without a warrant (the obvioulsy false report of a break-in). That should be punished. The policeman should have allowed Gates to go inside, then remained on the stoop and awaited confirmation that it was not a breakin (googling his name, for example).. The policeman would have figured out within 5 minutes that the man was not a criminal when he didn't run out the back.

The second-biggest problem with the police is their paramilitary aspect. The police should never have been organized like a militia with military ranks and military uniforms and insignia. It encourages all the wrong attitudes. The military are sent to control; the police are to protect and serve.

But let's not go nuts here. American police have lots of issues we could worry about, but it is so much worse in a lot of other places. They do a crappy job with unreasonable expectations placed on them all the time. They are expected to put their lives on the line for mere property crimes. Most of all, the police are handled all the problems that the voters and legislature refuse to deal with in terms of the urban underclass and the homeless.

Raised By Republicans said...

Yeah, I agree LTG. The cop should also have said, "Sorry to bother you sir" and walked away as soon as he saw the man's ID. But by that time it was about the cop establishing dominance rather than investigating a suspected break in.

No doubt poor police training and racism and the fear/resentment of it, reinforced each other in a nasty spiral of escalation.

I also agree that it bothers me when police officers adopt a militaristic style and organizational culture.

Something else that might have helped. Cops patrolling the same neighborhood all the time - preferably on foot or on bikes. That would increase the likelihood that the cop would recognize the homeowner. "Oh, that's Professor Gates no break in here." But none of that happened. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

What would ahve happened if the Police received the call and did nothing. I'm so tired of this racial crap.
Co-operate and get it over with. Then if you have a problem, use proper channels to air you greivence.

Prince Frog said...

All Henry Louis Gates Jr. had to do was show his ID but instead he showed his ignorance.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Gates claimed that their first interaction was that the police officer asked him to step outside and then asked him to produce his ID--both of which he says he did. Gates says the officer followed him back into the home and then continued to question him. It was at that point Gates got frustrated.

The police officer, on the other hand, says that the man refused to step outside and refused to show identification at first--though he later did. The police officer says that Gates followed the officer outside and continued to accuse him of racism, whereupon the officer arrested the man.

We have two different accounts. But in neither case does the arrest make any sense. Even if everything the police officer claimed was true, he should have just walked away. If he was really annoyed, the officer could have lodged an official complaint with Harvard about the behavior of one of their prized faculty. But by his own admission, we see that the police officer insisted on showing Gates who was boss.

I suspect neither is telling the full truth. I'll bet it went down pretty much like this...

1. The police officer knocks on door, explains he is investigating possible break in, and demands Gates step outside and produce identification.
2. Gates says, "Why, because I'm a black man?" He replies that this is his house and the police officer has no right to harass him.
3. The police officer insists, and pulls the "respect my authoritah!" attitude on him.
4. Gates grudgingly shows his ID, but then demands the police officer's name and badge number. He tells the officer he will report him for harassment and racial profiling.
5. They get into a heated argument.

That's when the police officer decided to play big dog and arrest him. The officer apparently cannot control his temper well. Gates might also have trouble watching his temper, but then he is not entrusted with a gun and charged with protecting and serving society.

USwest said...

I agree with Dr.S's analysis of events. I think that is exactly what happened. The good professor may have been looking for an excuse. But the good professor may have had several harassment episodes in the past, as most black men have.

I also agree, and have complained on this blog in the past, about the danger posed by the militarization of the police, many of whom are former military. The drug war also empowered the police and that empowerment is only augmented by the fear of terrorism.

Machismo is a big part of it and to be a beat cop is only one step above being a desk jockey in the police world.

And it isn't just black men. I have a friend who is an Arab and who was harassed for over 20 minutes by a local cop. The cop pulled him over for talking on the cell phone. Then called his unusual Arabic name in wrong and claimed that my friend had a false ID. In addition to being Arab with a strange name, he was driving a new Mustang. So that didn't help.

I have had both sides of it. I am usually treated well by the cops. But once, I was harassed more because I dared question an officer rather than comply right away.

Then there was the case I referenced a while back or the belligerent, but harmless 70 year old woman who was put face down on the ground and cuffed as a result of speeding stop. These types of abuses are not isolated to black people and they aren't isolated at all. You hear about them all the time.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Thanks, USWest. I think the "militarization of the police" you have pointed to is a significant contributor to the problem. They even call the rest of us "civilians" now, as though they were not also civilians.

Raised By Republicans said...

Another complicating figure here. Gates was just returned from a trip to China and was exhausted.

Also, what kind of neighborhood does he live in where the neighbors don't recognize a man who is probably the ONLY black man on the block?

Dr. Strangelove said...

It may have been dark outside and it was just an honest mistake. Or it may have been a malicious, false phone-in. You never know.

USwest said...

The malicious part should not be tossed aside quickly.

Where I work, someone called the cops on a teacher. He is a very nice, young, smart guy. He was at a picnic and he was cutting his food with a knife. He is also a wrestler and people like to bump him around a bit in gest. And someone was approaching to bump him around, and he said, "Hey, be careful, I am holding a knife here." So some malicious person called the cops and said that the teacher had pulled a knife on someone, and the person who called was merely a bystandard, not involved in the non-incident.

The cops arrived and said there was nothing to investigate and left. So then the same person called the DA's office, where he was told not to call back on this issue.

We later discovered that the malicious person mostly likely called because our smart, wrestler man is not Muslim, but some other non-descript faith that is a minority in his country. The malicious caller is now being diciplined, but the poor wrestler got transferred.

The Law Talking Guy said...

RBR writes, "Something else that might have helped. Cops patrolling the same neighborhood all the time - preferably on foot or on bikes. That would increase the likelihood that the cop would recognize the homeowner. "Oh, that's Professor Gates no break in here.""

Amen to that!!! Note that it is not just about familiarity, it's about ending racism the old-fashioned way: through meeting and interacting with diverse people. That's what "community policing" is supposed to be all about. Too bad it largely fails because it requires more money and making people walk around rather than drive around.

Raised By Republicans said...

Yeah, it's the main reason I think places like LA might get a more progressive police department by spending more money on it - something most liberals are opposed to.

But by trying to do policing on the cheap, you get incidents like this one. Poorly trained, and poorly situated cops swooping into environments they don't understand... with guns and a militaristic self-image.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I wonder why so many conservatives take it for granted that you can arrest someone for mouthing off to the police. When did lese majeste become a crime?

Pombat said...

At least it's only your police - you should meet some of our train and tram inspectors (mostly the train ones - I'm sure googling Connex inspectors would yield plenty - there's another one this morning of a woman being assaulted by inspectors for offering to be a witness to a guy who was being roughed up for allegedly not having a ticket). Sigh.

Am in agreement with pretty much everything said here - police with an actual connection with the neighbourhood would not make this mistake - for starters, a really good copper would get to know the malicious types, so we could be sure there was nothing malicious going on here. And yes, would recognise the householder, and be able to say something reassuring about just checking up, rather than all this. Oh, and it's not just the police - if we all knew our neighbours a bit more, then people wouldn't phone in on their neighbours, because they'd recognise them, and more likely than not, know that they'd been away and were getting back late.

Raised By Republicans said...

"I wonder why so many conservatives take it for granted that you can arrest someone for mouthing off to the police"

One of the consequences of our two party systems is that the 10% or so of Americans who would gladly vote for a neo-fascist party don't have the chance to and so vote for the Republicans. The result of that is that they, incorrectly, self-identify as conservatives rather than fascists.