Sunday, July 26, 2009

Gates, Continued

After 48 hours out of the news cycle, I didn't expect anything about Professor Gates would still be in live conversation. I had already stopped thinking about it. Silly me. Gates is escalating this, offering Crowley the really sweet deal of teaching about racism in America if he will just apologize.

As a general rule, it's a bad sign when someone cannot admit even 1% of the fault for an argument. Someone who needs that blood-drinking victory and doubles down is not well.

The strongest point Gates' defenders have made was that the incident, whatever else might be said, did not rise to the level of an arrest for Disorderly Conduct. That is possible, but by no means certain once Gates came out of his house. Speculation that Crowley was acting in some unnecessarily condescending or overly suspicious way because Gates is black is possible, but there is no evidence to support that accusation other than the general template that this happens All The Time.

The specifically criminal aspect of this would of course have been the most enduring, and even if Crowley's behavior had been exemplary and Gates' reprehensible in the lead-up, an unnecessary arrest would be on the permanent record. The charges have been dropped, so that part's out. Furthermore Gates is well-positioned enough and the incident popularised enough that a record of having been arrested is unlikely to negatively affect him in any way. Any of Gates' students, or one of the young people from his neighborhood, might have a case that they would forever after have to check "yes" on applications asking if they have ever been arrested and have to explain, and so were negatively affected. But this doesn't apply to Gates. There are no lasting effects of the actions of the Cambridge PD on him.

All that remains are the narratives, and Gates is determined to make his narrative dominant.

Now the narrative is what the general public cared about all along. The record clearly shows that whatever Crowley did, Gates behaved badly. The legal part, now disposed of, may have been more important in reality, but in terms of impression it was secondary to the public. A person made vile statements to a police officer. There are TV shows about that, people are interested in it. This is the sort of behavior societies always seek to discourage as a threat to general comity. As near as we can tell from the record, Crowley showed a great deal of patience and forbearance with a verbally out-of-control citizen.

It is a decent argument that the police are supposed to act this way. We empower them to act on our behalf, and so expect the absolutely highest standards from them. We might sympathise that the job is tough and you have to endure a lot of abuse, but that's what the job is. Deal with it. It goes with the territory.

There's only one problem with that argument. If that is true about police officers, it is doubly or trebly true for a POTUS. If you apply that standard to the police, you have to apply it to Obama as well. 18 y/o American servicemen are expected to keep within strict limits in their treatment of prisoners even after watching their friend's head blown off. They are despised and prosecuted if they don't. (Hell, sometimes they're despised and prosecuted anyway.) Having thought through this essay, I have come to the conclusion that Obama's comments were not merely inappropriate and unpresidential, but damaging to Sgt Crowley.

If I am a Massachusetts cop, a well-connected Democrat going out of his way to tell me that the person I arrested is a friend of his - calls him by his first name - smells like a threat, no matter how offhandedly mentioned. Particularly if the person arrested has already started going down this road with his "You don't know who you're messing with," comment. Gates and Obama's comments both reek of the power and revenge mode of politics.

No, we can't prove it's a threat, but we get there by the same reasoning that Gates and Obama use to condemn Crowley. This door also swings both ways.

Those who think that Gates and Obama have some right to a chip on their shoulders because of their own encounters with racism, whether overt or subtle, neglect to note how privileged their lives are. The rhetoric of people who act entitled is much the same as the rhetoric of real victims. "Why? Because I'm a black man in America?" was the first thing Gates added to the discussion. Seems a little grandiose. What happens to you is of national importance? And you really thought the police at your door should say "Oh, you're black? We're sorry sir, we didn't realize we were dealing with a person who is related to oppressed people. We're sure you must not have committed any crime. We'll just leave now. And thanks for the reminder that this is America. That really brought us to our senses."

The incident is at one level unimportant on the national level, and shouldn't distract us from the grand plans the president has for our money. Yet this little incident is highly revealing of character. Obama is clearly wrong - understandably wrong, perhaps, because it's a friend and a close-to-the-bone personal issue for him, but wrong nonetheless. Yet he can't drop it. He can't just say "I'm sorry, I jumped to a conclusion because I know Skip Gates. I shouldn't have called the police stupid." He thinks if he just makes vague nice statements about police, and invites both parties to come talk with him about the issue, this racist white cop will learn something, Gates will forgive him, everyone will shake hands, and the world will be improved.


jackscrow said...

Speaking from personal experience, verbally abusing a cop is an automatic free guided tour of the vomit-sour back seat of a cruiser and the accompanying ride downtown. It doesn't matter if you're black, white, green, purple, or a DQ swirl-cone with cherry dip. And despite what you would think, at the times things like this happen, "right" or "wrong" and nuanced thought on possible public opinion ramifications don't come into it....

It's also a Twilight-Zoney coincidence that the cop teaches a class in racial profiling avoidance techniques.

Some predictions? Why not?

Sgt. Crowley will be demonized by many and will be defended by many, and both camps will be doing so for the wrong reasons: they have their political axe to grind or their own racial bias to promote.

He will eventually retire to a small town and star in his own TV show, complete with his very own deputy sidekick and a whole slew of funny-townie characters, all of them white, but none of them racist.

Professor Gates will continue the talk-show rounds, the pictures with Al Sharpton and Spike Lee, and in the process becoming a universally revered Black Culture Icon, kinda the anti-Bill Cosby.

He will write a best-selling book on the Profiling of Black Males in America - no "publish or perish" for this guy. He'll also be able to afford to buy a bigger summer home on Martha's Vineyard. This is so he can shout an even louder "Do you know who I am?" to cops who really don't give a crap.

He will also get a self-explanatory Tommie Smith-John Carlos tattoo on his forehead, so that he doesn't have to pose like that all the time. Plus, the tat will be the shizzle at his sold-out Harvard lectures.

Our President, the esteemed 0-Man, who surprised many by jumping the traces of his Teleprompter and jamming both feet into his mouth (just like he puts his pants on), will have very little else to say. However his press secretary and other minions will be making multiple rounds of the bloviating talking-head shows, back-tracking, obfuscating, and generally trying to smoke screen the 0-Man's way out of a predicament he should never have been in; but it makes a helluva distraction from the Health Care debacle.

White women in Cambridge will still call the cops when they see two black guys breaking down the door of a house.

terri said...

A few things...

1. I've been obsessed by this story because I've seen Gates' specials and listened to him speak many times. At this point everyone is throwing him in with AL Sharpton and Spike Lee...etc. I have never thought of him in that vein, at all. He has always come across as a pretty affable, thoughtful, quiet kind of person in his public facade...up to this point. And, although this incident definitely shows some character flaws in his personality and a chip on his shoulder about race relations, in his programs, he seems much more even-handed in his approach, and doesn't always portray blacks as victims.

However....television has the ability to edit and form the image we see, so my impressions of the man might not correspond to reality. Or, it could be that my impressions are true, but they are only part of the man, and not a full picture of who he is and what makes him tick

2.From an article: "He[Obama] did not apologize for his remark but repeated that he believed his choice of words was unfortunate."


"I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sgt. Crowley specifically," Obama told reporters. "I could have calibrated those words differently, and I told this to Sgt. Crowley."

Now...we have the famous, non-apology apology. Anyone who has been married more than two minutes has either heard the non-apology apology, or used it themselves. It's used in cases when you really are trying to make peace, but you don't really believe in your heart that you screwed up, or were so far over the line in what you said or did. It's code for "Look, I don't want to fight anymore, I didn't mean to hurt you, but I still think I'm either right...or, at least, not completely wrong."

To be fair, this is the same kind of reasoning behind Crowley's insistence that he wouldn't apologize. Nobody likes to apologize if they really believe they did nothing wrong.

The non-apology apology is really the only route for people who believe they're right. Annoying though it may be, it's better than an insincere apology that falls flat.

The whole apology obsession is merely a tussle in who gets to save face and be crowned "Winner of the Argument".

3. I don't get the backlash towards Obama. I understand that people disagree with him. I understand that some people think he was out of line. I just don't see the correspondence between the level of outrage directed at him as being proportionate to his comments. That's my perception. Others obviously disagree.

I could agre with you description of Gates' comments as grandiose and "revenge-y"....but I wouldn't place Obama's comments in the same category. I couldn't tell if you were simply playing devils' advocate by saying his comments could be construed as a threat, or if you actually thought so. If your simply turning the tables to prove a point, I get it. If not, I really can't make the intellectual jump from an offhand comment to an obvious, or even subtle, threat.

4. AVI, A while ago you linked a video by a law professor/lawyer/defense attorney(?) who spent 20 minutes telling everybody that they should never talk to the police....ever. I believe he went so far as to say that you shouldn't volunteer information, be cooperative, or try to be helpful, even if you knew you were innocent. Do you recall that video?

While Gates responded pretty jerkily to the police officer, I don't see how his behavior would be any different in scope than taking that lawyer's advice. An individual citizen, who has done no wrong, has no compulsion to be cooperative just because its the socially expected thing to do.

terri said...'s the video I was talking about.

Larry Sheldon said...

I have but one request:

Pretend that instead of Gates, the person breaking into the house was a genuine burglar, really intending to do harm to property (and person, if necessary).

Now. run all the commentary and tell me where the differences are.

terri said...


If Gates had been a burglar...I doubt he would have asked for the police officer's name and badge number, or do anything other than flee, fight, or surrender. He wouldn't have been able to provide identification proving himself to be the owner of the home.

It's not a parallel situation and it does not follow that Crowley's, or Gates', response would have been the same.

I know that a lot of libertarians read AVI's blog....I guess I'm surprised that more of them aren't focusing on the issue of how much power police officers should have in dealing with a homeowner, who is on his own property, and who has committed no crime....other than having a big mouth.

Thinking of the video I mentioned, and other libertarian advice I have encountered about people exercising their rights, asking for badge numbers, or proof of the governement's right or ability to do certain things...I'm surprised that aspect hasn't gotten more play or at least created a meaningful, tangential conversation.

Where are all you libertarians?

Or...have I associated the wrong values with libertarianism?

terri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larry Sheldon said...


I have never been a peace officer, but I have been involved in similar situations as victim or victims representative.

And in each of the situations that come to mind (mostly involving white middle class kids, for sure) the per has used exactly the behaviour described to try to talk their way out of it.

The only notable difference was that I (a third person) was able to insist that no, the perp was not invited, was not given the booty, or what ever.

I don't see how a peace officer would have the clairvoyance to know the difference between "righteous indignation by the legitimate occupant) and a trash-talking perp trying hard to et away.

Anonymous said...

"If Gates had been a burglar...I doubt he would have asked for the police officer's name and badge number, or do anything other than flee, fight, or surrender."

Terri, I recommend that you contact your local police department and ask about a ride-along program.

"DIS BEEZ RACISMS, IMA SUE ALL O' Y'ALL HONKY MUHFUGGA ASSES, Y'ALL GOAN HEAR FROM MAH LAWYA, IMA CALL JESSE JACKSON RIGHT NOW, DIS BEEZ RACISMS, DIS BEEZ SCRIMINATIONS, DIS BEEZ RACIAL PROFILIN, DIS BEEZ PO-LEECE BRUTALITIES, PUNK-ASS HONKY MUHFUGGAS, GIMME YO BADGE NUMBA MUHFUGGA, IMA SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUE" is what Negro hoodlums caught in the act typically start screaming at the top of their lungs from the time they see the cops arrive until they are cuffed and stuffed in the back seat. You will see this behavior again and again and again and again and again and again, and after a few weekend shifts you will have seen it about one ten thousandth of one percent as patrol officers like Sgt. Crowley see it.

The loud, obnoxious, belligerent, chip-on-shoulder, I'm-gonna-sue-all-of-y'all behavior that Gates reportedly displayed is normal for Negro hoodlums and for any street cop who's been on the beat more than a week, an indicator of criminal intent and guilty fear.

karrde said...


I found the opinion of Tamara K to be pretty strong. (She is somewhat more libertarian than I; she is definitely more colorful in her comments than I can achieve...)

On this front, I agree with her, mostly.

jackscrow said...

So why is it that he invited Crowley over for, of all things, a beer? To talk about racism?

Why not a White House dinner? Why not tea? 'cause everbuddy knows the working class can't be trusted to behave at a proper White House din-din. Prolly never seen a salad fork before.

This from the man who gave the Queen an I-pod with his own speeches on it. Sheesh.

Is it because, you know, Crowley is an Irish name, and hey, you know about those Irish and their alcohol?! Give 'em a little likker and everythang'll be ok. Heck, just 'cause he's Irish don't mean he ain't got sum Injun in him.

What The 0-Man did here is the equivalent of a white President inviting a person of color to the White House to share some watermelon, fried chicken, and listen to some drivin' while black stories. Jolly time.

Unbelievably oblivious.

Proving the 0-Man's point though, is that Gates does have better taste in beer, preferring Red Stripe or Becks over Crowley's Blue Moon.

Uh, weak wheat beer made by Coors. Almost as bad as ethnic profiling by the 0-Man.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Anon, my experience is that hoodlums of all descriptions have a similar song-and-dance. They take whatever is to hand. If they're black, that's what they go with, because sometimes it works. But I've heard guys use their religion, their age, their out-of-stateness (OK, in NH maybe that is a source of prejudice), their beauty (hah) - anything. Maybe using race bothers you more, but they irritate me about equally.

terri said...

He invited him for beer because that's what Obama drinks...or does no one recall people getting uptight about the photo of Obama drinking beer at a basketball game?

I think the assumption that the Beer is race-based is about as far-fetched as Gates thinking the original call was racist.

Karrde...I'll check out the link.

Anon...not even sure how to respond to you.

jackscrow said...

terri said...
"He invited him for beer because that's what Obama drinks...or does no one recall people getting uptight about the photo of Obama drinking beer at a basketball game?

I think the assumption that the Beer is race-based is about as far-fetched as Gates thinking the original call was racist..."


I dunno. Maybe if we were to consider the whole post from Sgt. Crowley's point of view? You never know, he might feel a little put upon, having someone of another ethnic background automatically assuming he liked to drink because he was Irish? Maybe even if he IS STANDING IN A BAR when he gets the invite?

I mean, especially if he knows in the depths of his very soul and through the personal experience of generations of his ethnic group that there was a history a societal-wide biased belief that the majority of Irishmen abused alcohol?

What if the invite was really only an innocent one - the kind of invite that someone might extend to a working acquaintance or a customer while in the course of their job?

But what if then, as Sgt. Crowley has been conditioned to look at such pleasantries as an insult to his heritage and his intelligence, he takes offense at the invitation to “have a beer”?

Are we to then blame him?

Of course not – blame the inviter, not the invitee.

jackscrow said...

The American Beer that Sgt. Crowley and Prof. Gates and President Obama should have:

LOST NATION PALE ALE from Willoughby Brewing Company, 4057 Erie Street Willoughby Ohio.

GraniteDad said...

Anonymous- huh? Seems to me like you're trying to fit your personal feelings about black people and crime into a narrative. But it just comes across as crass.

Terri- I agree to a point. That video AVI linked to definitely had an impact on me as well. And I certainly understand Gates' reluctance to spend time being questioned after the frustration of having to break into his own house. I think the troublesome part for me is how Gates (apparently) jumped right to a racial narrative. Maybe he and Anonymous have more in common than I thought....

GraniteDad said...

jackscrow- I love the Irish jokes. Filthy potato-eating micks, taking all the good mill jobs from the Swedes.

Of course, I'm as much Irish as Swedish, so the internal contradiction here is interesting.

Dr X said...

Speculation that Crowley was acting in some unnecessarily condescending or overly suspicious way because Gates is black is possible, but there is no evidence to support that accusation other than the general template that this happens All The Time.

True, there is no evidence, but what evidence is there in this case? The police report? Can you imagine a police officer writing in his report that he was condescending? A police report is merely the account a police officer writes after the fact to explain his actions. There is nothing inherently true, complete or factual about it. That is not a basis for dismissing a contrary account.

The record clearly shows that whatever Crowley did, Gates behaved badly.

The record, meaning what Officer Crowley wrote in his report? That may or may not be true. There is another record, which is what Gates says. That record may or may not be true.

And now that 911 tapes are released, we know that the caller did not indicate, initially, on the tape recorded 'record,' that the two men were black.

Consistent with her 911 call, and as reported in the Times, the caller spoke with Crowley when he arrived. She denies telling him in person that two black males entered the premises. Her statement is in direct contradiction to what Crowley wrote in his report. So much for what is being called the record and what the record clearly shows.

I don't know what happened. I think Obama was wrong to give his opinion in a case where facts are in dispute , but I don't believe that a police report should be treated as a record in the sense that we accept its contents at face value.

terri said...

That's the address for a segment I watched last night with Greta Van S. with Crowley's former boss. Interesting to me for several reasons.

1. Everything Michael Giatoppo says is hearsay and comes directly from Crowley, so it has the same problem that Dr. X has already pointed out.

2. Crowley wasn't even supposed to be at Gates' house...other officers had been dispatched and he chose to go there to help out on his own initiative.

3. Giatoppo says that Crowley said something like: "If you want to keep talking you're going to have to come outside, I'm leaving." (around 6:39 in the video) This was after Gates had already proven his identity. Gates came outside and continued directing his frustration at Crowley.

That seemed suspicious to me...almost like a purposeful escalation, drawing Gates outside, possibly setting him up for the disorderly conduct arrest.

Later in the video, around 7:16, Giatoppo says that Crowley said Gates forced his hand..".I was leaving and this guy came out on the porch and he forced my hand and I would have been gone, but he just kept on and kept on and he even brought my mother into it...I warned him and said if you don't go inside you're going to be arrested."

If Crowley was leaving...why did he tell Gates to come outside if he wanted to keep talking?

The two accounts don't add up.

It seems like Crowley baited Gates out onto the porch.

That combined with the fact that there are some discrepancies between what Crowley said the 911 witness said, and what she says she said seems a little fishy.

I'll stop now ...I'm Gates-ed/Crowleyed out.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

terri, Crowley's invitation is not bait, but a test, and a common one in police situations. It's an indication that the officer will leave if the civilian wishes to drop it, but carefully calculated to make it clear that the civilian has not "won," as that encourages further challenges, then or later. Nor has the officer "won" except in the mildest 51-49 way. If someone can calm down in such a situation, it is likely that the police have done their part protecting society. If not, then they need to stay.

We misread police actions because we unwittingly compare them to everyday social interactions. But police actions are by design more authority-asserting and refusing to give encouragement to bad behavior - for our safety. Hence the bright lights, the intimidating blue flashing, the stances, tones of voice, and positioning of the police. It feels uncomfortable to everyone. It's supposed to. 90%+ of the time in retrospect it's unnecessary - the officer could have accomplished the same with a golf shirt and a friendly handshake. But those remaining few percent can be life or death. That's why they do it.

Lashley's testimony is not hearsay, but you are correct that most info in this case comes from some "source" which by always its very nature has a preferred outcome. It is certainly still possible that Crowley fed the situation unfairly and egged him on. We are not in a position to prove anything, and must tentatively rely on what seems most likely - who of all those involved seems to have least agenda and to have considered several possible explanations.

As to the cautionary video about not saying anything to the police, Gates made the opposite mistake - he said a great deal to the police, but did not do (at first) the one thing he should have, which was identify himself. If he wanted to illustrate police racism, he should have shown his driver's license without comment and provided as little other information as possible. If that upset them, he would have a reasonable case that they might not have gotten so upset at a white man.

Donna B. said...

Alternatively, Crowley's words could be an invitation to shut up and advice that, really... Gates should shut up.

AVI is correct that most civilians do not understand the whys behind certain police procedures.

There are some people who have unfortunately been taught that mere police presence is a threat and a display of force. While some over-react as Gates did, others over-react in an entirely different way.

An anecdote of over-reacting in the opposite way:

Three young men were in a van stopped in the left turn lane at a light. My sister - on her first day alone in a patrol car (Florida Highway Patrol) - pulled up behind them to turn left to go to her assigned duty that day.

The light turned green and the van didn't move. The light turned red, then green again. My sister, actually quite unsure what to do in this situation turned her lights on then to persuade people not to get into the turn lane behind her car.

She got out and cautiously approached the driver's side of the van. The driver was holding his DL and insurance card in his hand and started yelling about he hadn't done anything wrong and why was she stopping him?

She said, "I didn't stop you. Why didn't you turn when the light went green?"

He said, "You were behind us!"

Needless to say, her first day on the "job" was a "success". Three arrests and the confiscation of various drugs.

Gringo said...

If he wanted to illustrate police racism, he should have shown his driver's license without comment and provided as little other information as possible.

Your point about Gates saying too much is well taken.

Gates had just returned from China. I cannot speak for Gate's actions regarding his driver's license, but a number of times when I have gone overseas as a tourist I have not brought my driver's license, for a number of reasons.
1) I am not going to be driving.
2) It slims down all the junk I am bringing.
3) If my wallet is stolen when I am overseas, the DL is one less thing I will have to worry about replacing when I get home.

IIRC, Gates did show Crowley his Harvard ID, which did not have his home address on it.

I don't know if Gates shwed Crowley his passport. IHMO, that would have helped things out.

Larry Sheldon said...

"Gates had just returned from China. I cannot speak for Gate's actions regarding his driver's license, but a number of times when I have gone overseas as a tourist I have not brought my driver's license, for a number of reasons."

Where was his passport?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Let's still keep our heads alert to the other side, though. However much Gates could have been the primary driver, the fact remains that this ended in an arrest, which is pretty serious stuff. Disorderly Conduct doesn't usually doesn't just mean "bothering people," but giving reasonable expectation of dangerousness, or about to escalate to that point.

Forget the cane and the age. I've seen old people in wheelchairs assault people, so that spinning of the facts doesn't wash. But it still may be that Gates's behavior might be below the threshold for "can reasonably be expected to become dangerous." We know in retrospect that he wouldn't, but that's not the point. How did he seem then?

Larry Sheldon said...

"Let's still keep our heads alert to the other side, though."

There are several "sides" here.

The one I am most interested in is the one where The Won, using his paranormal perception, pronounced that the police were acting stupidly.

How 60's SDS is that?

jackscrow said...

So, we're all agreed then:

All cops drink.

And... all black men break and enter.

Cool. The national referendum on that is over.

Long as we got it straight.

Btw, the Cerveza should have been Carta Blanca.

That way the Beer Summiters could drink the "white card" in lieu of playing the race card.

Think I'll go stand out on my front porch and yell at passing cops for a while. It's fun, but not very profitable.

But I'm well within my rights....