Were they both wrong?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Over the weekend, a commenter pointed me to some thoughts by Billy Beck about the Skip Gates arrest in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that is worth taking into account, and which pertains to the one issue that has given me the most pause in my thinking about it. Namely: Was Crowley right to arrest Gates? I leaned strongly in Crowley's favor on that question, but still had some nagging doubts.

Since I can't do better than madmax did to introduce it, I'll let him do the honors:

At first I thought [Beck's comments were] typical libertarian anti-state drivel, but lately I have come to the conclusion that as the welfare-state increases (along with smiley-faced fascism), the police are getting more abusive. Beck thinks that Crowley arrested Gates essentially because he didn't like his attitude; i.e., arbitrarily. To me, Gates is clearly an anti-white racist but it may be the case that Crowley was wrong. I don't know. [minor edits]
Gates is clearly a racist, and seems to me to have been baiting Crowley. Having read Crowley's report, his arresting Gates did not strike me as unreasonable, assuming that Gates's actions were indeed interfering with the normal discharge of Crowley's duties. (Whether the charge of disorderly conduct is an appropriate or adequate tool in this case is, itself, an interesting, albeit separate, question.)

But Carlos Miller, to whom Beck links at the end of his post, indicates that the charge of disorderly conduct is frequently abused. Might it have been here? Might Crowley have tried another tack, as another commenter here suggested he should have? For different reasons (to nail down a different factual point and to show that Gates is being less than forthright about another), Ann Althouse suggests (via Glenn Reynolds) making the police recordings of the incident public.

If Crowley had been "acting foolishly," to use President Obama's words in a way he clearly did not intend, then Billy Beck is right on the money when he indicates that Skip Gates blew an opportunity to bring an important issue to the attention of the public.
If Gates finds it necessary, for whatever reasoning, to stake himself to race in a matter like this, then he can have it and be as small and ridiculous as he wants to be.
I have to say that I do not share Beck's apparent certainty that Crowley acted inappropriately. In large part, because my father was a cop, I can see a very good man in Crowley's shoes simply trying to do his job. But because my dad also taught me to think about everything carefully -- and made it clear to me that some policemen are little better than criminals -- I can see it Beck's way, too.

-- CAV


Mike said...

All too many cops these days are glandular freaks who washed out of every other profession and who work in an environment that leads to effective PTSD. When one's days are spent in an "us against them" mindset, it's hard not to look at any non-cop as a potential threat. I suspect something of that was going through Crowley's head. Anything other than complete submission on the part of the citizen raises the cop's hackles. (On the flip side of this, being completely submissive is often good enough to get that potential ticket downgraded to a warning, if that.)

Once upon a time, police officers were professionals. I fear they have become little more than jackboots now, because instead of being able to make rational decisions based on observations, they are shackled by a laundry list of political niceties that endanger them but accrue no public safety or liberty benefit. Thus the cops whose blood ran with the job have moved on, and the washouts have replaced them.

Word verification: Matiest. Adj. The quality of being like a matey. Avast ye. Arrr.

Gus Van Horn said...

Heh! That's two amusing word verifications for you now!

Your observation that the stress of the job would make it harder for a cop to not to be confrontational makes understandable how something like this could blow up quickly.

Your bringing up PC "rules of engagement," so to speak, adds something that did not immediately come to mind RE: expansion of the welfare state.

Clay said...

Given the fact that Gates neighbors seem to think that the police didn't act inappropriately, and the fact that Gates isn't making an awful fuss to get the tapes released it is my suspicion that Gates was out of line. I would also like to hear the tapes.

I would also add to this that if the officer exited the house in order to confer with the other officers on the scene to resolve the situation and let everyone go about their business(which is what it sounds like was going on from the report) and that Gates actions were preventing this from being done that the arrest becomes somewhat more understandable. An officer saying "Don't talk to me like that!" is very different from an officer saying "Don't talk to me right now it's making it difficult/impossible for me to do my job." Furthermore, the officer appears to have given him multiple opportunities to allow him to finish his responsibilities.

On the other hand, I think that you are right that there is a wider issue of police over-reaching their authority and it is good to question that. The incident in, I think Oklahoma where the officer grabbed an ambulance driver by the throat b/c the driver continued to try to explain to the officer that there was a person inside the ambulance who needed to go to the hospital is a startling example that comes to mind. Made more startling by the fact that the officer did not lose his job.

Gus Van Horn said...

"Furthermore, the officer appears to have given him multiple opportunities to allow him to finish his responsibilities."

I think this is likely and it, along with other evidence you cite, makes me lean towards Crowley having acted appropriately, to the best of his knowledge and training.

But yes, I agree: A tape would be nice.

Anonymous said...

Re: Trying another tack: I've read in several places that Massachusetts law requires police officers to give citizens who request their names an ID card. But the officer's own report, Gates asked himn at lest three times and he replied orally but did not provide him with a card. He said he was just about to reach for the card, when he decided that the acoustics in the house made it difficult to communicate over ther adion and told Gates if he wished to continue to talk, he should come outside.

Some have noted that under Massachusetts law Gates could not have been arrested for obstruction while inside his house.

Gus Van Horn said...

"Some have noted that under Massachusetts law Gates could not have been arrested for obstruction while inside his house."

If this is true, then Crowley was being even more patient with Gates than I thought. Interesting. If anyone has an authoritative source for this , I'd be interested in knowing about it.

Donald said...

What is constantly left out of the discussion is that police officers have to fear riots. Mouthy people incite riots. Gates was mouthy, therefore, the arrest.

But in the larger picture, ruffled feelings pale versus the continuing Slavery in West Africa. Over 600,000 in Mauritania alone said the London Telegraph (7/12/09)

Confirm at Wikipedia "Slavery in Modern Africa".

Anonymous said...

Actually, the opposite. They say it's a police trick to get an arrestable offense against someone they can't otherwise arrest.

In his book, "Cop in the Hood" former Baltimore police office Peter Moskos confirms that officers there do use that trick.

Here's an explainer of the Masachusetts requirement that the officer present an ID card, which he never did, and of its obstruction law:


Here's Peter Moskos on how cops create and obstruction of justice arrest:


Gus Van Horn said...

"What is constantly left out of the discussion is that police officers have to fear riots. Mouthy people incite riots. Gates was mouthy, therefore, the arrest."

This arrest had nothing to do with riots. There were no crowds around to riot and what Gates said not anywhere close to actual incitement, anyway.

Outside of violating the rights of others (e.g., incitement, fraud, slander, and here, making it impossible for people to conduct their own affairs or obstructing justice), people should not face government force over anything they say. In fact, it is among the proper functions of government to protect freedom of speech. Indeed, I regard it as the single most important thing the government can so.

I think that, provided Gates was (as I think is likely the case) keeping the police from doing their job, it can be (and might have been) proper for the police to arrest him.

Gus Van Horn said...

"In his book, "Cop in the Hood" former Baltimore police office Peter Moskos confirms that officers there do use that trick."

Without time to check the URLs you list, I will say here that just because police might often use a law tactically (or even improperly), it does not necessarily follow that there snould not be such a law, or that its existence on the books is nefarious.

The police serve a legitimate function of government, of maintaining law and order. They do have a legitimate need to be able to stop criminals from interfering with what they should be doing.

Anonymous said...

This arrest had nothing to do with riots. There were no crowds around to riot and what Gates said not anywhere close to actual incitement, anyway.

The arrest had everything to do with riots. Under Massachusetts law, obstruction is behavior likely to cause a riot. If the officer didn't fear a riot, he had no cause to charge Gates with that crime

Gus Van Horn said...

If you want to claim that that is what the law says, then provide a citation so I (and others interested) can look it up.

In any case, I am no legal expert, but this is the first time I have ever heard of fear of rioting beingan integral part of a charge of obstruction of justice.

If that is true, it is a poor reason in this case for making an arrest. There was ZERO fear for riots. There was, however, someone making it difficult for a policeman to do his job.

Anonymous said...


Here you go.

Anonymous said...

Here's more from a former Masachusetts prosecutor:


Gus Van Horn said...

This link explains how disorderly conduct is legally defined to prevent rioting.

That is news to me, and I appreciate learning that.

But, AFAIK, disorderly conduct is distinct from obstruction of justice.

If that is not the case, or if obstruction of justice is different, but also somehow about rioting, then the police would appear NOT to have a good legal tool for situations like this at their disposal.

Anonymous said...

Whoa. My mistake. I wrote obstruction (several times) but meant disorderly conduct, which is what Gates was charged with.

Clearly, he wasn't guilty of obstruction, and under the law, it appears disorderly conduct was a bad charge as well. The only person who broke the law here would be the police officer, who failed to give him an ID card as required by state law.

Gus Van Horn said...

Someone (you?) posted a bunch of links this morning that I still haven't gotten to.

Is he really required to hand over his ID, or is he merely required to read it? And if the latter, could he have, over Gates's voice?

Those tapes would be nice...

Anonymous said...

Here's what appears to be the relevant law:


Gus Van Horn said...


"Section 98D. Each city or town shall issue to every full time police officer employed by it an identification card bearing his photograph and the municipal seal. Such card shall be carried on the officer’s person, and shall be exhibited upon lawful request for purposes of identification."

Gus Van Horn said...

Also, earlier, a commenter noted this blog post on the subject by a former prosecutor.

I mention it only now because this comment did not appear in my email, but did appear in my comment queue, so despite its time stamp, I published it just now.

Jim May said...

The Gates case illustrates how the Left can corrode key pillars of a free society from multiple angles.

By expanding the overweening powers of the state, police are placed into the position of enforcing ever more arbitrary, statist laws. This pushes the people to distrust them.

On the race side, the Left infuses blacks with racism, welding them into a semi-insular tribe that hates outsiders, and rejects America and its institutions as "being white". Put this together with all the well-known patterns of urban poverty, and now being a cop is suddenly much more dangerous, and hostile.

Now you ahve a climate where cops are defended by few, openly hated by many, and yet they are still the ones we call when trouble comes. Thanks to gun control laws and other legal hazards of individual initiative, we *have* to call them to solve issues that our parents might have handled on their own (I don't mean vigilantism here, I mean self-defens, and simply face-to-face dispute resolution).

Put all that together, and you see that cops are the point men at the pressure point. They too are hamstrung by all sorts of PC bullship, "sensitivity" training etc.

I'm not surprised in the least that they have become paranoid and insular themselves, nor that the profession is less attractive to good men, but more so to power-hungry jugheads. I'm not surprised to see more and more cops act on the presumption that they are above at least the smaller laws -- the rules of the road, for example.

So while I can see why cops take on that peculiar demeanor, and are very prone to siege mentality, that doesn't affect Billy Beck's point. I've not had any bad experiences with the police to date, and have known police personally -- including one who snapped and committed suicide, adding to the already high rate of suicide among cops. I remain respectful of the principle behind the badge.

But in the full context of what is being done to this country, I too find Billy Beck's viewpoint entirely believable.

Gus Van Horn said...

"I'm not surprised to see more and more cops act on the presumption that they are above at least the smaller laws -- the rules of the road, for example."

This reminds me that in Houston, I'd occasionally see cops turn their lights on just long enough to get through a red light from time to time.


madmax said...

Jim May makes some excellent points. The welfare state has created a sub-class of largely minority dependents who rely on government enforced altruism for their survival. This alone would create resentment by minorities towards those that support them because in one sense they are not equals but parasites and they know this on some level. So the welfare state puts blacks and hispanics in the role of disgruntled children and it puts whites in the role of guilt-ridden (and morally disarmed) parent. That is a recipe for anti-white animosity.

But then the Left - as Jim says - essentially inculcates anti-white racism in non-whites. This starts in the schools and colleges and is nearly everywhere in the popular culture (especially Hollywood). Further, Leftists have created a racial quota system which has essentially dumbed-down or lessened the integrity and quality of nearly *every* industry in America. All of this is breeding massive resentment on the part of whites which has the danger of erupting in an all out race war at some point in the future.

But it gets worse as the victimless crime laws (anti-drug laws especially) have created violent crime infested inner cities where cops are essentially engaged in a war with mini-militias funded by drug money. These inner cities are almost exclusively non-white and are drowning in racial tribalism. And the Left has made the cop's jobs even harder with PC "rules of engagement"! So the cops end up with an "its us against the world attitude." The end result is that the Balkanization of America combined with the drug war, welfare-state socialism and most importantly *public education* is KILLING America.

Yet very few see the real solution. The Left still thinks the problem with America is that it is a racist, fascist, heartless capitalist nation run by rich, greedy Republicans who are "free market ideologues" and warmongers. Many conservatives agree with them in part. The few who don't think the problem is actually godless liberalism or the culture of "soulless individualism" fostered by atheistic liberals who have abandoned the moral guidance of traditional, religious values and embraced hedonistic "rationalism." Only Objectivists and a small percentage of the better libertarians understand this. (The majority of conservatives sure as hell don't.)

So the Gates-Crowley affair is a perfect microcosm of all that is wrong with the culture. As you so correctly put it, *both* are wrong. But the ultimate cause of this is the increasing collectivism of the culture and the only solution is genuine individualism.

P.S. If you want to puke there is a photo going around the internet of Obama, Gates and Crowley all toasting their beer mugs at their recent White House luncheon. Crowley basically totally capitulated and that photo captures it perfectly.

Gus Van Horn said...


You and Jim have done an excellent job rounding out the picture here.

I saw the photo, but didn't quite puke because I was done puking already. While you can't easily snub an invitation by the President without looking ungracious (which is I think is part of he extended it), I think Crowley could have said something.

Crowley had capitulated before the beer was ever poured.


Billy Beck said...

These are not your father's police forces, Gus.

You're wrong about this.

Gus Van Horn said...

You're late, Billy.

I concluded in a later post that the police did not have a legal basis for making this arrest.

Legally, the police were wrong. That said, I do not know enough to say one way or another whether they were morally at fault, as you seem to also hold.