Friday, July 24, 2009

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and the Abuse of Police Power

I agree with Jacob Sullum:

Let's say Gates did initially refuse to show his ID (an unsurprising response from an innocent man confronted by police in his own home). Let's say he immediately accused Crowley of racism, raised his voice, and behaved in a "tumultuous" fashion. Let's say he overreacted. So what? By Crowley's own account, he arrested Gates for dissing him. That's not a crime, or at least it shouldn't be. Instead of admitting that he "acted stupidly" (as Obama put it) in the heat of the moment by deciding to punish Gates for hurting his feelings, Crowley continues to defend his conduct, refusing to apologize.

Even if you accept Crowley's version of events, he acted unethically. Let's say that Gates is an obnoxious race-baiter. Let's say that he wrongfully attributed racist motives to Crowley. It doesn't matter. He insulted another man, Crowley, in his own home. If Crowley didn't like to be spoken to that way, he could have left the property. Instead, he used his police power of arrest to settle a personal score and punish an uppity civilian.

It doesn't matter that (or if) Gates is a professional jackass, or acted as one in front of Crowley. You have a right to be a jackass on your own property. Anyone who doesn't like that can leave.

Really, do we want a society where police officers are free to arrest people who piss them off?

The authority given to police officers is an enormous one. An arrest, even if it never goes beyond just the actual arrest, can seriously screw up a person's life. At minimum, it's impairing that person's freedom of movement and activity for several hours without consent.

If I, as a civilian, decided that another person was a jackass and locked him in a closet for several hours, that would constitute a serious crime. Why should a similar decision and action by a police officer be treated any differently?

A police officer is given the sacred trust to enforce laws. He doesn't get to enforce vendettas.

19 comments:

bob said...

This doesn't really surprise me,many police seem to think they are above the law.

There was a case in the Cleveland,Ohio area last year involving a police officer who was divorced and wanted to take his son on vacation with him. The problem was the ex-wife had custody and didn't want him to take his son out of the country,someplace in the Carribean.So what does he do he enlists his fellow officers to basically raid her home, they arrested her after they baited her into cursing at them and throwing them out of her home. Of course they awarded temporary custody to the ex-husband and he took his son on vacation .

Of course a judge found this whole fiasco to be illigitimate but it was to late hubby already left.

Divers and Sundry said...

"Really, do we want a society where police officers are free to arrest people who piss them off?"

Like it or not, that's what we've got.

"He doesn't get to enforce vendettas."

We don't like it, but that's exactly what they do get to do. Daily. All over the country. As this situation illustrates.

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runescape gold said...

We know that the Secret Service will step in front of a bullet to protect the president, but with these comments by Dear Leader does anyone expect a cop to do the same thing. These comments has made the Secret Service's job that much harder because no cop will back them up now.
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Anonymous said...

Gates is not privileged above the law. Officer Crowley acted precisely and appropriately in view of the facts as presented at the scene. His asking of questions and he repeated request for cooperation by a confrontative person were in now way insulting but rather a demonstration of professionalism and effective training. If Gates had not lost control of himself, he would not have been subjected to arrest. He was treated no differently than anyone else.

Responding to a third party report of a suspected break-in, officer Crowley could not, when confronted by Gates simply "leave the property." Again, if Gates had simply exercised a modicum of self-control, he would not have been subjected to arrest.

To state that officer Crowley acted out of prejudice is unfounded in available evidence. Such a statement reflects the very prejudice of which officer Crowley is accused.

At issue is not what sort of person Gates might be. At issue is that when challenged by a duly sworn law enforcement officer, a civilian is by law required to comply with the lawful request of that law enforcement officer. Where one might be standing when that request is made is of no consequence.

TN Rambler said...

Runescape,
Any officer that would not do their job does not deserve to wear the badge. I agree with John. If I choose to be a jackass in my own home and I am not threatening the safety of another person then I have that right. The police officer overstepped his authority just because Gates pissed him off. This type of thing should not be tolerated.

Divers and Sundry said...

"Gates is not privileged above the law."

I agree. Gates, however, didn't break any laws. Apparently it's the police officers who are privileged above the law. They can place folks under arrest because they feel offended.

"At issue is not what sort of person Gates might be."

I agree. At issue is what sort of abuse police officers are allowed to get away with.

"These comments has made the Secret Service's job that much harder because no cop will back them up now."

Because a police officer's willingness to obey the law all depends on how they feel about the person they're confronting? Now _that's_ encouraging.

Ignobleone said...

Yep, this is not an America where citizens are innocent until proven guilty and the police are public servants. Police have become a force that can arrest without just cause because we refuse to accept responsibility for our own safety. We expect our taxes to provide a force that will protect us - which will never happen. What we have now is a society where the police forces enforce their understanding of the law on law abiding citizens, and when convenient deal with criminals too stupid to dupe them. When a homeowner can be arrested for speaking his mind on his own property, which is really old news here, America has become a police state.

Rich said...

The whole thing is unfortunate. But the comments in this article do not square with what is expected from the police. The police officer had no way of knowing that Gates was the home owner. He needed identification, which Gates refused to provide. The whole incident could have been over in less than 60 seconds had Gates complied. This officer had a duty to investigate this situation, and that is what he was attempting to do.

To suggest that if the police officer didn't like being called names he should have left, would have been irresponsible on his part. It is possible, from the officer's perspective, that Gates was an unlawful intruder or that there was an intruder still inside. Once Gates provided some ID the officer did try to leave, as suggested. But Gates followed him continuing to provoke the officer.

Once outside, the officer warned gates twice about his conduct, not because his feelings were hurt, but because there were now witnesses to Gates' behavior. Had he arrested him inside, it would have surely been Crowley's word against Gates' word, and we all know how that would have turned out.

Additionally, disorderly conduct is against the law. That is why he was arrested. To suggest that Gates can do whatever he wants shows ignorance of the law and the facts of the situation.

In my opinion, Gates is the one who is acting in a racially motivated way. To accuse an officer who is attempting to do his job of being a racist SOLEY BECAUSE HE IS WHITE, is itself a form of racism.

John said...

Once outside, the officer warned gates twice about his conduct, not because his feelings were hurt, but because there were now witnesses to Gates' behavior.


There were witnesses. So what?

Had he arrested him inside, it would have surely been Crowley's word against Gates' word, and we all know how that would have turned out.


So what? How does this change the non-illegal nature of Gates' behavior?

Additionally, disorderly conduct is against the law. That is why he was arrested. To suggest that Gates can do whatever he wants shows ignorance of the law and the facts of the situation.


Lawyers think otherwise.

Look, let's say that I'm in your home or on your porch and you insult me. Can I call the police and have you arrested for disorderly conduct?

And if there was a legal basis for the arrest, why were the charges against him dropped immediately?

In my opinion, Gates is the one who is acting in a racially motivated way. To accuse an officer who is attempting to do his job of being a racist SOLEY BECAUSE HE IS WHITE, is itself a form of racism.


So what? It doesn't change the non-illegal nature of Gates' behavior.

Besides, do you want to live in a society in which the police are allowed to arrest people who are your political opponents?

Maybe one could get a tingle up one's leg from seeing one's foe frog-marched off to the paddy wagon on bogus charges, but a police force powerful enough to do so with impunity can abuse you with those very same powers.

John Wilks said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
James R. Rummel said...

Rich and Anonymous are right in this case.

While reading through the original post, as well as the comments posted here, many points were raised that I think should be addressed. That would take too much time, and bore the crap out of the lot of you, so I'll confine myself to just a few.

The entire purpose of the police, the very reason the institution exists, is to coerce compliance. They get people to do something, or they get people to stop doing something.

You don't like it? Believe me, you'd like it a whole lot less if they weren't around!

Think of the time before publicly funded police forces existed. If you were rich, you could afford to hire bully boys to see to the safety of you and your property. ("Have the grooms give him a good thrashing for his impertinence!") If you didn't have money, you had better tug at your forelock or else you'd get a thrashing.

Gates was, indeed, guilty of an offense. He did not comply with a lawful request from a police officer, even after repeated warnings. Hence his arrest for disorderly conduct.

The fact that Gates was acting like an ass in public is very germane indeed. He was directly challenging the authority of the uniform, in front of witnesses, which meant that the officer had no real leeway left.

Does anyone in their right mind think that the officer should have simply shrugged and left after Gates refused to produce an ID with the address on it, or when he started to shriek when the officer was being reasonable? Why can't anyone see that behavior like that would actually make enforcing the law more difficult, and violence towards officers who are legally doing their jobs more likely?

The assertion that the arrest shouldn't have occurred because some real honest-to-gawd lawyers say it shouldn't is asinine in the extreme. We have courts, staffed by real honest-to-gawd judges to decide whether or not arrests are improper. One thing we don't want is the police to adjudicate in the street, like some dystopian society from a Judge Dredd comic book.

If you obstruct or challenge a police officer during the course of his duties you will be arrested. If Gates had not been arrested, perhaps because the arresting officer knew that the POTUS was Gates' buddy, then the officer would have been derelict in his duty.

And I bet all of you would be just as outraged at such a blatant show of favoritism, wouldn't you?

John said...

The entire purpose of the police, the very reason the institution exists, is to coerce compliance. They get people to do something, or they get people to stop doing something.

You don't like it? Believe me, you'd like it a whole lot less if they weren't around!

Think of the time before publicly funded police forces existed. If you were rich, you could afford to hire bully boys to see to the safety of you and your property. ("Have the grooms give him a good thrashing for his impertinence!") If you didn't have money, you had better tug at your forelock or else you'd get a thrashing.



I agree that the police exist to coerce.

Gates was, indeed, guilty of an offense. He did not comply with a lawful request from a police officer, even after repeated warnings. Hence his arrest for disorderly conduct.


The lawyers I link to provide the actual statute of the law, which Gates' behavior does not violate.

And I'm really glad that it doesn't. It would be indeed a dangerous society where disobedience or disrespect to a cop in and of itself is a crime.

The fact that Gates was acting like an ass in public is very germane indeed. He was directly challenging the authority of the uniform, in front of witnesses, which meant that the officer had no real leeway left.


The statute of the law disagrees with you.

And again, I'm really glad that it does. I prefer to live in a republic where we are citizens, not subjects; where we need not kowtow to government agents and may even express open contempt for them, so as long as we do not harm them or others.

Does anyone in their right mind think that the officer should have simply shrugged and left after Gates refused to produce an ID with the address on it, or when he started to shriek when the officer was being reasonable?


[raises hand] I do.

Why can't anyone see that behavior like that would actually make enforcing the law more difficult, and violence towards officers who are legally doing their jobs more likely?


Possibly, but I think that it is more likely that police will find their jobs harder when citizens can trust officers to obey the law and not toss them in jail for backtalking them.

The assertion that the arrest shouldn't have occurred because some real honest-to-gawd lawyers say it shouldn't is asinine in the extreme. We have courts, staffed by real honest-to-gawd judges to decide whether or not arrests are improper. One thing we don't want is the police to adjudicate in the street, like some dystopian society from a Judge Dredd comic book.


Well, we only have lawyers talking about this because the case never made it to a judge. The police and DA immediately dropped the charges. Now if it's clear that Gates violated the law, why isn't he being prosecuted? Why didn't the state even attempt to push this case forward?

If you obstruct or challenge a police officer during the course of his duties you will be arrested.


He was not arrested for obstruction of justice, so this argument doesn't apply to this case.

If Gates had not been arrested, perhaps because the arresting officer knew that the POTUS was Gates' buddy, then the officer would have been derelict in his duty.


I suspect that what is more likely is that Crowley was pissed that a civilian was talking back to him, and decided to toss him in jail for a night. The charged would never stick, but Gates would never get that night back. There would be no consequences for Crowley at all.

Fortunately, Crowley chose to bully someone who had the clout to fight back. Hopefully this will teach Crowley to obey the law and not abuse his power in the future.

Divers and Sundry said...

"The entire purpose of the police, the very reason the institution exists, is to coerce compliance."

I hope not. More like to enforce the law. So far the only evidence we have that Gates broke the law is the police officer's own report.

Even his own report says, "For the second time I warned Gates to calm down while I withdrew my … handcuffs from their carrying case. Gates again ignored my warning and continued to yell at me. It was at this time I informed Gates that he was under arrest." So even the cop's own report says Gates was arrested for yelling at a police officer. Gates had provided the police officer with photo ids, which the police officer does not deny.

I think at the very least it shows a lack of ability on the cop's part in dealing with a tired, sick, elderly black man who has a police officer inside his house accusing him of breaking in.

"Does anyone in their right mind think that the officer should have simply shrugged and left after Gates refused to produce an ID with the address on it, or when he started to shriek when the officer was being reasonable?"

He did produce 2 photo ids, there is disagreement on how loud Gates was, that the officer was being reasonable is a questionable assumption on your part, and yes! I think the officer should have left as soon as the ids were shown. Repeating his name and badge number when asked would have also been appropriate. Instead, the police officer seems to have escalated this conflict rather than serve as a calming influence.

This is not an isolated incident. Abuse of police power is not such a rare event that we are all shocked to hear of it.

John said...

D & S wrote:

He did produce 2 photo ids, there is disagreement on how loud Gates was, that the officer was being reasonable is a questionable assumption on your part, and yes! I think the officer should have left as soon as the ids were shown. Repeating his name and badge number when asked would have also been appropriate. Instead, the police officer seems to have escalated this conflict rather than serve as a calming influence.


This is an important point that I neglected to bring up in my last comment. By this point, according to the officer's own report, Gates had produced photo ID to prove that he lived at the house. The officer had completed his duty and was free to leave. If Crowley chose to stay and be insulted, that was his own choice.

Ignobleone said...

Significantly, by Crowley's admission in his own report he recognized Gates as the homeowner early in the encounter. He then repeatedly (repeatedly) instructed Gates to go outside. He should have got in his $60k taxpayer provided unmarked prowl car and drove away. Police are out of control in our United States, and do more to oppress law abiding citizens than reduce crime. They need some serious reigning in.

jockeystreet said...

I just got back from vacation last night, was away from internet, radio, papers, etc, for the week, so maybe I'm missing pieces of this.

From what I do understand though, "he should have just left when he realized Gates is the owner" doesn't work.

I can see the scenario going very, very differently.

See, the cop gets there, has reason to believe that two men have broken in, an older gentleman comes to the door but won't show ID, he eventually realizes the guy is the owner, the guy refuses to step outside and starts acting very strange, and so the cop just says "oh well" and leaves... then the next day we find that there were in fact intruders in the house, that they told the professor not to say a word when he went to the door, they beat him senseless after the cop left, and everyone is furious with the cop for being so racist that he didn't bother to stick around and make sure everything was really truly alright before driving off.

In spite of my wild left wing ideology and my frequent youthful encounters with the police, I tend to think that cops have a tough and important job and that things aren't always really, totally clear in the moment. Not trying to excuse abuse when it happens (and it certainly does) but to me this seems like the sort of case where you can maybe extend the benefit of the doubt.

John said...

See, the cop gets there, has reason to believe that two men have broken in, an older gentleman comes to the door but won't show ID, he eventually realizes the guy is the owner, the guy refuses to step outside and starts acting very strange, and so the cop just says "oh well" and leaves... then the next day we find that there were in fact intruders in the house, that they told the professor not to say a word when he went to the door, they beat him senseless after the cop left, and everyone is furious with the cop for being so racist that he didn't bother to stick around and make sure everything was really truly alright before driving off.


I suppose that this explanation, however unlikely, is plausible. But only if this is what Crowley suspected might be happening. Crowley has thus far not expressed that he was attempting to investigate this possibility.

jockeystreet said...

But I would assume it's standard to ask someone to step outside, so that that judgement doesn't necessarily have to be made.

I don't know.

Like I said, not certainty of any kind, but rather benefit of the doubt.