Obama, Gates, Crowley, and the Troubling Controversy that Seemingly Won’t Go Away

Up to now I have purposely avoided this whole disorderly conduct arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. for a number of reasons.

First reason being that compared to the other cases I’ve written about here and elsewhere, this is a very minor case of police misconduct. I have yet to read or hear any reports that Mr. Gates was roughed up even a little bit.

Second, Mr. Gates seems like a real ass. Gates seems to be someone who has a chip on his shoulder and apparently views the world in black and white (i.e. if the police as much as ask a question, s/he is a racist!). A woman saw 2 men trying to break into Gate’s home; unbeknownst to the woman, one of the men was the resident of the home. The woman even said as much on the 911 call:

“I don’t know what’s happening. … I don’t know if they live there and they just had a hard time with their key, but I did notice they had to use their shoulders to try to barge in…”

Now some people are calling her a racist for making the call to the police to begin with!

Third, like President Obama, I “don’t have all the facts” but unlike the president, I’m not going to say definitively that the police “acted stupidly.” There are no videos that documented the encounter and I wasn’t there so I cannot make a judgment as to who acted stupidly or to what degree. My best guess, based on what I have read about the case, is that both Mr. Gates and Sgt. Crowley acted inappropriately and overreacted.

So why have I decided to weigh in now you ask? I think the reason has to do mostly with the fact that this story won’t go away and with so much commentary in the MSM, talk radio, and the blogosphere, I can’t help but offer my 2 cents because certain aspects of this saga trouble me.

I am troubled that this case has turned into a race issue. This was not a case where a white police officer pulled over a black man for DWB. The police responded to a 911 call of a possible break in. This is what the police are supposed to do!

I am troubled that the president would make a public statement without knowing more about the facts of the case. For whatever reason, President Obama thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to opine about the historically troubled relationship between racial minorities and the police. Whether or not the president has a legitimate case to make, this case is not what I would consider a good example of the police racial profiling. What he should have said was something like: “Mr. Gates is a friend of mine but I don’t know all the facts; it would be inappropriate for me to comment about this case at this time.”

I am troubled that (apparently) the police did not leave Mr. Gates home once he identified himself as the home’s rightful resident, thus proving no crime had been committed.

I am troubled with how the police can apparently arrest someone for disorderly conduct for just about any reason they wish. While I do believe that Mr. Gates acted like an ass…since when is that a crime? Sure, he yelled some nasty things at the police when he should have been thanking them for investigating what appeared to be an unlawful break in, but how is making his displeasure known to the police disorderly conduct? I believe Doug is right: arresting Gates in this case was an unconstitutional voilation of his civil rights.

I am troubled by the way certain commentators such as Glenn Beck have gone off the deep end on Obama’s handling of this case, even going as far as calling the president a racist. I didn’t like it when people called Bush a racist and I don’t like it when people call Obama a racist*. That is a hell of a nasty charge to make of anyone (and if one does make that charge, they should have some damn good proof). Like I said before, Obama mishandled this situation but to say he is racist for commenting on race relations with the police (however inappropriate in using this case as an example) is a bridge too far.

I am troubled that other commentators say that because Obama said that the police “acted stupidly” that this is a slap in the face to police officers everywhere…as if he called all police officers stupid. What complete nonsense. I think its worth pointing out that Obama called the actions of the police stupid; he did not call the police stupid. This is a very important distinction. Even the most intelligent, honest, and morally upstanding individual acts stupidly at times. Not even college professors, police officers, or world leaders are immune from this.

Yes, this is indeed a teaching moment. Its just too bad that too many people seem to be learning the wrong lessons.

*This coming from someone who is not a fan of either president.

  • http://doubleplusundead.mee.nu Alice H

    An assumption I think you’re making that may be incorrect, but I don’t have the time to look it up right now – I don’t believe that Gates was able to positively identify himself as the legal resident. He showed a Harvard ID, his drivers license did not have the address on it.

    So in a theoretical case, if an officer showed up because a break-in was reported, and the first person he saw said, “Oh, I live here,” would you expect the officer to take that at face value?

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Stephen Littau

    You’re right Alice, my assumption may be incorrect but that is my understanding of what happened (which is why I hedged a little and wrote ‘apparently’). If Gates was not able to positively identify himself as the lawful resident of the home, that changes things quite a lot. It’s my understanding that Gates went to the race card very early into the encounter and at first refused to show the ID. It’s also my understanding that he finally did show his ID and after a little more back and forth, the police started to leave without intending to arrest Mr. Gates (Gates was then arrested after hurling insults at the officers).

    Like I said, I don’t have all the facts. If I am wrong about any assumptions I have made based on my understanding of this case, I’ll happily make the necessary corrections.

  • Nylarthotep

    Sorry, I live in the area and you are completely off the mark. The police officer was acting fully within the law. If any other person did the screaming and challenging of the officer trying to determine if the house was in fact been broken into and that person refused to provide legitimate identification they would be arrested.

    What do you propose? That the police stand around while an unknown individual continually interferes with the actions required of them? He wasn’t just protesting the police activity, he was drawing a crowd and disturbing the neighbors. So the police’s action may look to you as being unjustified, but was in fact what was required.

  • mikeuragenius
  • ckirksey

    The Crowley/Gates incident should be analyzed from the very beginning…the 911 call and not from the disorderly conduct arrest. When Crowley got the dispatcher’s call of a possible BE no mention of two black men was made. When Crowley arrived on the scene both Crowley and Whalen agree that Whalen identified herself as the 911 caller.

    However Crowley’s police report indicates that Whalen tells him of two black men on the porch with backpacks. Whalen has a made a public statement saying she said no such thing. Crowley nor his representative has publically disputed Whalen.

    So now we have Crowley with the 911 caller and he apparently does not say to her “What did you see?” He reacts to what? Gates appearing behind the glass door. Hmmm. A black man.

    Now the next question would be: Can Crowley approach the man behind the glass door and ask (demand?) that he step outside? Can Crowley that the man show some proof that he resides at the house? Can Crowley claim exigent circumstances and enter the house and arrest Gates?

    How pertinent is this:

    (“[I]f there are articulable facts supporting a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed a criminal offense, that person may be stopped in order to identify him, to question him briefly, or to detain him briefly while attempting to obtain additional information”); Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143, 146 (1972)

    Now exactly what “articulable facts” that support “a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed a criminal offense” did Crowley have? A POSSIBLE BE by two males, Gates, a black man, standing behind the glass door??? Bingo!!!

    BTW Gates is only required to give his name if the above facts are in play. No address, no photo, name only. Anything beyond is up to the police to obtain in an investigation.

    Also I now believe that Obama has made a big mistake in having the beer party because I suspect in a month or so Crowley will be in serious trouble.

    Obama made a political miscue in saying “the police acted stupidly”. Why? Because no one in the news media is really interested in just following the known facts to their logical conclusion.

    Will there be an investigation into Crowley’s apparent false police report? If it is false and Whalen’s account is correct Crowley clearly did a very poor job of invetigation at the scene of possible BE. He reacted to perhaps his base preconceptions.

  • SWilliams

    Ckirksey- Don’t trouble these “Libertarians” with the truth, that would subvert their role as an off shoot of the Republican Party that postures as independent thought.

    Red, black, Portorican, doesn’t matter with abuse of power unless you fall in the white category. Particularly when the black man throws out the “race card” then all bets are off vis a vis the Constitution.