Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I'm with Skip Gates

For the first time ever.

Taranto's piece is even-handed and fair, but I'd add one (important) thought to this:

This is not to say that the police are always right, and it seems to us that arresting Gates was an unwise use of the officer’s authority. Having ascertained that the burglary report was false, the cop had no reason to remain on the scene. This appears to have been a misunderstanding between two stubborn men, both of whom would be better off had one of them exercised some maturity and forbearance.

The difference is that in encounters between the police and the public, it is the police officer who is being paid to exercise maturity. If a citizen acts less maturely in such an encounter, he is simply behaving poorly. If a police officer acts less maturely, he is doing his job badly. That's a substantial difference.


Queen1 said...

Having spent a weekend in the pokey because of a police officer doing his job badly (and my bad assumption about his sense of humor), I can say with certainty that while Mr. Gates experienced the ass-end of our policing community, his color probably had nothing to do with it! In my experience, policing does not attract people with forbearance, grace and flexibility of mind.

Chris said...

Have you read the police report? Gates was abusive from the start. Police don't have to take abusive behavior. I saw a similar situation next door where I used to live. The officer told me that if the lady stepped out onto her porch again and continued to berate him, he would arrest her. She was white.

Police are paid to be mature in the manner of using proper force. That doesn't mean they have to continuously take abuse from someone. Calmly arresting Gates for abusive behavior is a mature action.

W. Lauer said...

"Have you read the police report? Gates was abusive from the start. Police don't have to take abusive behavior."
Two points: I would call "abusive" a gross exaggeration; the term is loaded with physical overtones which simply don't apply, even if the report were accurate (this would not be the first time a cop wrote crafted a report to cover a bad arrest). Disrespectful, maybe, but the law does not make it a crime simply to be disrespectful to police. Police do have to put up with it and many do all the time. I do not advocate it; I teach my children the opposite, but police must learn to take it without becoming unprofessional. If they can't handle it, they should change jobs. To take umbrage and get overbearing is to inflame the situation and provoke crime. What happened to the term "peace officer"?
More importantly,there are major differences between the two cases mentioned. Prof. Gates was in fact "in" his own home and the report came from a "passerby" according to the article I read--a dubious source for distinguishing resident from burglar. In the other incident, the report came from a neighbor who knew those who were in the backyard did not live there. Furthermore, if I were queried by the police while in another man's house when he was not at home, I would not find that nearly so upsetting as to have policemen come up to my own front door and start demanding I prove who I am, and that I have a right to be there. The two situations really do not compare, IMO.
Bottom line for me: the policeman's right to be on private property without permission of the homeowner was 100% dependent upon his duty to investigate the complaint. His right to be on Gate's porch ended once he confirmed that there was no crime. Even in his report, the best he could come up with after seeing the prima facie proof that Gates belonged there was: I was confused by his behavior -- hardly justification for ignoring the Commonwealth D.L.!
With a complaint of a possible break in coming from a passerby, the cop should have been mentally prepared to encounter the homeowner and, if that happened, to change his stance from the macho crime fighter to the humble public servant of the homeowner. The policeman's duty remains irrespective of the *allegedly* disrespectful behavior of the homeowner. As soon as he saw the state issued ID with that address on it, "I am sorry, sir, for the confusion, that will be all," would have diffused the situation, without any failure to perform his true duty. That is how police should be trained and what should be expected of them, even if humble pie has a sour taste.

Unknown said...

I read the police report, which mentions only a Harvard ID and not a "state issued ID with that address on it" (W. Lauer's words). Does Gates's Harvard ID list his address? I doubt it. As far as I could tell, Gates never actually satisfied the officer's request for an ID indicating he resided at this property. The Harvard ID, I suppose together with Gates's scholarly appearance, was sufficient to convince the officer that Gates was no burglar. As I understand it, having seen the Harvard ID, he was intending to turn the matter over to the Harvard police and get out of there, but Gates was angry and wouldn't let go of it.
Clearly anybody would be upset, under the circumstances. But I think as a citizen you have to have the presence of mind to understand that if this had been a real break-in the presence of a suspicious police officer -- for all he knows risking his life to protect your property -- would be mightily welcome. You can't blame the cop for wanting to verify the story, can you?

W. Lauer said...

From the Washington Times website: "Gates' lawyer, fellow Harvard scholar Charles Ogletree, said his client showed his driver's license and Harvard ID -- both with his photos -- and repeatedly asked for the name and badge number of the officer, who refused. He followed the officer onto the front porch as he left his house and was arrested there." Which is more likely: that the cop 'forgot' this detail, or that Prof. Gates is outright lying?

Anonymous said...

You mean the suspect's shyster claims that he really did show his identification and the cops are lying? Well, I guess that's the end of it because we all know that lawyers would never do anything unethical, such as lie to the press to paint their client in a better light. I would be shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn that a lawyer might try to conceal his client's illegal or improper behavior through any type of unethical means.