Saturday, July 25, 2009

Get the Hell Out of My House

You know what's funny?

What's funny is all the right-wing self-defense, right-to-carry, private property conservatives who are as silent as church mice when it comes to the Henry Louis Gates arrest in Boston.

You see, what happend in Boston was not a close call: the cop was wrong, was poorly trained, and violated Mr. Gates' rights as a citizen and home owner. As Lowry Heussler writes:

The crime of disorderly conduct, beloved by cops who get into arguments with citizens, requires that the public be involved. Here's the relevant law from the Massachusetts Appeals Court, with citations and quotations omitted:

The statute authorizing prosecutions for disorderly conduct, G.L. c. 272, § 53, has been saved from constitutional infirmity by incorporating the definition of "disorderly" contained in § 250.2(1)(a) and (c) of the Model Penal Code. The resulting definition of "disorderly" includes only those individuals who, "with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof ... (a) engage in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior; or ... (c) create a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor.' "Public" is defined as affecting or likely to affect persons in a place to which the public or a substantial group has access.

The lesson most cops understand (apart from the importance of using the word "tumultuous," which features prominently in Crowley's report) is that a person cannot violate 272/53 by yelling in his own home.

Read Crowley's report and stop on page two when he admits seeing Gates's Harvard photo ID. I don't care what Gates had said to him up until then, Crowley was obligated to leave. He had identified Gates. Any further investigation of Gates' right to be present in the house could have been done elsewhere. His decision to call HUPD seems disproportionate, but we could give him points for thoroughness if he had made that call from his car while keeping an eye on the house. Had a citizen refused to leave Gates' home after being told to, the cops could have made an arrest for trespass.

But for the sake of education, let's watch while Crowley makes it worse. Read on. He's staying put in Gates' home, having been asked to leave, and Gates is demanding his identification. What does Crowley do? He suggests that if Gates wants his name and badge number, he'll have to come outside to get it. What? Crowley may be forgiven for the initial approach and questioning, but surely he should understand that a citizen will be miffed at being questioned about his right to be in his own home. Perhaps Crowley could commit the following sentences to memory: "I'm sorry for disturbing you," and "I'm glad you're all right."

Spoiling for a fight, Crowley refuses to repeat his name and badge number. Most of us would hand over a business card or write the information on a scrap of paper. No, Crowley is upset and he's mad at Gates. He's been accused of racism. Nobody likes that, but if a cop can't take an insult without retaliating, he's in the wrong job. When a person is given a gun and a badge, we better make sure he's got a firm grasp on his temper. If Crowley had called Gates a name, I'd be disappointed in him, but Crowley did something much worse. He set Gates up for a criminal charge to punish Gates for his own embarrassment.

So where is the right-wing outrage at the over-reaching of the police state?

Where is the instruction piece that says this is why every black man in America should be strapped with a Glock even as they walk around in their own home (not to mention when they go to the Mall, to Church, or to a Sarah Palin rally)?

Oh. Right. Henry Louis Gates is a black man. In that case, what the hell did he expect would happen to him? The man was being uppity.

And he was being uppity to a good, God-fearing law enforcement official to boot! He's lucky he was not shot. In fact, he should have been shot. How else will we ever teach black people to never question authority?


Chas S. Clifton said...

In America, we so often use racial language when we are actually talking about issues of class.

Such a re-framing might help us here.

Having spent the last 20 years in academia, I have met few high-profile professors at elite colleges who did not think of themselves as semi-divine.

When such a man feels hassled by a lowly civil servant, he feels justified in lecturing and hectoring him, as if said civil servant were a janitor who barged into his graduate seminar.

Yes, the cops could have said, "Have a nice day," and walked away. But Gates could have kept his temper too instead of turning it into some deformed parody of a "teachable moment."

PBurns said...

Agreed. 100%. Very well said.

I have little doubt that Gates was an asshole. A *professorial* asshole, as you note.

My only point was that being an asshole is not a crime. What we ended up with here was, in essence, a "home invasion" by the cops which is pretty close to the nightmare that the republican paranoiacs paint for a reason to have a concealed weapon on your person at all times. And yet we have not heard the Republican private-property, defend-my-home-with-a-smoking-Colt folks say a peep about Gates. I am suggesting that is because Gates is black. The Republican paranoiacs do not think Black folks get to defend their private property or even complain about a police home invasion. Open and concealed carry laws are not for black people to protect themselves against white folks, or for gays, women, or Muslims to protect themselves against redneck white men. Open carry is for redneck white men to intimidate blacks, women, Jews, Muslims, etc.

For the record, I do not think the cop bustef Gates because he was black, but because ALL cops are assholes who throw their weight around if given the slighest reason to do so. And meeting another assholes is a perfectly fine reason to violate civil rights. Cops do it all the time, and we have all seen it, haven't we?

Laurence O'Donnell writes in Time magazine (,8599,1912778,00.html?artId=1912778?contType=article?chn=us )

"There is no crime described in Crowley's official version of the way Gates behaved. Crowley says explicitly that he arrested Gates for yelling. Nothing else, not a single threatening movement, just yelling. On the steps of his own home. Yelling is not a crime. Yelling does not meet the definition of disorderly conduct in Massachusetts. Not a single shouted word or action that Crowley has attributed to Gates amounts to disorderly conduct. That is why the charges had to be dropped.

"In classically phony police talk, Crowley refers to '[Gates'] continued tumultuous behavior.' When cops write that way, you know they have nothing....

"....Unless you confess to a crime,or threaten to commit a crime, there is nothing you can say to a cop that makes it legal for him to arrest you. You can tell him he is stupid, you can tell him he is ugly, you can call him racist, you can say anything you might feel like saying about his mother. He has taken an oath to listen to all of that and ignore it. That is the real teachable moment here — cops are paid to be professionals, but even the best of them are human and can make stupid mistakes.

"We have an uncomfortable choice with Sergeant Crowley. Either he doesn't know what disorderly conduct is or Crowley simply decided to show Gates who's boss the only way he knew how at the time — by whipping out his handcuffs and abusing his power to arrest. Police make the latter choice in this country every day, knowing that the charges are going to have to be dropped."


Seahorse said...

We're all familiar with arrests for "Driving while black", "Breathing while black", and now adding "Yelling while black" in one's own home? I guess arresting school children for yelling on the playground will be next. Where are Hannity, Rush, Liddy and O'Reilly when America needs their protection? Oh, right, some of them are still looking for President Obama's birth certificate...