Due Deference

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Will

Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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  1. Avatar greginak
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    says:

    Not to mention the casual nasty insult at Gates. This clegg guy has no problem with mindlessly bowing to authority and slandering a guy I would bet he has never met. It does smack of a love of authoritarianism and racism. But Michael steele is the chairman of the RNC so it must by okay.Report

    • Avatar Pendulum in reply to greginak
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      says:

      *Assuming* the police report is accurate:

      -Gates said “you don’t know who you’re messing with”
      -Gates’ behavior on his porch (not in his house), with the public assembled, was “tumultuous” and the officer said members of the public appeared “surprised and alarmed”.
      -The officer voluntarily exited the residence, and Gates pursued him outside.
      -Gates was twice warned about his disorderly conduct and told to calm down. He refused.

      If a cop accidently mistakes my car for another and pulls me over for speeding, and I yell at him that he doesn’t know who he’s messing with, and continue to yell after two warnings, I deserve a disorderly conduct charge, even though I’m legitimately upset.

      And, I’m giving both parties the benefit of the doubt. Gates, however, has yet to deny the truth of the allegations in the police report, to my knowledge. Further, many of the documented allegations took place in front of numerous witnesses, making it highly unlikely that they’re constructed out of whole cloth. If they’re false or exaggerated, then of course the police require severe condemnation.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Pendulum
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        says:

        Pendulum:

        The big problem with this analysis is this: “Gates’ behavior on his porch (not in his house), with the public assembled, was “tumultuous” and the officer said members of the public appeared “surprised and alarmed”.”

        The term “tumultuous” is a legal conclusion – it doesn’t stand for the truth of the matter and requires facts that back it up. As such, as a matter of law, the report’s statement that Gates’ behavior was “tumultuous” is entitled to no deference whatsoever. In essence, the use of the term “tumultuous” in the report is a meaningless statement of opinion rather than fact. Put another way, its usage, in context, means nothing more than “I arrested Mr. Gates for disorderly conduct.” It doesn’t provide any basis upon which to conclude that there was, in fact, disorderly conduct.Report

        • Avatar Pendulum in reply to Mark Thompson
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          says:

          Mark,

          Thanks for the clear analysis of the law. I think that the question that’s more important to me is not whether the cop’s actions were ultimately correct under law, but whether the cop’s actions were reasonable under the circumstances – whether he could fairly make a judgment that he had probable cause to make an arrest. Giving the police report the benefit of the doubt, he did. The most supportive fact is that Gates allegedly announced “you don’t know who you’re messing with,” which certainly could be reasonably construed as a threat of violence. The officer concluded that this, and his other statements and actions, reached the level of “tumultuous,” although I grant you that he offered insufficient specifics in the police report to show this as thoroughly as we would hope. He did state that he judged onlookers to be “surprised and alarmed”.

          If the cop’s actions were reasonable, though ultimately incorrect, this incident amounts to nothing a minor error in judgment which was thankfully quickly corrected. All over, police engage in rampant misconduct which can land defendants in jail for decades. I find it hard to become exorcised about an arrest based on conduct which we might conclude was just shy of meeting the statutory language, when the charges were quickly dropped.

          So, while I’d be likely to acquit, for a multitude of reasons, I think that this is, if the police report is accurate, is one of the most minor police errors to ever be widely publicized.

          A personal anecdote: I was once stopped by the police and questioned for suspected burglary. The police observed my girlfriend and I having an animated conversation in our car, where on two occasions, one of use briefly left the car, and then got back in. I was furious, embarrassed, and upset; I raised my voice to the cop and questioned his decision-making, but I maintained basic behavioral norms, stayed in the car, and didn’t say “you don’t know who you’re messing with” or pursue him back to his vehicle.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    As I grow older, I find myself more and more in agreement with Ice Cube when it comes to my attitude towards the police.Report

    • Avatar Will in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      How very gangster of you, Jaybird.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Will
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        says:

        Back in the days of my yute, my wife and I moved into a $330/month apartment (heat included!) where we quickly found out that we were not, in fact, getting a bargain. Whenever we called the cops (surprisingly often) we found that it always took about an hour for them to show up. (Pretty much every toilet in the complex flushed at the same time when the flashing lights drove up.)

        After we moved to a $500/month apartment (heat *NOT* included), we had only one occasion to call the cops and found that, as we were in a nicer part of town, the cops showed up IMMEDIATELY. Like, two minutes. We made jokes about them helping us hang up the phone.

        When we lived in the gangsta (the complex had a dearth of words that ended in “er”) complex, we were treated like people who weren’t paying protection.

        When we moved to the part of town that kept the riff-raff out, we were treated like our protection payments were up to date.

        Yo Dre, I got something to say.Report

  3. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Did you ever see the movie Amos & Andrew?

    Required viewing for this incident. Eerily similar.

    Great post, by the way.Report

  4. Avatar Bob
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    says:

    I don’t know if the Cambridge officer ran roughshod over Prof. Gates but there can be no doubt that police do engage in criminal acts. For example the Ramparts criminal enterprise perpetrated by L.A police.

    Police have extraordinary power, it is very intimidating. This actually happened to me, and granted it was a small episode, but it does speak to their seemingly arbitrary power.

    I was stooped for speeding, guilty, but as the cop turned on his lights I was on a narrow exit ramp. Rather than stop on the ramp I proceeded to to the main road where I could pull over without blocking traffic.

    The cop gave me a speeding ticket plus one for evading. In traffic court, I had to appear, the judge found me not guilty on the second charge, he even admonished the cop on his actions. So yeah, I tend to come down on the side of Prof. Gates.

    I don’t know what Ice Cube has to say regarding cops, more likely than not uncomplimentary, I probably share his view.Report

    • Avatar Mark in reply to Bob
      Ignored
      says:

      Ice Cube said, among other things:

      “Fuck tha police comin straight from the underground
      A young nigga got it bad ’cause I’m brown
      I’m not the other color so police think
      They have the authority to kill a minority”

      That was pretty mild. Eazy says he’s going to shoot the cop with his ‘Gat’. Ice-T called himself a “muthafuckin’ cop-killer…”Report

  5. Avatar greginak
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    says:

    Given that Gates was in his own house at the time and was only getting loud it is hard to take the cop seriously in this case.

    I think most of us could add incidents of bad cop behavior. I know I could.Report

  6. Avatar Steven Donegal
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    says:

    Here’s a question to ponder about our civic heroes–why is it that very few “accidental” shootings or misconduct cases involve women police officers?Report

    • Avatar Will in reply to Steven Donegal
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      says:

      Steven Donegal –

      I’m unfamiliar with the gender breakdown of police violence, but if female officers are in fact significantly less likely to be involved in accidental shootings than male officers, I suspect this is because there are dramatically fewer women on the force.

      Also, how is this relevant?Report

    • Avatar Pendulum in reply to Steven Donegal
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      says:

      I have actually heard (no cite) that female officers are more likely, per capita, to use violence in stops, possibly attributed to their more diminutive physical stature. I remember a spirited debate on Volokh Conspiracy about this matter, concerning U.S. v. Johnson, a recent Supreme Court case, where some felt that the female officer should not have any right to use additional detention methods if she feels threatened due to a size discrepancy.Report

  7. * Discliamer* I come from a police family and have several friends who are officers, so I am a bit biased.

    The logic I use is that many of the things we expect our police forces to be tolerant of / patient with are things that we would be completely sympathetic towards as reasons why a soldier in Iraq shot someone. On one hand we hold police to an incredibly high standard as far as them defending themselves. I get that. But on the other hand many people are far too dismissive of the toughness of their job. When my grandfather was walking his beat in the 1940’s and 1950’s he could expect friendly greetings from most people wherever he went, even in rough neighborhoods. Today there are sections of our city where my police friends tell me you never get out of your car without at least 4 officers on site. This is anecdotal info, but telling IMO.

    When I was a teen my police relatives told me that whenever I interacted with the police I should be 100% compliant. If my rights were violated, they told me, that was what lawyers were for. The few times I have been pulled over my keys go straight on the dashboard, my hands remain on the wheel, all of my answers end with ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’ and I make no sudden movements. So far I haven’t been shot so I guess it’s working.Report

    • Avatar Will in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
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      says:

      Mike –

      My roommate (and very good friend) is a cop, so I’m sympathetic to a lot of what you’re saying. A police officer’s job is difficult, which is a good reason to venerate their profession, but it’s also a good reason to subject law enforcement to extra scrutiny. In much the same way that the work of a nuclear physicist merits more supervision than a janitor, the complicated nature of the job demands additional oversight.

      Moreover, contesting police abuse in court should be the option of last resort, not our first choice. Acquiring a lawyer and pushing a case through the court system is an incredibly high bar to clear for most people.

      One more thing: this particular incident took place in a neighborhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Not exactly the hood, if you know what I mean.Report

    • Avatar Bob in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
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      says:

      “When I was a teen my police relatives told me that whenever I interacted with the police I should be 100% compliant.”

      And you find the above, what? Comforting? Servile?Report

    • Avatar Mark in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
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      says:

      Hell yes, we should expect more from cops than we do from a soldier in a war zone!

      The police infringe on our constitutional rights, and being compliant is a tacit acceptance of this. I understand that you don’t want to go to court for nothing, but telling people that they need to be compliant is the same as telling people that cops can arrest you for any reason under the sun. That’s frightening.

      Miranda was a scumbag, but he was right, and now we, as a nation, expect that even guilty criminals be read their rights and be allowed an attorney during interrogation. Skip Gates may have behaved like an a-hole, but he was right, and we are forced to examine police behavior as a result.Report

  8. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    Conor Friedersdorf writing at the Daily Dish yesterday on the Gates situation.

    “Why privilege the story of the officer over a law-abiding citizen who turns out to have been outside his own house? If anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt in cases like this one, it is the citizen.”

    The entire post is here,

    http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/07/benefits-of-doubts.html#moreReport

    • Avatar Will in reply to Aye Chihuahua
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      says:

      The police report that indicates Gates was only guilty of being an asshole? Yeah, I’ve read it. Unless we’ve suddenly criminalized verbal abuse, I fail to see how this justifies the responding officer’s actions.

      There are also questions about the accuracy of the police report:

      For starters, police used an investigatory exemption in the public records law to bar the public’s right to view Gates’ police report. Even after the charges against Gates were dropped, police were unwilling to release the report and, mysteriously, a leaked copy that appeared on Boston.com’s Web site was replaced the next day with a less complete version. Globe editors declined to explain to the Chronicle why the documents were swapped, while the department said it was conducting an internal investigation to find out who leaked the arrest report.

      (from http://www.wickedlocal.com/cambridge/news/x592691395/Editorial-Cambridge-Police-Department-still-has-a-lot-to-explain)Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Aye Chihuahua
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      says:

      Where, pray tell, is the crime for which Gates’ arrest is justified in that report?

      And, frankly, even if Gates is guilty of the non-crime of being an asshole, well, it’s more than a little understandable that someone would be an asshole when a cop is refusing to leave their own private home while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge that one, in fact, does own one’s home.Report

  9. Avatar mike farmer
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    says:

    I tend to not look at police and make general judgements about individual conduct, but many the many incidences of incompetence point to a larger problem. An overbearing police state can the result of a powerful state, and it’s one more reason for limited government — so that mindsets about service positions change and we can focus on the vital function of government — hire, train and promote quality people in these critical positions, so that police officers have the necessary education and skills to deal effectively with a diverse public and to understand the importance of civil liberties.Report

  10. Avatar mike farmer
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    says:

    but many of the incidencesReport

  11. Avatar Aye Chihuahua
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    says:

    Bad link Will.

    Gates was completely justified in refusing to provide his ID when requested?

    Gates was completely justified in yelling accusations of racism through the door before even identifying himself to the officers on the scene?

    Gates was completely justified in continuing to yell about racism after he came out onto the porch of the house?

    Gates was completely justified in his refusal to even remotely attempt to speak reasonably with the police officer who was dispatched to investigate what appeared to be the breaking and entering of his home?

    Gates was completely justified in his continual verbal abuse of police officers who had done nothing to push him into that sort of behavior?

    Gates, by his own admission, is the victim of a previous attempted break in. I wonder if his neighbors will call for help the next time they see something suspicious going on at his home. (If I were Gates, I would be thanking the neighbors for looking out for me. I would also be thanking the police officers for the job that they do in placing their lives literally on the line every hour they are on duty.) YMMV.

    This entire incident could have been avoided if Gates had simply complied with the request of the officer by identifying himself and then answering whatever questions those officers had.

    Instead he chose to conduct himself in the classic manner of a horses’ ass, creating a disruption and, arguably, a violation of the law in the process.

    Gates is lucky the charges were dropped so easily.

    What does the law have to say about a citizen’s responsibility to be cooperative with police officers?Report

    • Avatar Will in reply to Aye Chihuahua
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      says:

      I’m perfectly willing to concede that Gates’ response was intemperate and verbally abusive. I still don’t see how this justifies the responding officer’s decision to arrest and charge him.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Aye Chihuahua
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      says:

      As far as I’m concerned the law says I can yell all I want at the police if they come to my house. I can call them racist or I can call them pink elephants. It’s my damn house, and unless they have a warrant or reasonable cause to suspect I am committing a crime, then they can bugger off.Report

      • Avatar Aye Chihuahua in reply to E.D. Kain
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        says:

        You should look up the definition of “disorderly conduct”.

        It may come in handy for you someday.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Aye Chihuahua
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          says:

          You should look up the definition of “my property” someday. Or the cops should. Or the cops’ lawyers.Report

          • E.D. – in the U.S. our concept of ‘property’ is not nearly as concrete as one would believe. I could name a dozen or more scenarios just off of the top of my head that would render the power of ‘property’ null and void. Being in one’s house does not mean you’re always free to act in a way that would normally get you locked up on a public street.Report

        • Avatar Will in reply to Aye Chihuahua
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          says:

          Here’s the legal definition of disorderly conduct in Massachusetts:

          http://www.masscriminaldefense.com/disorderly.htm

          Was Gates someone who “. . . engages in fighting or threatening, violent or tumultuous behavior, or
          creates a hazard or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose?” I’m skeptical.Report

          • Avatar Aye Chihuahua in reply to Will
            Ignored
            says:

            Gates clearly displayed “tumultuous behavior” which served “no legitimate purpose.”

            Repeatedly accusing a police officer of racism practically from the moment he arrived at the door.

            Repeatedly refusing to comply with completely reasonable requests from those officers.

            Repeatedly engaging in accusations of racism against those police officers in such a fashion that the behavior drew a crowd.

            Yep, Gates is lucky that the charges were dropped so easily.Report

            • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Aye Chihuahua
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              says:

              So, repeatedly calling a public official who is standing in your own home and suspects you of a crime you did not commit a racist (or, really any other bad thing) is grounds for a disorderly conduct charge? That does not speak well for the state of free speech in this country.

              Additionally, the police report does not say he repeatedly refused to show ID. In fact, according to said report, he was not asked to show ID until well after the cop showed up; the report only says “Gates initially refused, demanding that I show him identification, but then did display me a Harvard University identification card.”

              Also notice that the officer does not mention whether he showed Gates proper identification himself.

              If repeatedly, loudly, and publicly calling a public official a racist (and drawing a crowd while doing so) is a crime, then everyone who has publicly accused Judge Sotomayor of being a racist should turn themselves in on disorderly conduct charges immediately. I will personally volunteer to defend them against those charges on First Amendment grounds.Report

              • Avatar Aye Chihuahua in reply to Mark Thompson
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                says:

                Exhibiting behavior inside your home or outside of your home which meets the definition of disorderly conduct is a chargeable offense.

                Free speech, as you should know, is not limitless. There are boundaries which cannot be crossed without penalty.

                I don’t see where anyone has said that Gates “repeatedly refused.” I stated that he refused, which is clearly in the report. Having read the sequence of events in the report, I would argue that very little time had passed between the time the officer arrived at the door and the time that Gates’ ID was requested. Perhaps three or four minutes.

                The report does not indicate one way or the other if the officer presented an ID card. The report does, however, make it clear that officer repeatedly tried to attempt to identify himself to Gates in compliance with his request. Each time, he was shouted down.

                The report also makes clear that additional officers were present, thus witnesses to the events.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Aye Chihuahua
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                says:

                Aye Chihuahua, 10:04 AM: “Repeatedly refusing to comply with completely reasonable requests from those officers.”

                Aye Chihuahua, 10:45 AM: “I don’t see where anyone has said that Gates “repeatedly refused.”

                Free speech is not, in fact, limitless…”fire in a crowded theater, etc.” Calling a public official a racist, however wrongly and obnoxiously, strikes me as pretty well within the limits of free speech; in fact, it strikes me as precisely the type of speech that free speech protections exist to defend. Or should everyone who repeatedly and publicly accused Judge Sotomayor of being a racist be booked on disorderly conduct?

                The silence of the report on whether the officer showed his identification upon request is, shall we say, deafening.Report

              • Avatar Aye Chihuahua in reply to Mark Thompson
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                says:

                Aye Chihuahua, 10:04 AM: “Repeatedly refusing to comply with completely reasonable requests from those officers.”

                Aye Chihuahua, 10:45 AM: “I don’t see where anyone has said that Gates “repeatedly refused.”

                My original statement stands.

                I didn’t say that Gates repeatedly refused to show ID. You set up that straw man argument in your 10:18 post.

                I said that he repeatedly refused to “comply with completely reasonable requests from those officers.”

                Those requests run the gamut from refusal to step outside to speak with the officer to refusal to provide ID. Gates was needlessly belligerent from the beginning of this situation.

                Engaging in tumultuous behavior and creating a disruption in the neighborhood as a result is not lawful.

                Your attempt to compare this situation with opposition to Sotomayor is elementary sophistry at its’ finest.

                What Gates was yelling about, and what his words were, is irrelevant to the basic fact that Gates created a scene which drew a crowd, thus disrupting the peace of the neighborhood.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Aye Chihuahua
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                says:

                Ahh…so the fact that Gates was calling the cop a racist is no longer relevant. That’s progress, I guess.

                Moreover, the report does not say that Gates refused to comply with a request to go outside. What it does say is that, after the officer had confirmed that Gates was the lawful owner of the residence, the officer told Gates that, “if he had any other questions regarding the matter, I would speak with him outside the residence.”

                Since Gates was in the privacy of his own home and was obviously not about to calm down (and the officer doesn’t appear to have taken any steps to attempt to calm Gates down), this invitation amounts to entrapment. If Gates doesn’t direct his anger outside, in public view, there is no disorderly conduct.

                Also – isn’t it possible/likely that heavy police activity in the middle of the day would draw a crowd of seven bystanders on its own? Especially if that neighborhood is a quiet and safe neighborhood that also happens to be somewhat densely populated and within a few blocks of a major university? And what if the home in question is the home of a particularly well-known resident of the neighborhood?

                So, can we really say that Gates’ anger (and I think you have to acknowledge that anyone would be at least a little agitated if they were being accused of breaking into their own home) drew a crowd rather than the simple fact of heavy police activity?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Aye Chihuahua
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      says:

      Ding-dong! There’s a guy on your front porch wearing a police uniform who refuses to give his name or badge number when asked.

      He tells you that a neighbor called and that’s why he’s there.

      Exactly how far do you think I could get away with screwing with you before you realize that, holy crap, that’s just Jaybird in a cop uniform?Report

      • Avatar Aye Chihuahua in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        You’re making quite a leap there.

        The officer identified himself when the information was requested. It’s all in the report.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Aye Chihuahua
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          says:

          The citizen said that he was not given such.

          Hrm… given that the law in Massachusetts is for police to give these things when offered, we have an established motive for the officer to lie, do we not?Report

          • Avatar Aye Chihuahua in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            Hrm…given the fact that the law in Massachusetts is for police to give these things when requested, we have an established motive for Gates to lie, do we not?

            PS…Where has Gates made the claim that the officer didn’t identify himself?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Aye Chihuahua
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              says:

              I got it from here:
              http://www.slate.com/id/2223379/

              “We have an established motive for Gates to lie.”

              Given that it was his house, he did nothing wrong, the initial report disappeared, and the charges have been dropped?

              I’m inclined to believe the citizen.

              Why aren’t you?Report

              • Avatar Aye Chihuahua in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                The initial report hasn’t disappeared.

                I linked it.

                He did nothing wrong? Really?

                Again, read the report.

                Read the definition of disorderly conduct.

                I’m inclined to look at the entire picture and consider all of the evidence.

                Why aren’t you?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Aye Chihuahua
                Ignored
                says:

                I did. I see a guy dressed as a cop ringing the doorbell of a guy in his own home and asking for papers, please and, when asked, refusing to give his government-ID (he gave his name? Sure, maybe… so what?)

                Again. How long could I pull this crap in *YOUR* house?Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Aye Chihuahua
          Ignored
          says:

          Actually, the report only says that the officer gave his name when requested. It does not say that he provided identification when requested (though it does say that it was requested).

          So, Jaybird’s scenario is accurate except that the officer gave a name. Names, however, are easy to give and much harder to believe than actual identification.Report

    • Avatar BCChase in reply to Aye Chihuahua
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      says:

      One part you have wrong – Gates DID provide ID when requested. Everybody seems to agree on that, that’s why the cop behavior was stupid.Report

      • Avatar Aye Chihuahua in reply to BCChase
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        says:

        Not true.

        Read the police report. You will find that Gates initially refused the request.Report

      • Avatar Mike at The Big Stick in reply to BCChase
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        says:

        I’m curious why Gates provided a Harvard ID (which I doubt listed his address) rather than a driver’s license?

        I can’t help but think he’s sitting in his office at Harvard loving this publicity and planning his next book.

        If I was forcing a door in my own home and the police stopped me to question who i was, i’d be happy my neighbors cared, not accusing them of racism.Report

        • Avatar Will in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
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          says:

          Oh come on, Mike, you’re better than that. A guy gets back from a long trip abroad, has to break into his own home, is then confronted by a heavily-armed police officer, and his first response is “let me grab my Harvard ID – this is going to make for a great sales pitch for my next book?!?!” Read McWhorter on the incident for some background – Gates is known as a respected academic, not a rabble-rouser.Report

          • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Will
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            says:

            Oh I bet he set the whole thing up just for the publicity and the book sales.Report

          • Avatar Pendulum in reply to Will
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            says:

            Actually, his first response was to telephone “the chief,” presumably the chief of police. Besides the sheer audacity, it certainly puts it within the realm of possibility that he intended to flout his position by producing the Harvard ID.Report

            • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Pendulum
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              says:

              I’ve little doubt that Gates was trying to flout his status as a response to the officer’s actions. But police officers deal with people who try to flout their status to get special treatment all the time – it’s the nature of the job. I’d imagine that this type of arrogance is even worse when the person being questioned is, in fact, innocent of any wrongdoing. That doesn’t make it right – just fairly typical (the world is full of assholes).Report

          • Avatar Mike at The Big Stick in reply to Will
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            says:

            Why is it so hard to believe that Gates saw a PR opportunity and so easy to believe the cops were racist, civil rights violating, over-zealots?Report

            • Hey – anything’s possible, and I don’t have an opinion one way or another to anyone’s motivation. They may not have a racist bone in their bodies and he may be an attention whore of the worst variety. That still doesn’t make the police actions right.Report

            • Avatar Will in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
              Ignored
              says:

              What E.D. said. As I wrote in the original post, I don’t care to speculate about the guy’s personal opinions. What matters is the end result, which, I think, is an example of misconduct.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
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              says:

              Let’s say both things happened.

              Which worries you more? The actions of the black Harvard professors or the actions of the cops?

              For my part, the cops abusing their powers scares me more than Harvard professors abusing their own. The latter is kinda a First Amendment thing, you see.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                (and Fourth and Ninth Amendments)Report

              • Avatar Mike at The Big Stick in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                In 34 years I’ve never had a reason to fear the police. Period. I think a lot of the commentors here seem to be projecting.Report

              • One morning I was sleeping off a night-before at a friends house when there was a knock on the door. Long story short it was the cops who claimed to have seen marijuana paraphernalia through the window and somebody there claimed it was theirs and took the fall so that the cops wouldn’t come back with a warrant and search the place.

                Probably not a good idea, since they had no probable cause at all, but that’s the problem with waking up foggy from the night before and being surprised at 6 AM by the cops.

                Turns out ten houses/apartments on that one street were similarly busted by the cops, who went down the street looking in peoples’ windows the night before. This wasn’t in the nice suburb my parents lived in at the time. This wasn’t in the Country Club. This was in a little neighborhood here called, ironically enough, Sunny Side. Mostly Navajos and Mexicans and some poorer whites. The kind of neighborhood that, inexplicably, never has its pot-holes filled or its debris cleared quite as fast, and so forth.

                Can you imagine what would have happened if the cops had tried to pull this on the other side of the proverbial tracks? Looking into peoples’ windows the night before and then knocking on their doors and busting them for whatever indiscretion they saw in their peeping? (Fortunately, nobody in the upper middle class smokes pot or anything so surely they would have all been innocent…)

                Which is all to say that yeah, I think the cops often abuse their power, and often at the expense of particular racial groups or classes with less political clout to challenge them.Report

              • My experience in college was that police make plenty of busts in the nice part of town when people draw attention to themselves. Usually it’s because a concerned neighbor draws the police’s attention to a party or the smell of weed drifting over the fence. In the seedier areas the residences often draw attention to themselves. They actually just make the police’s job easier.Report

              • Yep, those “seedier” neighborhoods are just full of people drawing attention to themselves. Which makes it okay, you know, for cops to go peak through peoples’ windows and such.Report

              • Police also pull over nice cars full of white kids in the projects. Profiling is actually a pretty udeful police tactic.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
                Ignored
                says:

                I hope you never do!

                That said, I hope you see that the cop had *ZERO* rights violated and the guy who wasn’t a cop *DID*.

                And only one of the two guys is an agent of The State.Report

              • I had a case once. The client was accused of a jailable misdemeanor and a police officer signed a probable cause affidavit leading to the issuance of an arrest warrant. She found out about this and peacefully turned herself in. She then spent almost a month in a rather infamous jail before she was finally extradited and arraigned. One problem – she never committed the misdemeanor, and in fact didn’t even come close to doing so. There was literally not a single shred of evidence to support the allegations against her, and the officer who signed the probable cause affidavit never cared to find out what the document upon which the charges explicitly rested actually said,nor did he take what would have been a very simple step to verify the accusations as to what she had done. He had someone saying that she had violated a restraining order, and that was good enough for him.

                Had the officer done any investigation whatsoever, he would have quickly learned that not only was there no crime committed by my client, but also that the complaining witness was making a transparent attempt to gain the upper hand in a family court matter. He would have also quickly discovered that said complaining witness had been doing precisely the same thing that he was falsely accusing my client of doing.

                The officer did not do this, however. My client thus spent almost a month in said infamous jail. For a variety of reasons that I’m pretty sure came straight out of the Wire, the prosecutor refused to drop the charges despite the lack of any evidence whatsoever (and the existence of pretty clear exculpatory evidence).

                The client was finally acquitted at trial without my needing to put forward any kind of defense. The judge lambasted the prosecutors. Not surprisingly, this didn’t compensate my client for the hell she endured in that infamous jail nor for the months of having to fight the charges.

                This was not that unusual a case. The woman did nothing wrong, and should have had no reason to fear the police. She complied peacefully with the arrest warrant, going so far as to turn herself in. Her reward? Six months of hell.

                I’m not saying that this sort of thing happens in the majority of cases. But it happens, and a lot more than most people care to recognize. In a way, my client was lucky, too – many, many people in her situation would have just accepted a plea bargain rather than face the specter of more time in jail.Report

            • No one here is saying that the cops were racist. What we are saying is that the decision to linger longer than necessary at Gates’ residence, combined with the decision to arrest him for disorderly conduct (when there was no basis for a disorderly conduct charge even assuming the truth of the police report) was unprofessional at a minimum, and quite possibly a violation of some basic civil rights. These two conclusions require no inquiry into the officers’ motivations, just an opinion of how police should engage with the citizenry.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BCChase
        Ignored
        says:

        I was saying the *COP* refused to identify himself.Report

  12. Avatar mike farmer
    Ignored
    says:

    A properly trained police officer who respects individual rights and understands that emotions should be kept out of the execution of his duties, would have walked away once he/she realized Gates was the owner, regardless of any anger coming from Gates. No problem.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to mike farmer
      Ignored
      says:

      Exactly. Everything else is just fluff. Once the officer knew there was no burglary, his duty was to leave the scene; his decision to stick around was unprofessional, at a minimum. If the officer in fact knew better than to stick around, then the only reason for him to do so would be that he wanted to provoke Gates to the point of being able to arrest him.Report

  13. Avatar Bryan Wandel
    Ignored
    says:

    “But I don’t believe that civic veneration should extend to a special category of deference for law enforcement. Because cops wield a disproportionate amount of power in any confrontation with civilians, I actually tend to think that their actions should be subject to more scrutiny, particularly when it’s not at all clear that the officer(s) in question responded appropriately.”

    Wrong. If the rule of law is anything, it is a special deference accorded to legislation passed, verdicts rendered, and the execution of both. The rule of law is an acheivement, over personal rule, because each of these items need to acheive a special deference, which is not necessarily obvious to all people.
    The police are the actual, physical connection between the legislature and the courtroom. In order to make that connection, we give them both leeway and rules. No one arrested is automatically convicted of the crime, they are presumed innocent until proven guilty – this partial authority we give the police allows is actually a complete authority with incomplete depth, the depth filled out by the judicial system. But the judicial system cannot work unless people are actually brought to court. The police don’t need it right every time, because they do not judge, but only apprehend.
    Submission to the legal process of trials and appeals is predicated, therefore, on submission to the apprehending authority of the police. It is all part of a process, and it only works when the vast majority of us place faith in the fact that the innocent will be vindicated when they can rationally and procedurally explain themselves. The arrest is not the time for this. Police do not act on the conclusion of a searching dialogue, because it is not efficient to the system.
    This whole authority, counter to Will’s belief, is balanced by a huge amount of scrutiny, at least theoretically. Miranda is not the first or only restriction on the Blue – if there are abuses of power, complicity in crime, or blurring procedure, then of course it should be corrected. But the individual has no right to correct the officer, right then and there. The authority is absolute.
    I am not saying police are always perfect. I am saying that the route to their perfection is to recognize their authority and define, reprimand, or monitor from there.Report

  14. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    I think it all really boils down tp there being two types of people: the kind who think it’s okay to yell at cops and the kind that don’t.

    I think it boils down to those who think they have a right to yell at cops on their own property and those who don’t. Or something. Nothing really ever boils down to two types of people.

    Maybe it boils down to cops who think they can arrest people for that and cops who don’t. I don’t know.Report

    • Again with the property schtick. Property ownership doesn’t suddenly give Gates all kinds of new-found legal rights that a renter wouldn’t have.

      And sometimes it DOES boil down to two kinds of people. My experience is that the people who are inclined to make a scene are the ones that attract this kind of attention in the first place.Report

      • Right – I still can’t commit an actual crime on my property. Like, had he shot the cop from his porch that would obviously be wrong. Shouting at a cop because he just wrongly accused or maybe you interpreted him as wrongly accusing you of breaking into your own house, well, that doesn’t seem quite criminal enough to walk back onto the guy’s porch and arrest him. Since, you know, the cop could have just left.Report

        • So we agree that whether he was on or off of his property has no bearing on the case? It’s his actions that are the only thing that should be judged. Personally I’m a big fan of the three strikes rule with kids, my employees, etc. He was given two warnings. At that point he is responsible for what happened to him.Report

          • Not at all. The fact that it was his property or at least (at the very least) his residence has plenty of relevance. If it had been someone else’s the cops would have been totally justified in busting him in the first place.

            And what the heck are you talking about with “three strikes”? So it doesn’t matter if the guy was breaking a law at all, now? He was “warned” and had too many “strikes” and that’s enough?Report

            • He wasn’t arrested for breaking into a house. He was arrested for distrurbing the peace. Your contention is that being on his own property makes his behavior more acceptable than, I assume, being at the mall or at a baseball game. I contend that where he was standing is irrelevant to how his behavior is perceived.

              ‘Disturbing the peace’ is a fairly gray area of the law. Even when defined (above) there’s a lot of rom for interpretation. The cops warned him that they were interpreting his behavior as ‘disturbing the peace’. he chose to continue. That means he also chose to go to jail. As Bryan eloquently pointed out in his comment, the police are not judges. They make arrests and the courts can decide on the legality.Report

              • He was arrested for disorderly conduct, not disturbing the peace. There is, to my knowledge, a difference.

                But let’s take the dead dog scenario above (which happens waaaaaay too frequently): cops, on a botched drug raid of the wrong house, kill Fido because he’s doing what dogs do and barking at a stranger. They detain the residents of the house and order them to sit on their lawn while Fido dies a few feet away. The owners try to go over to console Fido against the cops’ orders and each time are prevented from doing so. The owners then start shouting all sorts of epithets at the police, intermingled with loud cries for their dying companion. The cops, who by this time are starting to realize they’ve hit the wrong house, are offended that they are being yelled at for simply trying to protect themselves against such a dangerous beast as the family beagle. As such, they warn the residents that they are acting disorderly and any additional commotion will get them a charge for disorderly conduct. If the residents continue to protest, have they “chosen to go to jail”?Report

              • All one has to do is watch video of a riot to figure out why cops fear situations spiraling out of control. If I’m a cop i would much rather arrest someone and get the charges dismissed than face a large crowd throwing rocks.Report

              • Yes, but I don’t see how the fears of a heavily armed police officer about a situation escalating outweigh the fears of a citizen about getting arrested for absolutely no reason. Innocent people wind up pleading guilty to petty crimes all the time – the risk of a prison sentence just isn’t worth it; even when charges get dropped, being held in a jail for a few days/weeks and having to stage a months-long fight to stay out of jail for a longer period of time are extremely heavy prices for an innocent individual to pay just because a heavily armed cop was scared.

                Look, I understand that cops get scared about situations getting out of control. But the fact is that there are an awful lot of people out there who have legitimate reasons to fear and/or distrust the police. These people are not public servants, but instead are people who the police are supposed to serve. As between the heavily-armed servants and the served, the burden of justification needs to be on the servants. The police owe a clear duty to be respectful towards the policed; the policed, however, do not owe a clear duty to be respectful to the police. It may well be practical and moral for the policed to be so respectful, but it is not a duty – to the contrary, it is their absolute right to be disrespectful to the police no less than it is their absolute right to be disrespectful to any other government official.

                Put another way: the police have a professional duty to understand and respect that citizens may legitimately be fearful and distrustful of them and act accordingly; citizens have no such reciprocal duty towards the police.Report

              • Put another way: the police have a professional duty to understand and respect that citizens may legitimately be fearful and distrustful of them and act accordingly; citizens have no such reciprocal duty towards the police.

                Is that a legal position, or a libertarian one? My personal feelings is that it’s a two-part relationship and both sides have equal responsibility towards one another.Report

              • Also, I’m very curious as to what you would instruct my client from the case I discussed above as to how she should handle her next interaction with the police (say, when she gets brought up on the exact same frivolous charges a few months later, which actually happened, btw). Should she once again passively accept her fate, or should she try to vociferously defend herself in any way she can short of physical violence? Even if you think she should again passively obey, wouldn’t it be understandable if she didn’t? Would she be making the decision to go to jail if she didn’t? And shouldn’t the cops have a thick enough skin to understand that sometimes people have legitimate reasons to fear them and that maybe it’s not the best idea to reinforce those fears?Report

              • Watch an episode of cops. When was the last time you saw them handcuff someone, start to put them in the back of a cruiser and then say, “Wait a minute….they just made a good point. Let’s turn them loose.” As i said, that’s what you are for Mark. If it’s a bogus charge a decent lawyer should be able to get it thrown out.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
                Ignored
                says:

                Whenever I watch an episode of COPS, I see pathetic people whose lives are being ruined by the war on drugs to some extent and anti-bootleggers giving speeches talking about the evils of bathtub gin.

                Put on the fucking television as fucking entertainment.Report

              • But that’s just it. Finding a decent lawyer just isn’t an option for most defendants. Even when they are innocent and somehow get a decent lawyer, they have a huge incentive to cop a plea that just gives them probation rather than risk a much longer jail term.

                Beyond that, you simply cannot understate the harm caused even when charges get thrown out. The period of time that they have to await arraignment or extradition is time they can never get back. When they are out on bail, they still have to deal with the weight of having to fight false criminal charges without having any certainty that they will successfully defeat the criminal charges. Simply getting an acquittal or a dismissal does nothing to remove these scars.

                How can someone who has been forced to spend a month in an overcrowded, legendarily rat-infested city jail due to police lazily erring on the side of “arrest first, let the judge ask questions later” be expected to trust and respect (rather than fear) the police in her future dealings with them?

                True, ranting and raving never solves the problem either, but ranting and raving is also a human expression of desperation and frustration. It’s a natural defense mechanism. In such a situation, it may also be the only way of making the police pay a price for what is understandably perceived (whether correctly or incorrectly) as abusive or harassing behavior.

                When an innocent person is treated like a criminal and becomes immediately and visibly outraged by that treatment, the proper response from the police is not to continue treating that person like a criminal – it’s to treat them as an innocent person who has wrongly been treated as a criminal. In other words, they need to treat that person as a victim, not a criminal the very instant they’ve realized their error (however understandable and even necessary that error may have been).Report

              • If the police arrest someone and the person is found to be innocent, I am all for the police, the prosecutor, etc doing everything in their power to make sure the person’s life is set back in order. I’m also fully in favor of civillian review boards for police departments to make sure they are beholden to the public they serve. Where you and I obviously head in different directions is where you put this heavy burden of responsibility on the police and seemingly very little on the public.

                I’m sure as a lawyer you can recite dozens and dozens of cases where somone was caught up in a police action and they were 100% innocent. My experience with having a lot of friends who got into mischief in their younger days (myself included) was that whenever the police were involved, 99.9% of the time it was because they/we were doing something we shouldn’t have been doing. Police stopping my car one night in a very nice neighborhood was my fault because we had been trespassing on a golf course. Even though we were just walking around and had nothing incriminating on us, we deserved to be questioned. I had a crappy car that was out of place in that neighborhood and the golf course had recently been vandalized. I’m just very unsympathetic to people who frequent areas of high crime, act suspiciously and then wonder why the cops bust their chops.Report

      • Avatar Max in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
        Ignored
        says:

        how is Gates “inclined to make a scene”? You’re assuming what’s required to prove, which is itself the problem with this whole situation. The man was harassed in his home by a police officer, and he was justifiably upset by it. This does not in any way make him a rabble-rouser; I suspect most folks reading this would react the same way.

        And even if he were “inclined to make a scene”, the decent and reasonable thing for the officer to do would still have been to show himself out and leave Gates alone. This is pure power-trip, and those defending it are indulging their own authoritarian tendencies.Report

        • Avatar Mike at The Big Stick in reply to Max
          Ignored
          says:

          Now he was harassed? You know if I was in that same situation I would have laughed about it, showed the cop some ID and probably shook their hand for checking things out. I also probably would have thanked the neighbor. Some people instead believe that’s the time to scream racism.Report

          • But lots of other folks, who have had very different experiences with the police (e.g., my client in my comment above) would not find much amusement in the situation. They would, in fact, reasonably consider the officer’s continued presence in their home as harassing. Indeed, they would quite reasonably consider the officer’s presence in their home in the first place as quite threatening since their experiences with the police in the past have created a strong distrust of the police.

            If the police in a given area want citizens to act calmly and cooperatively, they need to have the trust of those citizens. The thing about trust is that it’s not something that people will usually just give – it has to be earned.Report

            • The officers were there investing a call about a robbery i.e. doing their job. They weren’t just walking down the street, saw a black man through the window, and marched up to harrass him. So again, they were doing their jobs.

              Let’s remember who deviated from the ‘script’ first: Cops get call, cops approach house, cops ask man inside if he lives there, man goes off on them. His perception of police and his emotional baggage is really not a factor in his subsequent behavior, unless he wants to claim temporary insanity or something to that effect.Report

          • What Mark said. And either way, should it matter legally if the guy who is innocent of any crime also happens to be an asshole?

            Here’s some letters from lawyers on this matter:

            http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/07/when-is-conduct-disorderly.html

            Of course, we already have our resident lawyer….Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Max
          Ignored
          says:

          Some folks are inclined to identify with Gates, some are inclined to identify with the cop.

          I’d like to keep the latter group with very, very little political power.Report

          • Avatar Pendulum in reply to Jaybird
            Ignored
            says:

            I don’t see why it’s not possible to identify with both parties. Naturally, I identify much more closely with crime suspects than I do with law enforcement. Nonetheless, I try challenge myself to see things the way an officer would as well, so that I can be fair in my condemnations.

            Gates was understandably shocked and angered by the intrusion on his property, and had a right to mouth off and call the cop a racist.

            The officer responded to a neighbors call, investigated, and was told “you don’t know who you’re messing with,” was followed outside, and perceived that Gates was “alarming” onlookers with threatening behavior. If this statement is part of the common police practice of exaggeration, the officer was not justified. If, however, we take the police at their word (which, unusually, can be confirmed or denied by witnesses here). As often as police reports exaggerate, I still don’t think it’s fair to immediately assume exaggeration and inaccuracy. And the police report shows some pretty aggressive behavior.Report

  15. I find this whole conversation extraordinarily interesting. (It’s also a bit enlightening as to various commentors general view of law enforcement). If I may be so bold, I think the comments of Pendulum have been the most fair and balanced. It’s possible to see both sides of this case and see where both sides made mistakes. Gates certainly was too quick to make accusations against the officers who were, with little dispute that I have read, doing their job up until the point they began questioning him. Nothing in their actions up to that point warranted his initial response, regardless of his innocence, his location on his own property or his prior experiences with law enforcement. Quite simply, he acted like an ass.

    On the flip side the swift dismissal of the case seems to indicate the police may have overstepped in arresting Gates and exercised poor judgement. I think their actions are the real point of debate because obviously we all differ on the interpretation of whether an arrest was warranted, if Gates was further provoked by their ‘lingering’ around the scene and if Gates was actually being patriotic in his definace of the police. (I guess there’s also the possible notion, raised by Jaybird, that Gates just listens to a lot of Ice Cube, which opens a whole other debate about nature verses nurture, etc. )

    As a somewhat partial defense of my own position that the police were mostly in the right while Gates was mostly in the wrong, I offer these comments submitted by Brandon del Pozo, a captain in the NYPD , who had his own take on the case here. In the interest of brevity I edited down his comments to the ones most applicable to the meat of the case (in my opinon). It’s still a bit long so I hope my fellow commentors will bear with me.


    The police cannot be expected to leave a location simply because the person there is screaming at them and ordering them around, even if that person is apparently innocent and likely lives there. They should still thoroughly investigate. If this were a legitimate expectation of the police, then it would sometimes allow genuine criminals to berate cops into leaving the scene prior to a complete and thorough investigation of the crimes they have committed. Officers should leave when they are convinced that the investigation is complete, and that the situation is under control, regardless of the demeanor of a person.

    The police need to foster an environment in which they can deliver public safety without being subject to obscenities, accusations and yelling from any party, even innocent parties. The judgments of policing are obviously difficult and subjective, and are often marred when they are made in the face of people issuing inflammatory comments even as the police are rendering routine services with an obvious cause. It is in the collective interest of citizens and police to promote an environment where the police can conduct an investigation calmly and with mutual respect. It cannot become commonplace for people to be allowed to scream at the police in public, threatening them with political phone calls, deriding their abilities, etc. Routine acts like rendering aid to lost children, taking accident reports and issuing traffic violations could be derailed at any time by any person who has a perceived grievance with the police. The police service environment is not the best venue for the airing of such grievances.

    The police should not be cowed by threats of phone calls to people such as mayors, police chiefs and presidents of the United States, along with allegations that “you don’t know who you’re messing with.” It is traditionally whites who have had this type of crooked access and influence. These appeals to higher authorities are often meant to exempt the ruling castes from following the rules and laws that the rest of the community will be expected to follow. It happens, it is unfortunate, and it is not in the interests of justice for it to continue. Nobody trying to do their job fairly deserves to hear the equivalent of “My daddy donated fifty million to this university, and you’ll be getting calls from everywhere in the administration about raising my grade enough for this class to count as a distributive requirement.”

    It is possible for a person to commit disorderly conduct by unabated screaming and verbal abuse in a public setting. Without drawing conclusions about the Gates case, there comes some point where a person is genuinely causing public alarm, and where he is acting with a rage that exceeds what we can expect from a reasonable person in a heated moment. The mere presence of the police conducting a legitimate investigation should not provoke continuous rage and epithets from such a person. One response is that the police should just leave if the investigation has been conducted successfully, and that this will calm the person down. In practice, this is indeed often the best thing to do. On the other hand, it should be noted that it is just as much the responsibility of the citizen to see that his actions are an inappropriate way to relate to police officers who have not, in the specific case at hand, acted unreasonably. This point may be hotly contested, but I believe it is true: there is no obligation for the police to hurry in their activities or to leave as soon as possible because they have incited the rage of a person who is acting unreasonably. There is a distinction between hanging around to show them who’s boss and working at a steady, professional pace, to be sure. But in the end the mere presence of the police cannot be seen as an acceptable reason for disorderly conduct, and should therefore not spur the police to leave a scene simply to de-escalate it. A police strategy of “winning by appearing to lose” emboldens citizens to attempt to get the police to lose in more and more serious matters, including walking away from situations where a person is genuinely guilty of a crime.

    The police are called to situations with the purpose of seizing control over them, examining them, and bringing them to a conclusion that serves the interests of justice and public safety as established by their oversight. Powerful/arrogant people—or those who have a certain idea of personal freedom that does not acknowledge emergency exceptions—find it annoying that the police can suddenly do this to their environment, when so few others can. This control also serves the safety of citizens who have become victims of a violent, uncontrolled situation. I am aware of the problems that this type of power can produce in certain people who wield it. All I can say is that I personally know cops who have been killed or badly injured at every time of the day, responding to both routine and critical calls, because they lost control over the situation or were unable to establish it in the first place. Police officers cannot be expected to do their work without this type of control, and they must be given a berth to establish it, or they have the explicit legal right to take that berth. It doesn’t matter who you are. Lives depend on it in a way that assiduously watching every episode of The Wire cannot adequately convey (it deals too much with long-term investigation and narcotics work and not enough with patrol operations, in any event).
    Report

  16. Avatar greginak
    Ignored
    says:

    While i think the cop was wrong, there is something you are missing Mike. It a basic feature of any debate regarding what the gov should or shouldn’t, can or can’t or actions by anyone in the government for people to accuse someone of being a nazi, hating liberty and being unamerican. By this point in the thread if there hadn’t been accusations of nazism/totalitarianism the internet police would have shut down the site.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak
      Ignored
      says:

      “If you love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”

      Is it safe for me to assume that your response to the Fathers would be some variant of “lighten up, Francis”?Report

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