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

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13 Responses

  1. Avatar Freddie says:

    I agree with most of what Balko has to say. I just hope that people avoid the temptation of thinking that there is no reason for us to regard race at all when we consider a situation like this. That’s comforting, in a lot of ways, but it is not mature, because for a large variety of reasons, both historical and contemporary, the experience of dealing with the police for non-white Americans is not the same as it is for other Americans. It just isn’t, and acting as if it is because that makes our discourse friendlier is an exercise in ignoring the truth.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      What does race have to do with this at all?

      What the cop did wrong has nothing to do with anybody’s color… and the cop would have done it to *ANYBODY* who was insufficiently demure.Report

      • Avatar Freddie says:

        Because it is an unfortunate but true fact that the history of black America’s relationship with the police means that there is a lot of baggage to be unpacked in any such event.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          But race issues didn’t cause this issue.

          Insufficient deference to State Authority (in the eyes of said authority) caused this issue.

          This would have happened to anybody. It’s not wrong because it happened to a person of color. It’s wrong because it happened to a person.Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

            A pertinent issue is whether or not the same woman who called the cops would have done so if Gates weren’t a black man. Which while perhaps secondary to the problem of oversensitive police, is part of the underlying cause of the incident in question. Not to mention the tendency for there to be more distrust/outright hostility towards the police (for good reason) by persons of color.

            Race is still there as a cause, no matter how much we might want to claim it’s as much about basic principles.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              So the lady shouldn’t have called the cops when she saw two guys breaking into the house?

              This was a, pardon the term, clusterfuck from the beginning.

              A guy who has spent the day on a plane finally gets home and has to break into his own house. He’s exhausted, at the end of his rope, he just wants to sit in his own chair in front of his own computer and listen to his own pandora station while he drinks his own glass of whatever and there’s a cop at the door who wants to know if he’s a burglar.

              He, being a thin-skinned elitist kinda guy, immediately thinks that the cop is there because he’s black. So he flies off the handle. It has been a long, long day, after all.

              The cop determines that the guy is not a burglar, not a menace 2 society, not anything more than Shouty McYellerson and while no crime has been committed, he’ll be damned if he’s yelled at for doing his god damned job by being called a racist to his face. He teaches classes, he’s given mouth-to-mouth, he patrols in a neighborhood with people of all colors, and he shows up to help protect/serve an African-American’s home who has been broken into and he’s called a racist? Let’s step outside and you can get arrested for DC.

              The person who comes off as least jerky is the lady who called the cops saying “hey, I think a house is being broken into in broad daylight!”

              The professor was a jerky jerk… BUT BEING A JERK IS CONSTITUTIONALLY PROTECTED.

              The policeman, once he established that no crime was committed, needed to bounce like your proverbial momma’s checks.

              He didn’t. He wanted to show the professor, and the world at large, exactly who wields exactly what power.

              And now we’ve got the republicans screaming about how awful it is that feminists want police to get a warrant in the face of an agitated man screaming “this is my house, get the hell out” and the democrats talking about racism when the good professor was the only one talking about race during the entire incident.

              It was a clusterfuck.

              But, at the end of the day, the only person who did damage was the cop.

              Which brings us back to Balko being right.Report

            • A factual point: on the 911 tapes, the caller reports seeing two men, one of whom she identifies as possibly Hispanic, the other of whom she said she was unable to identify. She then goes out of her way to report that the individuals have luggage with them and that it is thus very possible that these individuals are just having difficulty getting into their own home.

              So I don’t think race had much to do with the 911 call, particularly since she emphasized that she thought it was very possible that it was just someone having difficult getting into their own home. But this says nothing about whether race played a role in the officer’s treatment of Gates, an issue on which I don’t think there’s enough evidence to make a conclusive determination one way or another. There is, however, plenty of evidence to make a conclusive determination on whether it was appropriate to arrest Gates.Report

  2. Avatar Katherine says:

    Excellent article; he hit the nail right on the head.

    What part of “a cop shouldn’t be able to arrest someone just for pissing them off” is so hard to understand?

    Conservatism in a nutshell seems to be: government is bad, unless a government official has a gun, in which case they are good and should always be unquestioned regardless of their actions.Report

    • This:
      “Conservatism in a nutshell seems to be: government is bad, unless a government official has a gun, in which case they are good and should always be unquestioned regardless of their actions,”

      just about made me spit out my coffee this morning. I know this is polemic, but it’s damn fine polemic. Well played, Katherine!Report

  3. Avatar Barry says:

    Jaybird: “This would have happened to anybody. It’s not wrong because it happened to a person of color. It’s wrong because it happened to a person.”

    Yes, but note how many right-wingers on blog after blog after….are justifying this as if ‘contempt of cop’ is a good bust. And this was of somebody in their own house!

    I really can’t recall the last time that a right-winger got busted like this, and the right took such a ‘State Uber Alles’ approach.

    Now frankly, I think only half of it is race-based; the other half is due to his politics.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      The right-wingers are running with what they suspect will work for them.

      For a long, long time the Republican Party was the “tough on crime” party. If you took a poll and your number one concern was how those criminals are being coddled by our justice system, dollars to donuts you said “republican” when they asked for your party.

      The democrats were the party of “root causes” and “the murderer was abused as a child” and “miranda rights” and all that stuff.

      This is an echo of the arguments made back in the 70’s and 80’s about which side the Republicans are on. They are on the side of the cops. If there are facts in dispute, the cops get the benefit of the doubt.

      For about a minute after Ruby Ridge, the Republicans considered walking their position back a hair (“jack-booted thugs”!) but there was serious blowback from law enforcement and fans of social order and Bush I apologized profusely. Pity.

      After Clinton oversaw Ricky Ray Rector’s execution, he demonstrated his law/order bona fides and Perot peeled off the fiscon vote and Clinton was in power just long enough for Republicans to reconsider the role and extent of the Federal Government acting as law enforcement (Koresh).

      After 9/11, on cue, voices associated with the democrats started talking about “root causes of terrorism”. Republicans were the ones talking about Law. And Order.

      This is just the Republicans returning to form. That’s it, that’s all.Report

  4. Avatar Roque Nuevo says:

    It’s true that a cop shouldn’t arrest people for just being fools and trying to throw their weight around, like Gates. We all know that. Gates committed no crime at all.

    On the other hand, we all know that if we act like Gates did, we’ll likely end up arrested, just for the hell of it. I’m sure the cops knew that there were no real charges against Gates and that he’d be released. They just wanted to put him in his place, which is what they’d do to anyone, regardless of race. It was like my Dad used to tell me when I was whining and complaining: “you want to cry? I’ll give you something to cry about!” The cops just gave Gates “something to cry about.”
    I just don’t see how people can come up with such trite observations as

    Conservatism in a nutshell seems to be: government is bad, unless a government official has a gun, in which case they are good and should always be unquestioned regardless of their actions.

    based on this incident. What does this have to do with conservatism/liberalism? What conservative thinks that a “government official with a gun” is “good” no matter what? I suppose that a conservative with a healthy instinct for self-preservation would avoid pissing off government officials with guns but so would a liberal with healthy instincts, etc etc. Such people would just absorb the indignities the “government official with a gun” visited on them and later write a nasty letter, complain to the right people at the police dept, etc etc. They wouldn’t make fools of themselves in public by trying to show the police how important/aggrieved they are.Report