Friday, July 24, 2009

The Ivory Tower Lynching of Sgt. James Crowley

It's clear that academics just don't get cops and police work at all. And apparently neither does Gates or our President. Examine Gate's quote in the Washington Post:
"I'm glad that someone would care enough about my property to report what they thought was some untoward invasion," Gates said. "If she saw someone tomorrow that looked like they were breaking in, I would want her to call 911. I would want the police to come. What I would not want is to be presumed to be guilty. That's what the deal was. It didn't matter how I was dressed. It didn't matter how I talked. It didn't matter how I comported myself. That man was convinced that I was guilty." [Emphasis mine.]
--Washington Post

We'll drop, as Dr. Gates does, any racial bias concerns about the person reporting this apparent felony residential burglary in progress and give her the benefit of the doubt by assuming that she'd have substituted the equally descriptive: "two white boys with long hair and skate boards" in place of "two big Black men," if it had been appropriate. [note:
as reported 27 July a replaying of the 911 tape shows that the caller made no reference to race at all.]

What unnerves over-educated academics, however, more than anything else and what has precipitated this
Ivory Tower Lynching of Sgt. James Crowley in liberal media and academic circles, are the comments that I highlighted above by Dr. Gates and their unspoken implications:
  • I would want the police to come. What I would not want is to be presumed to be guilty [indeed, most burglars would prefer not to be thought of as guilty when caught inside a house, it impedes their chances of slipping away].
  • I'm dressed nice [so I'm above the law].
  • I'm well-spoken [so I couldn't possibly be a burglar].
  • I have fancy manners [so it's clear I belong in this neighborhood]
  • That man was convinced that I was guilty [Yes, Dr. Gates was apprehended at a burglary call--at a trial the courts must assume his innocence in its proceedings; the police at the scene, however, are not constrained by this assumption in the investigation of a crime].
By every report, it was Dr. Gates who brought up race in the confrontation between himself and Sgt. Crowley, not the police officer.

The first rule of policing Ritzy neighborhoods is this: the nicer the neighborhood, the more elegant the criminal. If you park an old beat up truck in a driveway in Harvard Square, you'd better have a lawn mower in the back.

In many regard I imagine that policing Harvard Square must be a lot like policing Beverly Hills: Ritzy neighborhoods rife with the self-important, over-indulgent and over-entitled to whom the rules of dealing with the police just don't apply [they think]. In the decade that I policed down in South Texas, I had occasion to police similar neighborhoods and police/citizen encounters like the one Sgt. Crowley and Professor Gates had were depressingly frequent. Most of mine went something like this:
"Burglar alarm has gone off, sir, let me see your ID."
"I live here." [so did ex-boy friends, ex-girl friends, ex-spouses, and, in the nicer neighborhoods, ex-maids.]
"I need to see some ID."
"I've got a key, see?" [statistically over 50% of houses have entrance door keys secreted somewhere around the door--flower pots, under the door mat, in those fake rocks, not to mention left over in the possession of that long line of exes mentioned above.]

This is where the test of will kicks in, the Law vs. Dr. Diamond Jim dealing with an educational and social inferior police officer.

"If you don't show me your ID or find some neighbor to vouch for you, I'm going to put you in handcuffs and book you."
"You wouldn't dare. This is my house."
"No, it's my crime scene."
"All right, here's my DL." [keeping in mind that in a mobile society a large percentage of DLs don't actually list the correct current address of the holder. So often a DL does little to clarify in a policeman's mind a person's right to be on the property.]
[I copy down the info for my report. This quiet moment is where 99% of these encounters go bad...usually for the citizen.]

"You're just doin' this because [I'm black, I'm rich, I can buy you, you don't like me, you don't like I'm with a white girl, you hate attorneys, you think I got drugs, I drive a better car than you, because I play poker with the your dig].

"Nope, I'm here because I was called. Here's your ID, have a pleasant day."
Dr. Gates and 99.9% of the people I arrested in similar circumstances screwed up at exactly this point: They just wouldn't let it go and they took their fight to the street [ie. outside the 4th Amendment protections of their homes].

By the way, in my decade of police work I have never encountered someone who got upset with me and who was black that didn't sling that "you're just doin' this to me because I'm black"-guilt thing at me...even when I was working in all black neighborhoods and where he was the one standing over the body with the gun in his hand. I can just about guarantee that race is not what earned Dr. Gate's his time in jail.

What Dr. Gates and the rest of your Born-With-a-Silver-Spoon-Up-Your-Asses-types missed in Police 101 is this: A good cop likes trouble.

If a cop didn't like trouble he'd never get out of his car to shake the doors of a closed building, or stop a carload of yahoos cruising without lights at 3 am, or write that ticket for speeding in a school zone, or check that car with a single guy in it parked on the far side of the playground. We like trouble.

I'm not saying that Sgt. Crowley was 100% right in this matter, but he wasn't all that wrong. I don't know about Massachusetts law but in most jurisdictions the crime scene belongs to the police until they're satisfied that they've got everything under control or that there is no crime at all. Dr. Gates should have appreciated the fact that the police officer was just doing his job and cooperate with him so that the matter could be cleared up quickly.

Imagined how things would have changed if Professor Gates could have just brought himself to say: "Thanks for checking, Officer. I appreciate your stopping by. That's why I moved into Harvard Square: fast response and superior police protection. Got time for a coffee or do you need to get back to work?"

This incident was not an example of racial profiling. It was an unfortunate incident, maybe a misunderstanding. What intense media scrutiny of this matter does, however, is dilute the true crimes and abuses of racial profiling, which is rampant in many communities and is perpetrated not against the well-to-do but the poorer, less educated members of society. However, what really is upsetting the Ivory Tower community is not concern for the victims of racial profiling as much as that sneaking, creeping, feeling that they may not be any better than any other suspect at a crime scene.

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