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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

27 July 2009

The Professor and The Law

I suppose I would be pretty pissed if the cops came to my home without a search warrant and demanded to see proof that I was allowed to be here. Especially if I was already inside and had to answer the door when they rang the bell. If I was a crook, would I do that? Would I answer the door and be all, like, “Yes chaps, can I help you?”

Or would I bolt out the back door and over the fence and into the high school parking lot behind my house? The reasonable man would conclude that if I weren’t supposed to be there, I’d be on the lam, and fast. But cops aren’t always reasonable.

And so a couple of days ago when the cops in Massachusetts town of Cambridge knocked on the door of a townhouse, a black man answered. He was Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and he happened to be a professor at nearby Harvard University. We can assume that he was dressed as a Harvard professor might dress – that is, it’s safe to say he wasn’t in shabby, torn clothes, smelling like Thunderbird wine and reeking of weed. You know, like a professor from UCLA Berkley, say.

As a black man in white America, Professor Gates probably took severe umbrage at being asked if he was supposed to be in his own home. I can fully understand that. Racism still exists in America, no matter how much we white people try to deny it.

Now, the cops had their suspicions. Earliler, when Gates and his driver arrived home in the middle of the day, he inexplicably found the front door “jammed.” In their attempts to open the door, a neighbor obviously thought they were trying to break in and (presumably in a racist panic) called the police. Thus, when the cops showed up they didn’t know what to expect. They rang the bell and a black man answered.

Then things got weird. Gates got mad, got loud. Probably over-reacted. We can imagine him thinking, I don’t have to take this shit! He followed them out of his house and into the street, reportedly hurling epithets the whole way. The cops, being cops, and probably deciding that neither were they going to take any shit from some irate black guy who maybe shouldn’t be in that house in the first place, ended up hauling Gates off in handcuffs.

Did this all have to happen? Nope. Embarrassing? Yep. Stupid? Yep, on both sides!

Gates could have easily provided identification that proved he was indeed allowed to be in his own home. Reportedly he did, showing his driver’s license and Harvard ID. But why should he have to? What is this, Nazi Germany, where the police can come to your door and demand identification? And if you don’t provide it you get hauled off to jail? Sorry, but that’s not a country I want to live in.

I suspect that this whole situation would have been handled differently if Gates had been a white man. The cops would have been less defensive, more solicitous. And the white man answering the door might have been less defensive than the perhaps overly-sensitive professor of African-American studies at Harvard. Sadly, we know how this case turned out.

Then, as we all know now, it got even weirder. President Obama just had to weigh-in, calling the actions of the police officer “stupid.”

Now people who dislike Obama are calling for him to apologize. Not me! At least, not to the police. I think the actions of the cops were stupid! I just don’t think Obama went far enough. I think he ought to call the actions of Professor Gates stupid too. Can you imagine? “This was a stupid situation in which both parties acted stupidly. Professor Gates is just as much at fault for escalating things as were the police. The only thing I’m sorry about is having opened my big, fat mouth in the first place. That was stupid, too.”

Now THAT is something I’d like to hear the President say. However, I’m not holding my breath.


Stan Grossman said...


We don't always agree, but I think you nailed this one. My sentiments exactly, as they say.


Hal Johnson said...

Bob, we don't always agree either, because, after all, you're originally from New York. But I think you nailed this one too.

I think this sort of thing goes on more often than people know--it certainly does here in Shasta County--and not just with minorities. The sad thing is that people don't seem to care,unless it happens to them.

As the Constitution continues to erode as a viable guiding force in our nation, I often think our own apathy is more to blame than the actions of law enforcement and lawmakers.

Greybeard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greybeard said...

Nailed it? Hardly.
Consider this scenario:
Assume for a minute the house belonged to Gates wife/girlfriend and she had thrown him out. He comes, still thinking house/goods belong to him, and finding the front door jimmied, tries to bust into the place. The cops have every right to demand he identify himself, having probable cause due to the 911 call. (Which by the way we've now heard, and the dark-skinned woman who made the call didn't mention race/color.) Gates needed to consider ALL the reasons Cops might be demanding he show ID.

Could this situation have been handled better? Obviously. But the fact that several Officers of color are saying Gates should have been arrested is telling, isn't it?
(See video below.)
And remember, only one of the parties was risking his life in the performance of duty that day!

Gates was the profiler in this situation...
He simply assumed he was being hassled by "Whitey" without considering the circumstances. As facts unfold, we're now finding he's one step removed from race-profiteers Sharpton and Jackson.
Crowley however, is looking better and better.

Bob Barbanes said...

Thanks Stan, thanks Hal.

But as more and more information comes out about this case, it is sadly apparent that Gates over-reacted. Perhaps he was tired from traveling. Maybe he just has a bad attitude toward white people. Whatever. He should never have followed Officer Crowley out onto the street; Gates should have just let him leave, and then shut the door and stewed in his own bitterness.

What we do not know amid all of the he said/she said here is the demeanor and attitude of Crowley. In general, when cops show up on any scene they have a no-bullshit/take-charge-of-the-situation attitude. That is their job as keepers of the peace. But it rubs some people the wrong way - people who have trouble with authority and feel like they don't have to answer to The Man, and are tired of doing it.

So perhaps the uniformed officer Crowley, just as he was trained to do, presented an imposing, authoritarian demeanor that day that was less Mahatma Gandhi and more Arnold Schwarzenegger. I'm just sayin'. And when confronted by an irate black male of whose house Crowley was just peeking in the window, maybe Crowley was something less than diplomatic. Only the people who were there could say.

Crowley did put in his official police report that it was the 911 caller, Lucia Whalen who said it was "...two black males with backpacks" that forced their way into the house. And that obviously colored his approach to the situation. In his mind, he still assumed that it was a break-in, perpetrated by two black males who'd forced their way in.

But Ms. Whalen *clearly* did not say any such thing in the 911 call, and she hasn't admitted to saying that in person to the police. So either she changed her story once the police got there, or Crowley lied.

Does it matter? Nope.

It's a sad sign of the times. Cops are still spring-loaded to thinking that "B&E's" (breaking and entering) are done by black males. And, obviously, many black males are spring-loaded to thinking that *every* encounter with the law is going to be a racial one.

With regard to race relations in America, things are not getting better. Cases like this show us just how far we still have to go.

Greybeard said...

Well Bob, President Obama is gonna unite Blacks and Whites, right?
Uhhh.... as this case sadly shows...

"Cases like this show us just how far we still have to go."
Well, you "Nailed that."

(And your reasoned response in light of unfolding facts is reassuring. Thanks.)

Anonymous said...

Bob, don't you ever run out of change after leaving your "2 cents" on every subject that you can? Just kidding, I always enjoy hearing your take on different issues and I usually agree with you. Later!


Bob Barbanes said...

Yeah Matt, but the problem is that you usually get to hear my rants twice (or more!): once in person and than again when they appear here.

Heh- run out of change? Clever. But aren't you the one who's always asking if I have a roll of silver dollars in my pocket?

Or is that dimes...

Bob said...

I'm no big Obama fan but I think he did a great job of diffusing the whole ordeal and inviting them both to the White House for a beer. I might even try to think of something stuppid to do myself as I think it would be way fun to go have a beer at the White House.

Hal Johnson said...

I agree that the professor overreacted, but the way law enforcement behaved in this case was, to me, far more disquieting, and sadly commonplace. In California and in other states, jury instructions based on case law state that a person has the right to defend him or herself against illegal arrest. I wouldn't advise anyone to try that, though. It probably would not result in anything as pleasant as a visit to have a beer with President Obama.

"But the fact that several Officers of color are saying Gates should have been arrested is telling, isn't it?"

Well, maybe. Or maybe it just shows that being an "officer of color" doesn't make one immune from mindset.

Greybeard said...

As always, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Bob Barbanes said...

Perhaps that is true, Greybeard. But could you describe for us the picture we're *supposed* to be seeing in something less than 1,000 words? That link didn't work for me.

Greybeard said...

It's the photo of the handicapped Professor being helped down the stairs by Sgt. Crowley, while Obama blissfully strides forth to meet his adoring media.