A couple of Gates-related odds and ends

I want to make it clear right up front that I know neither of these tidbits speaks directly to the matter of Professor Henry Louis Gates versus Sgt. James Crowley. But I’ve been thinking about both of them, and have decided they’re worth passing on as being indicative of a certain cultural mindset.

First, can we agree that 1999 wasn’t that long ago? Good. Because it was during that year that the Cambridge Chronicle discovered the Cambridge Police Department was training its officers to believe Mexicans and members of other ethnic groups who routinely eat spicy foods were immune to pepper spray. Apologies ensued.

Second, why on earth would Crowley give his first major interview to John Dennis and Gerry Callahan on WEEI Radio (AM 850)? The officer was trying to make the case that he’s not a racist — and yet he talked with two guys who were once suspended for comparing black kids to “gorillas.”

I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that Crowley is a racist. On the other hand, the evidence that he’s “clueless,” as Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker put it yesterday, continues to build.

As for President Obama, his week was like the Red Sox’ — really bad, ending on an upbeat note, but leaving you wondering whether he can shore up some fundamental flaws (lack of message discipline, combined with a disconcerting habit of having to revise his remarks) that weren’t evident when he was winning.

40 thoughts on “A couple of Gates-related odds and ends

  1. meamoeba

    how is crowley going on d&c any different than gates granting an extensive interiew to his daughter?

  2. Karl

    I guess that paints me as either stupid or bigoted because the notion that someone who routinely eats hot pepper might be less sensitive to pepper spray doesn't sound unreasonable to me. Sloppy training (if it isn't true), sure. Indicative of a "certain cultural mindset?" Dunno.I watched you and Adrian on Beat the Press last night. It was an excellent discussion–as many of the discussions surrounding this issue have been. It is still difficult, however, for me to generate the same sense of outrage that you and Adrian share about the arrest. Should he have been arrested? No. However, am I surprised that a person of any race who, unprovoked, rants at an officer in a highly personal fashion ends up in handcuffs? No!

  3. Aaron Read

    how is crowley going on d&c any different than gates granting an extensive interiew to his daughter?This is a good point, but I think it's not terribly relevant. Gates is a Harvard professor and, since he was the one arrested, he's the aggrieved party. He's not the one who has to prove that he acted "stupidly". Crowley does, and he went on a talk show that's well known for racist overtones. Not to mention homophobic, misogynistic and (insert any irrational hatred of any class of a society here). And most relevant, it's a goddamn sports station! Not a NEWS station. Crowley could've tried to go on WTKK, WRKO, WBZ or even WBUR or WGBH. But he didn't, he went on the one station where he knew no matter how flimsy his arguments, they'd be enthusiastically accepted and defended.This isn't about whether his arguments were flimsy (although I would argue they were) it's about how it really seems like he knew damn well he was in the wrong, and he's trying to convince everyone otherwise.The sad thing is, had he gone on WBUR and said the EXACT SAME WORDS he probably could've gotten away with it, and a lot of people would've respected him much more.

  4. Aaron Read

    Why did the media invent the"message discipline" canard, and why do they persist with it?It stems from the belief, by both the media and the political establishment, that the public is…as a whole…incapable of making independent, rational decision, and thus you must say what you want them to believe over and over and over and over until you pound it home so hard that they have no choice to believe it – even if it's total B.S.The 24-hour-news-cycle lends itself to this model. Since there is only so much content that must be stretched to fill a lot of time, many news outlets substitute forceful certainty for rationality.

  5. Aaron Read

    First, can we agree that 1999 wasn't that long ago?Dan, EXCELLENT catch…that was a rather damning report, wasn't it?However, 1999 may actually have been "a long time ago" on this metric: how many officers on the force then are still on the force now? Given how long many cops' job history is, it's possible most of them still are, and thus you are right…it's not that long ago.But it's also possible that there's been a lot of turnover in the department. If most of the cops on the force today were not in the CPD then, then I would say that it was indeed a long time ago.Of course, that in turn depends on the police that joined up/transferred in and what their backgrounds are…they might have similarly terrible incidents of racism in their past.Perhaps more relevant, where was Crowley during the spicy foods/pepper spray incidents? And what "sensitivity training", if any, did he undergo afterwards if he was there? We know he's been a policeman for at least 16 years (because of the Reggie Lewis aspect) but he apparently was a Brandeis campus policeman back then. When he'd join the CPD?

  6. acf

    A second point that might be made regarding the comparison of choices made by Crowley and Gates for their interviews is the reach of each venue. I still don't know where to avail myself of that Gates interview with his daughter, a softball venue to be sure. OTOH, the Dennis and Callahan interview on WEEI has a broad range and was surely heard by many more listeners. I am concerned by that choice of interviewers because of their history of racially tinged intolerance, and last but not least, the fact that they are a sports program, not a news or at least public affairs program. Instead, they are a program which would get the Crowley side out to the largest audience most likely to be inclined to be supportive of him.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    meamoeba: Unless you've got evidence that Gates' daughter has engaged in racist speech against white people, then I'm not even sure what you're asking.

  8. Amused

    Is watching your closer load the bases with one out in the top of the ninth in a two-run game upbeat?Personally I found it disconcerting, even downright Wes Gardneresque.

  9. meamoeba

    what i'm talking about is the same thing you are, dan — a selectie audience and sympathetic ear to tell your side unchallenged. read elizabeth's interview. the questions, statements and responses are ever bit as loaded as the d&c interview, just fromt he opposite side. while i tend to be more in line with the gates lin of reasoning, i choose not to be selective about who has the righteous platform. what's good (or bad) for one is good (or bad) for the other. i choose not to have it both ways. that's what i'm talking about.

  10. lkcape

    I don't believe that there is an predefined "right" place for anyone to grant a first interview. Do you, Dan?That Mr. Gates decided on his daughter, and thereby enhancing her name recognition and career, was his choice. (Certainly a lot of puff-balls in that discussion.)That Sgt Crowley chose as he did was his choice. (I did not hear that interview, but I would guess there was a certain equality in the puff-ball arena).Does either bother you, Dan? If so, why?I would not presume to direct the choice for either. Nor would I extrapolate a conclusion that Sgt. Crowley is a racist based on the evidence available, Adrian Walker's views notwithstanding.As for Obama's poor performance this past week, he has only himself to blame.His play for health care reform has been ceded to the sausage makers with little or no leadership from his office.His remarks on the Affaire de Gates were HIS foot-in-mouth moment, and is alone.His walking backwards on many issues is a symptom of establishing policy before really thinking seriously about it.Wonder if he can shore-up some fundamental flaw? I sincerely hope so. The consequences of his being unable to are extraordinarily serious.

  11. deathpixie

    The part of the story that makes the least sense to me: A passerby observes a taxi cab driver and a man with a cane attempting to open a door while the taxi cab idles in front of the house and her first thought is "OMG! Criminals breaking in!" Leave out all the comments about race, and Gates' reaction remains understandable: he's been traveling all day, he's tired and wants to get to bed but first has to struggle with a door swollen shut and then a cop who won't back off even after Gates has shown him not one, but two documents proving that this is his own home.Frankly, in my estimation the only problem here is an arrogant, thin-skinned police officer who should have had the good grace and training to say, "I'm sorry for the intrusion, sir, but we did need to verify your identity. Please have a peaceful evening, Professor Gates" and then left. That's what I would have expected had I been in Gates' position. I probably would have shucked and jived because I'm a timid woman, but I would have filed an official complaint with his commanding officer at the first opportunity. I must admit I was shocked that the the policie officer went on a talk radio show at all (who authorized THAT?) and then chose a venue well known for being prone to racist, homophobic, sexist comments. It doesn't speak well for his much-vaunted deep respect for diversity.

  12. danhamaim

    To this former Cantabridgian, this story has nothing unique to that city about it. Take away race, just long enough to blow away the smoke and get some clarity, and it's about two men who made bad calls in the moment.Gates decided to make his case about racism on the spot. Good case? I don't know, but bad timing and a bad idea. Crowley decided to use his full police powers when less would have been more. Technically justifiable? Perhaps, but still a bad idea.All I've been able to read suggests Crowley is usually a good cop. We've learned less about Gates from the media (and parenthetically, why is that?), but the burden was on Crowley to act professionally in this case; he was on the clock, being paid to be cool and rational; Gates was not.Now plug race back into the equation and in my opinion, things don't change much. Mouthing off to a cop is still a dumb idea and cops are still mandated to keep the peace, not break it.-dan h

  13. Aaron Read

    ACF – in 12+ ratings, WBZ dwarfs both WEEI and WBUR. At least as recently as June.http://www.stationratings.com/ratings.asp?market=13If you look at the 25-54 ratings, which tend to be a lot more meaningful (and thus are not public) then typically WBUR, WBZ and WMJX jockey for the top spot…with WEEI down towards the bottom of the top ten; their strength is the Red Sox, not their regular shows. At least this was the case in 2006, which was the last time I was able to get my hands on 25-54 data.Supposedly WBUR has taken a hit in the post-Arbitron PPM world, since the old diaries tend to measure audience loyalty & impression strength, whereas the PPM's measure what's on the radio at any given moment, I'm not too surprised…WBUR has excellent branding. Even so, WBUR is still one of the top-rated stations in Boston in morning drive. On roughly equal, or superior, footing with WEEI depending on the demographic.Regardless, if Crowley was concerned about maximizing audience, he should've gone to WBZ. I'm sure they would've taken him.If he was concerned about legitimacy AND audience size, he should've gone to WBUR or WTKK; either could've given him a relatively fair shake and a decent-sized audience.I just don't see how going to WEEI is anything but guaranteeing that Crowley would have the safest media environment possible. WEEI was the only place he could be sure that there was zero chance of any embarrassing questions or pushback.It does beg the question, though…why was he on WEEI at all? I can't imagine the union wanted it, and certainly the management at CPD was aghast. Crowley's lawyer (and I assume he was smart enough to get one) might've OK'ed a "safe" media outlet like WEEI, but really the smart way to go would be to stay silent and wait for Gates to go into media overdrive and go too far, which he eventually did ("rogue policeman?"). But it was nullified by Crowley's own media appearances.

  14. lkcape

    And your comments on Mr. Gates' selection of his daughter as his first interview?Or is this likely to see the underside of the rug while minutae are debated?

  15. O-FISH-L

    Dan, I'm afraid that on the issue of pepper spray and its possible reduced effectiveness on folks with a high pepper diet, you've gone from the ridiculous to the absurd in discounting that possibility AND in tying it to CPD racism or the Gates incident.The Cambridge Police, Boston Police, MBTA Police* and every other city and town department in the state teach only the training materials promulgated by the (then) Mass. Criminal Justice Training Council, now the Municipal Police Training Committee. The original 1999 article explains, "Every year, I teach this," said Cambridge officer Frank Gutoski, who added that he received the information on pepper spray and ethnicity "as a part of a certification course" from the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Council, which trains officers and certifies trainers for municipal departments around the state." I personally received the same training and never worked a day in Cambridge.Since the MCJTC is a state agency, and in 1999, as today, we had an overwhelmingly Democrat legislature that funded it, the racism is inherent in the Democrat legislature as much, if not more than in the Cambridge Police.As for the original 1999 article, it's almost comical in its rush to racism. Despite admitting there is "no known medical evidence" on whether the theory is true or not, it goes on to extensively quote a doctor from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, as if Mexicans, among the poorest ethnic group in the country, would be lining up for treatment at a private, predominantly Jewish hospital in Boston. I suppose the Landspitali University Hospital, Reykjavik, Iceland hasn't seen too many Mexican pepper spray victims coming in, either. Further, that the BI doctor hasn't seen any evidence of this is exactly the point. People who have a resistance to pepper spray aren't going to the emergency room. Is he somehow keeping score of the suspects on the street who don't require medical treatment? Absurd. At best, the article indicates that although many police officers believe the theory, little or no medical research has been done on it. Racism? Hardly.As anecdotal evidence Dan, I don't know your dietary habits, but take a bite of a pepper on the Scoville Scale that is barely tolerable to you today. Take another bite tomorrow, then the next day and so on. There is no question that you will build up a tolerance daily and will soon be climbing the scale. While I'm not a doctor and don't pretend to have a science background, isn't it simple logic to suggest that someone (of any race) who can tolerate something high on the Scoville scale in solid form, might have a higher tolerance to same in liquid form as well?*The asterisk beside MBTA Police above brings me back to Adrian Walker, who has the audacity to denigrate Sergeant Crowley on "Beat the Press" and call him "clueless" in his column without any disclosure at all that Walker himself was arrested less than a year and a half ago by another Sergeant, in an embarrassing case of drunken driving. Worse yet, it was an alert MBTA officer, normally assigned to busses and trains, who observed Walker driving his Globe car erratically and took him off the road. When I saw that Emily Rooney had included him on the panel without any disclosure of his recent troubles with the police, I just couldn't believe it. As for racism and the liberal elites, when Callie Crossley takes a night off, is it policy that she be replaced by another African American? How come there are never two blacks on BTP? That smacks of an old-school tokenism that everyone should find offensive.

  16. Dan Kennedy

    Nial: Adam Reilly reported that the Globe took down the arrest report because the editors feared there was something on there that would identify the leaker.I have independent knowledge that that is indeed the case. Though I agree with Adam that it seems odd someone didn't just use whiteout.Thanks for linking to the unfounded speculation over at Newsbusters as to why the report was removed. Very amusing.

  17. Aaron Read

    And your comments on Mr. Gates' selection of his daughter as his first interview?Lkcape: my comments? If Gates wanted his interview to convey legitimacy than yes, that was a boneheaded move on his part. I'd say it was about as boneheaded as Crowley's.However, the key difference here is that Gates has little to prove. That little concept of "innocent until proven guilty", you know? Crowley is the police, the burden of proof that one party abused their position is on him, not on Gates.I've never said that Gates hasn't acted like a real idiot throughout this entire process. The difference has always been that Gates is a private citizen and is perfectly within his rights to be an idiot. Or a jerk. Or even an a**hole. Crowley, acting as a policeman, is not within his rights to do the same.BTW folks, check out today's NYTimes summary article speaking with police across the country. It's sobering how many of them report that they feel "(they) have to remain in control. We’re running the show." (13-year veteran policeman in Denver) in a situation, and "they don't get a free pass" (3 year policeman in Brooklyn).

  18. lkcape

    So we now have Mr. Gates' interview with his daughter as lacking legitimacy, and the prima facie evidence of Mr. Gates injecting race in to the situation at the get-go.Hmmmm…While the public still needs to sort through the full set of facts, it appears as though the latent hatred of Mr. Gates was in full flower.Calling someone a racist does qualify, I would think, as containing a fair degree of "hate". Wouldn't you?It is clear that he is either very uncomfortable with who, and where, he is, or is deliberate in his interest in playing the race card.The same cannot be said for Sgt. Crowley from any interpretation of the now-known facts.Affirmative action and professorial status cannot save Mr. Gates from the embarrassments that his intemperate remarks have caused him…..This is unless he claims that someone else is responsible for his choices and actions. ("The mean old policeman made me do it.")Any attempt by Mr Gates to profit from this situation would be downright sleazy. (His daughter has, so what assessment applies there?)

  19. O-FISH-L

    mike_b1, is President Barack H. Obama a Republicanazi? After all, it was he, not I, who invited the esteemed Sergeant James M. Crowley to the White House for an ice cold beer, no? In fact, I believe it is Obama who joined me in calling Sergeant Crowley "an outstanding officer." At the end of the day, the pre-eminent African American scholar, and the first (second?) African American President himself, were trumped by the "lowly" civil servant from Cambridge. You don't think the President would be inviting the Sergeant to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if he had done anything wrong, do you?

  20. Nial Liszt

    Everything changed here on Thursday when somebody realized… "you mean there are t-t-t-tapes!"Fish: is there a problem here if Crowley purposely keyed his radio, knowing that Gates' rant would be recorded, re: Mass. wiretap law?

  21. mike_b1

    lkcape: Carville recognized that the media are sheep. But as Walter Pincus has pointed out, the effort began with Reagan, whose media directors knew that their constituents — i.e., people like you — can't concentrate on more than one thing at a time.

  22. mike_b1

    O-Fish, this is clearly a case of Republizanazis having no clue, no strategy and no plan. Which is, of course, why no one votes for them anymore. Obama is wise to simply pat the poor brainless officer on the head and move along. I mean, really, does anyone on this planet believe Crowley is anything more than a goon with a badge? Reminds me of that Devo song (and no, I'm not talking about Whip It).When Gates wins the court case, it will be down the road, at which point all the braindead "stick to a single message" people will have long forgotten it anyway.

  23. O-FISH-L

    lkcape: Prof. Gates was shown on several TV news stations at 11 PM, on the Vineyard, vigorously pedaling what can only be called an adult's tricycle. I guess the bronchial infection has subsided. —-Nial: GREAT question, it had crossed my mind and I honestly don't know the answer. It's far more common to bring the 911 tapes into court than the radio tapes, which ideally, only contain the voices of police personnel. I've heard that there is some case law (not sure if it's true) that the little "beep" you hear every few seconds when calling 911 is "enough" for a 911 caller to realize they are being recorded, although since Enhanced 911, the standard statewide greeting is "911, recorded line, what is your emergency?" I'm told that the courts have ruled that even if you don't tell the caller he's being recorded, the beeps are enough.As for the police radio, most portables (walkie-talkie) make one "beep" when the officer depresses the mic. Some officers have the beep disabled by the radio technician for officer safety purposes, fearing it might inadvertently help a shooter locate them during a dark building search etc. I'm not sure what Cambridge does. I know of no officers who would "key the mic" for the sole purposes of recording someone and frankly I doubt Sergeant Crowley or anyone else would be so clairvoyant as to realize at that instant that it may be helpful later.My hunch is that Gates was unintentionally recorded in the background (often quite clear if the suspect is loud enough) when Sergeant Crowley was radioing to "slow the other units down, this person appears to live here but is very uncooperative." If the recording was obviously inadvertent, with Sergeant Crowley in the foreground and Gates unintentionally in the background, it would have a chilling effect on officer safety if the courts ruled that such a recording was tantamount to wiretapping. An officer then would be expected to stop transmitting if a suspect was ranting and raving in the background. FWIW, I've had swears and other niceties come over the air from my prisoners while I was trying to talk to HQ on the radio. Makes for a good laugh later! Again, great question and I'll look into it with the experts.

  24. O-FISH-L

    Nial: I'm not sure if this is on-point but MGLC. 272 S. 99 B4 seems to specifically exempt radio communication from the wiretap law. See the last sentence:General Laws c. 272, § 99 C 1, set forth below,(3) prohibits, unless otherwise specified in the statute, the intentional interception of any oral communication. The statute provides that "[t]he term 'interception' means to secretly hear, secretly record, or aid another to secretly hear or secretly record the contents of any wire or oral communication through the use of any intercepting device[(4)] by any person other than a person given prior authority by all parties to such communication . . . ." G. L. c. 272, § 99 B 4. An "oral communication" is defined as "speech, except such speech as is transmitted over the public air waves by radio or other similar device."

  25. Aaron Read

    O-FISH-L, I'm not a lawyer, but I do run a radio station so I brush against communications law now and then…I think the key distinction in that Law is the "public air waves" part. Are police radios considered public airwaves? I think they are…usually anyone can go out and buy a scanner and listen in to police radios. Hell, my station manager, who doubles as a reporter, has one sitting on his desk at all times, precisely so he can hear if something big happens.OTOH, if the radios are encrypted…like many modern, digital radios CAN be, but I don't know if police use them as such…then I believe it would be found to NOT be public.Hey lkcape, when did you stop beating your wife? I see you've once again taken one part of someone's argument as vindication…and ignored the rest that says you're wrong no matter how many times you claim you're right. Sorry guy, this ain't the White House Press Room with Bush at the helm…up is not down, black is not white, and freedom is not slavery.

  26. Nial Liszt

    Fish and Aaron: This may sneak in under the "public air waves" clause, but that probably was meant to cover listeners of AM/FM broadcasts. It just seems that despite, I'm sure, many Public Records requests, something is holding up the release of these recordings.

  27. O-FISH-L

    Nial, I would think that's it's pure politics that's holding up the release of the tapes. There's no doubt that if the tapes revealed a police officer beating Gates, and him screaming for mercy, the tapes would have been released last week.—Aaron, I don't think the local police radios are encrypted, most are on the 400 Mhz band I believe. MA State Police are on the 800s and their radios may be encrypted, not sure. Anyone can monitor the locals with a Bearcat or Radio Shack special. The FCC issues the licenses and assigns a frequency to the department, and the department is required to give "station identification" either orally or via morse code, every hour or so.Keep in mind it wasn't Sergeant Crowley recording, he was merely transmitting. It is the Keeper of the Records for CPD who would technically be recording, and he'd only be recording the radio broadcast, which isn't oral communication, according to the law. I think the only question for the court would be whether a pre-eminent scholar of Prof. Gates stature should reasonably know that when Sergeant Crowley began talking into that rectangular black thing with the antenna on top, that he was broadcasting over the public airwaves. I think it would be bad precedent for the court to strike down what may obviously be inadvertent recording of Gates. Intentionally "keying the mic" to record a suspect would be one thing, but if a cop gets jumped and is being beaten, is he not supposed to radio for help if the attacker is screaming at him? The courts generally rule in favor of the police on officer safety issues.Lastly, I forget where I heard it, but some Gates sympathizer was saying that the MA public records law only requires the release of a transcript, not the actual audio. If Cambridge goes that route, it will be up to the transcriber as to how to denote background noise/comments. I'd rather the real thing, although I'm not sure Gates does.

  28. Dan Kennedy

    mike_b1: Regarding "message discipline," if you think Obama is happy that the media are talking about his remarks about the Gates case rather than health care, then you're absolutely right.Otherwise, you can be sure he's angry with himself for doing some harm to his own agenda.

  29. mike_b1

    I would say this Dan: Which is more important to the public — health care or Gates? This is a classic example of the press digging its teeth into something it can understand — a personal conflict — to the detriment of something it can't — insurance.Then somewhere down the road, an editor will decry how the public "doesn't care about the issues."

  30. Rick in Duxbury

    DK,With all due respect, when a guy with a progressive agenda (you) quotes a guy with a progressive agenda (Walker) and this is considered "evidence", we may be overthinking this thing. Let's see how the "beer at the WH with POTUS" goes. (As the good professor has already advised that he doesn't drink beer, this is a real marketing opportunity for an enterprising American vintner!)

  31. Treg

    My own loose thread – maybe someone's already said it:Wouldn't it pretty much be standard operating procedure for the police to pick a white guy who is totally clueless when it comes to racial sensitivity to teach their racial profiling prevention course?

  32. lkcape

    Poor Aaron… can't attack the argument so he attacks the poster.But that is what is to be expected from an ardent advocate who is beginning to understand that his position is crumbling by his own hand.Barry finally recognized that and shut up. And it looks as if Barry finally convinced Skippy that his foolishness was…well…foolishness.Do you need a phone call from on high?

  33. lkcape

    Poor Aaron, unable to attack the argument so he turns his sights on the poster.Typical of an ardent advocate who suddenly realizes that his argument is crumbling by his own had.Barry finally realized this and shut up. And he convinced Skippy that he wasn't doing the cause any good.Do you need a phone call from on high?

  34. O'Reilly

    we should treat the cops with respect and society shouldn't encourage people to be reflexively hostile to police. They have a tough job, and we should all be properly respectful of people who are doing a dangerous and necessary job for the community. But when a citizen doesn't behave well, if not illegally, as will happen in a free society, it is incumbent upon the police, the ones with the tasers and the handcuffs and the guns, to exercise discretion wisely and professionally. And when they don't, we shouldn't make excuses for them. It's far more corrosive to society to allow authority figures to abuse their power than the other way around.Read the whole thing. It's worth it.

  35. O-FISH-L

    It should be obvious to all that the only winner here is Sergeant Crowley. Obama was already in the White House, and surely Skip Gates could have visited there at his leisure, so what's changed?A lowly Police Sergeant from Cambridge has been elevated to White House social invitee. Few officers in their lifetime ever receive such an honor. It is far more likely that Crowley, not Gates, will be entertaining the book and movie (real ones, not ch.2) deals. Working title, "Sergeant Crowley goes to Washington."

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