“Contempt of cop” and the Gates case

When Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct inside his own home in Cambridge last July, the incident struck many of us as being less about race than about the right of someone who had done nothing wrong to mouth off to a police officer.

Now comes the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, which has a story in today’s Boston Globe showing that what happened to Gates was part of a pattern in Cambridge. Though the center found no evidence of racial profiling, it did find that the majority of people charged with disorderly conduct from 2004 to ’09 were arrested because of something they said. A key excerpt:

The most striking conclusion of the review of Cambridge police data is that the majority of those arrested for disorderly conduct were allegedly yelling, often screaming obscenities, in front of police before the handcuffs snapped shut. More than 60 percent of the disorderly arrests reviewed by center involved some sort of allegedly inflammatory speech, such as talking back to the police, more commonly known as “contempt of cop.’’

Gates, as you recall, was arrested by Sgt. James Crowley, who had been dispatched to Gates’ home following a report that two men had been seen trying to force their way in. (Gates and his taxi driver had forced open a stuck door.) Gates, apparently believing he’d been racially profiled, exchanged words with Crowley, though the two disagree over exactly what was said.

We’re still waiting to hear why Crowley wrote in his report that a witness told him at the scene that two black men were observed trying to get in. The woman later said she made no mention of race when she called the police station, and that she never spoke directly with Crowley, as he claimed. Perhaps that will be explained in a report by a city task force, which, according to the Cambridge Chronicle, could be released any day now.

8 thoughts on ““Contempt of cop” and the Gates case

  1. Steve Stein

    the majority of people charged with disorderly conduct from 2004 to ’09 were arrested because of something they said.

    Was it because of “something they said” or how they said it? If they were not yelling and screaming, would they have gotten arrested?

    I suspect the thing that made the Gates arrest notable was that Gates was in his own house when he was doing the yelling. It’s a different thing if you’re out in public yelling and screaming, as opposed to in your own home, and not threatening harm to anyone.

    Here’s the most egregious case of “contempt of cop” I’ve heard of this year. SF author and Canadian citizen Peter Watts was crossing into Canada, didn’t obey the border guards fast enough, and was beaten, maced and arrested. Convicted of obstructing a customs official, he’s now a felon and banned from the US.

    Disgusting.

  2. BP Myers

    @Steve Stein asks: If they were not yelling and screaming, would they have gotten arrested?

    Calmly tell the next fifty cops you see to f@#k off.

    Let us know how it goes.

  3. Brad Deltan

    Is it just me, or are all the nutballs out there, who demand to hold onto their guns because you can’t trust the agents of the state, starting to make more and more sense every day?

  4. Brad Deltan

    And one more bit: is it any wonder why nobody wants to cooperate with police these days? Why should you? Seems like every day there’s another glaring example of how cops are on a permanent power trip.

  5. Michael Corcoran

    Without getting into the specifics of the story, I find it interesting — and above all, good — to see the report was released in two (normally competing) platforms, radio and newspapers. ( it was also on WBUR — http://www.wbur.org/2010/06/17/disorderly-conduct )

    This does seem to be a positive byproduct of non-profits filling in the gap for investigative reporting; a story is told on multiple platforms, simultaneously, for the public good. I suppose there are potential downsides to this — we could see the centralization of investigative reports to a few organizations — but at this point, it seems like an unambiguous plus.

  6. Neil Sagan

    good politics – pit the US Senate hopeful Sharon Angle (TeaParty-NV) second amendment armed insurrectionists against the police who abuse their authority and inflict harm during arrest for contempt of cop. IE David Woodman. I think the cops win that one becuase they can use the color of law to pursue “victory” – All of society wants order, and society will tolerate civil rights violations by police in the face of anarchy. That said, society will tolerate civil rights violations by police in the face of civil society. Contempt of cop is a civil rights violation.

  7. Steve Stein

    @BP – the older I get, the more I value the service police provide. Maybe cars are to blame – I would guess that most people encounter the police through vehicle stops. The last time I was stopped (25 years ago) I was in the wrong, and pretty much embarrassed, so I mouthed off. He went over my registration carefully and found something additional to cite me with.

    While I’m not black, I have had experience with getting stopped because of “profiling”. Driving a VW bus with a Grateful Dead sticker on the NJ Turnpike in the 70s, got you stopped a fair amount. Luckily, never for speeding (since the Bus’s top speed *was* 55 🙂

  8. BP Myers

    @Steve Stein says: the older I get, the more I value the service police provide.

    While reading your comment, I couldn’t help but think of the thousands and thousands of riot-geared and jackbooted paramilitaries on the streets of Boston last evening.

    I guess in a way, we’re fortunate the Celtics did not win a championship last night. Statistics show that at least one life was saved.

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