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.

Gates comments now closed

I have changed Blogger’s settings so that any comment made to a post more than a day old will be moderated. That will allow me to delete any further comments to posts on the Henry Louis Gates arrest. This will not apply to any new posts I might write on the Gates matter. But we’re now up to well over 200 comments, mostly from the same small group of people. Enough.

Obama, Gates and racism

President Obama stepped on his health-care message last night when he said more about the Henry Louis Gates arrest than he should have — especially since, as he himself admitted, he didn’t know the facts.

But critics who tut-tut whenever Obama reminds us that he is indeed an African-American who has experienced his share of racism might want to consider the debilitating effects of crap like this and this.

What the Gates story says about race and culture

One thing that has struck me in the endless discussion over Henry Louis Gates’ arrest is the difference in cultural attitudes between those who are defending Gates versus those siding with the Cambridge police.

Specifically, I’m startled by the notion put forth by some that Gates was in the wrong by not showing extreme deference toward the police. If you put race aside for a moment (but only for a moment), I think that, more than anything, accounts for the split. We’re talking about a clash of worldviews that we’re not going to resolve here.

I’ve been sitting on the fence but leaning toward Gates. I now think we know enough that I can come out firmly on Gates’ side. We may never know exactly what happened. But the only important difference between the police report and Gates’ own account is the question of whether Gates pulled a nutty. I don’t care if he did or not.

I’m going link-free; I’ve linked to everything relevant over the past few days, so just click here.

Here are some facts that we know beyond any doubt:

  • A woman who works but does not live in the neighborhood called police to report that two black men appeared to be breaking into a home. Perhaps she would have called even if Gates and his driver had been white. I don’t know what she was thinking. But if their race played a role in her decision to dial “911,” that would hardly be the first time police have been summoned because black people had been seen in a place they weren’t supposed to be.
  • The police responded and questioned Gates, as they should have, given the woman’s call and her report that the two men were trying to force their way in.
  • A short time later, Sgt. James Crowley and his fellow officers knew for a fact that Gates, in fact, lived in the home to which they had responded. Gates — 58 years old and disabled — may or may not have been ranting and raving at them. But surely the officers knew that, through no fault of their own, they had stumbled into a racially explosive situation.
  • Rather than find a way to extricate themselves and let everyone cool off, the police decided to arrest Gates at his own home and charge him with disturbing the peace. Even if you rely solely on the police report, it’s clear that Gates’ offense was mouthing off to the officers, who were on his property and who no longer had any reason to be there.
  • The arrest took place last Thursday. No one knew about it until Monday, when the police report leaked out. (It appears that the Boston Globe broke the story.) Even though the report was a public record that the police were withholding on flimsy grounds (The investigation was continuing? Really?), a police spokesman said as recently as yesterday that the department was trying to ferret out the leaker.
  • As soon as Middlesex District Attorney Gerard Leone got involved, the charges were dropped and the Cambridge Police Department issued a conciliatory statement. It is telling, I think, that it took an outsider to see the arrest for the fiasco it was.

Am I missing anything? I don’t think so. I also don’t think anyone can dispute the facts as I’ve laid them out. Given that, we come back to our competing mindsets.

Could Gates have handled this differently? Well, sure. He could — as many have suggested — have thanked the officers for keeping such a close eye on his house and sent them on their way with a smile and a handshake. Maybe that would have even been a better response.

And you know what? It’s definitely how I would have responded. But I’m white, and that fact predisposes me to have a very different attitude toward police officers. At a minimum, I would never suspect I was being hassled because I didn’t look like I belonged in my own home or in a particular neighborhood.

Gates responded as someone whose dignity had been assaulted because of his race. And whether that was literally true or not, the officers should have understood immediately that that was a perfectly understandable, reasonable response on Gates’ part.

Either the police didn’t recognize the situation for what it was, or they did and made a macho decision to show Gates who was in charge. Either way, it was a mistake, and one we’ll be hearing about for some time to come.

Globe: Police should have left

A Boston Globe editorial today captures the nuances of the Henry Louis Gates matter quite well: “The confrontation between Gates and Sergeant James Crowley isn’t a textbook example of racial profiling.”

But: “Once the officer established that Gates was indeed standing in his own home, the encounter should have ended. Objecting to an officer’s presence in one’s residence should hardly be grounds for arrest.”


“I’ll be meeting with my legal team”

Henry Louis Gates gives a lengthy interview to the Root, an African-American webzine of which he is editor-in-chief. (Via Universal Hub.)

Who stole the strawberries?

Cambridge police certainly have their priorities straight. Department spokesman Jimmy DiFrancesco tells the Cambridge Chronicle that the police are trying to figure out who leaked the Henry Louis Gates arrest report to the media.

Gates disputes police report

The Cambridge Police Department would have some problems even if its account of Henry Louis Gates’ arrest proves to be entirely accurate. But Gates, a Harvard University professor, says it isn’t. According to the Boston Globe’s Tracy Jan:

This afternoon in an interview, Gates said he never yelled at the officer other than to demand his name and badge number, which he said the officer refused to give. The officer, Sergeant James Crowley, said in the police report that he did state his name. He also said Gates unleashed a verbal tirade, calling him racist, telling him that he did not know who he was messing with, and threatening to speak to his “mama” outside.

“The police report is full of this man’s broad imagination,” Gates said in response to a question on whether he had said any of the quotes in the report. “I said, ‘Are you not giving me your name and badge number because I’m a black man in America?’ … He treated my request with scorn … I was suffering from a bronchial infection. I couldn’t have yelled … I don’t walk around calling white people racist.”

Audio of the Gates interview is near the top of Boston.com right now.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, the police say in response. This is far from being over.

Charges against Gates to be dropped

WHDH-TV (Channel 7) reports that charges against Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates will be dropped. Meanwhile, the Cambridge Chronicle notes that Boston.com’s copy of the arrest report has gone missing.

Update: Boston.com has reposted (PDF) some of the arrest report, but there’s less now than there was yesterday. The Cambridge Chronicle has a longer version here.

Correction: I wrote yesterday that Gates had apparently locked himself out of his house. As is now clear, that wasn’t the case — his door was jammed.

Cambridge police arrest Henry Louis Gates

In case you haven’t heard, it looks like the Cambridge Police Department has a public-relations disaster on its hands. Last Thursday, it has been revealed, police arrested Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates and charged him with disorderly conduct.

According to Boston Globe reporter Tracy Jan, police responded to a call that someone was attempting to break into a house. Apparently Gates had locked himself out of his own couldn’t get into his home because the door was jammed, and he was upset and frustrated. (Been there.) As he is also African-American, the possibility of racial profiling can’t be ruled out. (Haven’t been there.)

Gates reportedly told the officer who arrested him, “This is what happens to black men in America.”

To make matters worse, the Cambridge Chronicle reports that police have refused to release the arrest report*, citing the “investigatory exemption” to the public-records law. Mind you, we are talking about an incident that took place four days ago involving a man trying to get into his own house a little before one in the afternoon.

The Chronicle credits the Huffington Post with breaking the story, but I’m confused. The Chronicle links to an Associated Press story that HuffPo published. It’s time-stamped 2:22 p.m., two hours later than the Globe piece. For the moment, it’s unclear who broke this story.

We can’t assume that the police botched this, though their refusal to release their report sends all the wrong signals. The police need to come clean on this quickly.

*Update: The Globe story has been updated and now includes a link to what appears to be the full police report (PDF). Thanks to alert Media Nation reader J.S. for letting me know.

Still more: The Cambridge Chronicle blog reports that the Cambridge police say the Globe didn’t get the report from them.