Monday, July 20, 2009

Gates-gate

As you have probably heard by now, Harvard professor and academic superstar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested at his home in Cambridge today in a completely bizarre story. It's still not clear what exactly transpired--though you can read the police report here-- but Gates got cuffed-n-stuffed for "exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior" in the presence of Boston's finest. (Is that a real offense? I mean, is it on the books that you can't act "loud and tumultuous"? Because, if so, they're going to have to close down a lot of the Boston bars I used to hang out in!) Gates claimed that he was racially profiled, which is probably true, and the arresting officer claims that Gates was running off at the mouth a bit too much, which is also probably true, but it's still unclear exactly how everything went down in this story. On the one hand, Gates was arrested in his own home after showing identification, so whatever he may or may not have been mouthing off about seems pretty insignificant in comparison. But, on the other hand, the police report reads as if Gates was on the attack from the get-go, which inclines one to be a bit more sympatheitc than usual with the arresting officer. (Believe me, Dr. J is no fan at all of the po-po, but even I winced a little reading the officer's report.) At any rate, this looks to be a bona fide drama-in-the-making, so stay tuned...

[ADDENDUM: Theory Teacher has an excellent write-up about this whole incident and the complexities of racial profiling and racism over on his blog. Read it here.]

8 comments:

anotherpanacea said...

At one point in the police report, Gates makes a 'yo mama' joke right out of The Signifying Monkey.... I don't think it justifies the arrest, but if it's true then he was playing the dozens with the cop. Shame on the cop for failing that "test of emotional strength"... but it feels like an overly confrontational thing to do with a guy who is basically just there to protect your property. Again, that hardly justifies an arrest... but that's the point to the dozens, to provoke an unjustified emotional outburst through playful rhetoric.

Anyway, Gates denies that he was belligerent in his statement, but there's a verifiable discrepancy between the Gates statement and the cop's incident report that will basically resolve the credibility issues here: the cop claims that Gates called the precinct and asked to speak with the chief of police so as to deal with the racist police officer at his door. Gates claims he only spoke with the Harvard Real Estate office about the damaged door. When the phone records are checked, one of them will turn out to have lied.

That even assumes this goes to trial: any prosecutor who lets this continue is either a grandstander or an idiot. Maybe a grandstanding idiot, because he'll lose. Even a civil suit for damages: Gates will win. Disorderly conduct is a bullshit charge, obviously malicious, and it can't stick to a homeowner in his front yard no matter how irascible he is.

engl243 said...

What I found significant about the po-po's report is that he didn't arrest Gates until after they had both gone outside and the officer discovered a crowd watching.

Brunson said...

'Loud and tumultous' in a 'public' area, such as your own porch, is straight out of the definition of disorderly conduct, which was the charge (now dropped). However, you can order a t-shirt commemorating this event:

http://www.zazzle.com/ill_speak_with_your_mama_outside_tshirt-235090175211093481

DOCTOR J said...

Excellent points, Anpan. I also wondered who Gates had on the other end of the phone when I read the police report.

enl243: I added a link to your blogpost about this story, which is a really excellent piece of writing.

Courtney said...

This whole incident is a bad racist joke. I'm sad that as a black woman that I'm actually surprised at this mess.

First off, the neighbor didn't recognize him? Really? He's probably the only black man on the block. Furthermore, what robber brings luggage and a driver. Please...

This kind of reminds me of other incidents, like the one in OK where the black EMT was choked while challenging a white officer, or the incident in TX where the NFL player was harrassed by a cop while trying to get to the hospital as his mother-in-law was dying. It seems as if this is another incident where a black man is slapped down for challenging a white police officer, despite their authority, title or clout. It seems like the officer felt the need to put Gates "in his place."

I can't blame Gates for being mad as hell that someone is asking him to leave his own residence. And when he decided to express his anger, he was punished, like many black people before him. Same old, same old.

If the officer was telling the truth (really big if) then it seems that Gates was acting like a person with paranoia based on past personal experiences of being treated badly by police because of his skin color. To which the officer politely validated those beliefs. The officer simply seems to have arrested him for loudly voicing his opinions even after the officer was convinced of his identity.

And I'm sorry, I can't even imagine 'yo momma' to even come out of Skip Gates mouth. I feel sorry for that department; they messed with the wrong black man...

Brunson said...

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106936583&sc=fb&cc=fp

Steve a.k.a. Theory Teacher said...

Thanks for that generous addendum Dr. J.

Have you seen how the idiot media has started to run this story now that Obama has called the officer stupid?

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090723/ap_on_go_pr_wh/us_obama_gates

CBR said...

Gates does sound like a litle bit of a douche, but the officer sounds like a bigger douche and I have no idea why anyone would assume his report is exactly what happened. Anyone who's ever been arrested should know how accurate police reports generally are...