I am actually glad we are still talking about the arrest of Professor Gates. Not only is the race issue being opened up, but there is much more here than people are realizing – the reach of the long arm of the law.
On the race issue, I don’t think anyone can pass judgment on Officer Crowley as to whether he did what he did out of racism or something else. It’s just too complicated of an issue to delve into the depths of people’s minds. Of course if this ends up seeing a courtroom, I think the cards might be stacked against Crowley, and that is by his own hand. In the police report Crowley stated that the 911 caller identified the men as black. The 911 tapes prove otherwise. In fact she said she thought one might be Latino. So why did Crowley put this in the report? A lot of people took that report as gospel, but somehow this key piece of evidence seems to be overlooked.
I don’t think Crowley deliberately lied on the report. I have spent countless hours writing fire and squad reports and its hard keeping all the facts straight in your mind, but if this does end up in court you can expect any lawyer Gates has to push Crowley on the issue.
But let’s move past the race issue for a minute and talk about the issue that affects every single one of us – police power. A lot of people, mostly on the right, have already convicted Professor Gates of the crime he was accused of. The problem is that Gates didn’t break any law. There is one indisputable piece of evidence to back that up – the lack of prosecution. The D.A. saw the report and charges and instantly knew there was no violation of law, so he threw the case out. That’s a pretty damming piece of evidence against the police.
But here we are embroiled in controversy over this. Professor Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct on his own property. Sure that’s not too far fetched. If my neighbors are fighting or throwing a loud party and refuse to turn the music down then the police can arrest them for this. What is different in the Gates case is that the neighbors didn’t complain. Also the instigator of the conduct was the arresting officer. No crime was in progress, so technically Officer Crowley was trespassing on Professor Gates property. Can a cop be charged with trespassing? Of course they can. They must adhere to the same laws as you and me.
So the issue becomes one of police power, and that’s why police officers are rallying behind Crowley. They do have a hard job, there is no arguing that. If people are lead to believe that a cop can arrest them for any reason what so ever, and without repercussion, then the police have the tool of intimidation to do their job.
Of course there is a flip side to that tool. If people think that they can get arrested for anything, then people will start fearing the police more instead of embracing them. You will see an increase in unreported crimes, and what could be minor incidents will turn major before someone decides “well I’ll call 911 and risk what happens”. This is a dangerous slope.
Let’s take something else into consideration. The support for Officer Crowley from the right has been astonishing. The very party that tries to tout freedom and sovereignty is now saying that an American citizen isn’t so free in their own home.
Now imagine that Massachusetts had a law like the “stand your ground” law in Florida. Gates could have shot the officer, and possibly got away with it under this law. Crowley was no longer there is a police official since a crime was not in progress and there was no crime to investigate. Like I said earlier, he was trespassing, and if Gates felt threatened, well he would have that right. I wonder how many Republicans will oppose such laws now?
So the police did in fact act stupidly. Instead the rights outrage of this and of President Obama’s highly justified response is based purely on politics. Our nation needs to have a frank and open debate about the limitations of police powers and a nationwide training effort must be made to educate police of these limitations. Crossing the line from action of duty to excessive abuse of power must also be met with strong penalties. Then we might get back to a point where everyone can trust the police, and are willing to work with them to make our nation a better place.
(P.S. – please read Digby’s take on this. As usual she is spot on).