President Obama has invited Sergeant James Crowley and Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to the White House for a beer to clear up hard feelings over Crowley’s arrest of Gates for disorderly conduct two weeks ago.
Notice how, now that the facts have come out, no one is taking Gates’ side anymore; those who initially sided with Gates are arguing that both men are at fault and that we should all “learn from this incident” and move on.
If anyone still cares, the fact is that both sides are simply not at fault.
Here are a few myths about Crowley’s arrest of Gates:
Crowley overreacted in arresting Gates.
Not according to the Cambridge Police Department; the Cambridge Police Patrol Officers Association; the Massachusetts Municipal Police Coalition; the Cambridge Multicultural Police Association; mixed-race police unions across the country; Sgt. Leon Lashley, the black cop who accompanied Crowley; or black public figures such as Bill Cosby and Juan Williams. Other than that, the experts are unanimous—he overreacted!
Gates’ behavior was not an arrestable offense; Crowley should have walked away after establishing his identity.
According to police protocol in such an incident, you leave the scene only once all actors are quiet and issues have been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. You do not slip away while one party is still unhinged, screaming like a lunatic, insulting a police officer’s mother, badgering officers, and frightening neighbors who have gathered out of concern. If the object of investigation shows no signs of calming down, it is not police procedure to leave such a raving maniac poised to cause additional mayhem. The police have seen too many cases in which angry residents have gone on to cause further trouble; it’s foolish for anyone to second-guess the Cambridge cops and pronounce that they should have known what Gates would do next. Gates had dozens of opportunities to cooperate with Crowley’s attempts to defuse the situation and back away, and every time he chose not to. That is why he was arrested.
As a public servant, Crowley should have been more respectful of Gates.
Gates’ wealthy Harvard neighborhood had experienced a rash of break-ins in recent months, including Gates’ own home. The job of a public servant in Sgt. Crowley’s position is to forcefully protect property owners—once they are definitively identified as such, which Gates made difficult to accomplish—from those who would aggress against them and their property. That is what Crowley was trying to do. Had Gates lived in a poor neighborhood and the two men trying to break in been real burglars, and had Crowley let the men get away without proving they lived there, his department would no doubt have been faulted for ignoring “black-on-black crime.”
Crowley arrested Gates for “disrespecting” him.
Crowley did not arrest Gates because Gates “dissed” him—he acted lawfully in response to Gates’ disorderly conduct, which involved Gates’ following Crowley to the porch, yelling epithets about Crowley’s mother, and startling pedestrians.
Crowley engaged in “racial profiling.”
Ignoring the fact that “racial profiling” does not, by definition, take place when an officer has been called to a resident’s home to investigate a burglary, there’s far more evidence that Gates is guilty of “class profiling”—singling out a working-class cop for abuse because he thought Crowley wasn’t powerful or confident enough to stand up to him.
Both men are prejudiced toward those from different backgrounds.
I can’t say how Gates feels about working-class cops, but Crowley had been hand-selected by a black police commissioner to teach a course on avoiding racial profiling, which he has done for the past five years. I think that gives him just a smidgen of credibility in claiming he does not go around engaging in egregious on-the-job racial discrimination.
It’s Crowley’s word against Gates’.
Not having been there myself, I’ll nonetheless trust the judgment of a universally praised sergeant who taught an anti-racial profiling class for five years; the black sergeant who accompanied him in the arrest; the Harvard University Police officers who appeared as backup and witnessed the scene; the Police Department who trained Crowley and tracked his implementation of protocol; and Emergency Communications and 911 Center staff who received updates on the incident in real-time. All of those parties support Crowley.
The police dropped the charges against Gates because their case was weak.
The prosecutor’s office, not the Cambridge Police Department, decided to drop the charges, most likely because of Gates’ status in the community and because he raised such a stink about it. The Cambridge Police Commissioner has since publicly stated that he wishes the charges had not been dropped and Gates were forced to defend his actions in court under a strict examination of evidence.
Obama should have criticized both men for their behavior.
Obama should have refrained from making a summary judgment on a local case until he knew the facts. He is President now, not a rabble-rousing community activist “promoting awareness” of social ills.
Crowley reports to the mayor of Cambridge, the governor of Massachusetts, and the President of the United States, and should have accepted their criticism without question.
Crowley was backed up by his superiors and his department. He does not report directly to the mayor, the governor, or the President, and he is not contractually prohibited from speaking up and defending himself against spurious allegations by citizens he is protecting.
In any event, it appears that Crowley was big enough to agree to meet Gates and Obama at the White House. In the meantime, he can look forward to the audiotapes of the arrest being released and clearing his reputation.