Obama Weighs in on Gates Arrest — Denouncing Police As Acting “Stupidly”

225px-official_portrait_of_barack_obama180px-Henry_Louis_GatesPresident Barack Obama’s press conference took a surprising turn when the President decided to weigh in on the controversy over the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. by the Cambridge Police. While admitting that he did not know all of the facts, the President called the police stupid in their response to the call of a suspected break in.

The President stated that “I don’t know – not having been there and not seeing all the facts – what role race played in that, but I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.”

The President admitted that Gates is a friend and that “I don’t know all the facts.” However, he felt that the matter should have ended with proof that this was Gates’ house. He raised the specter of racial profiling: “I guess this is my house now. Here I’d get shot.” He noted that “[s]eparate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African-American and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.”

Ironically, the arresting officer Sergeant James M. Crowley is one of the academy experts who teaches a course on racial profiling, here.

The incident has caused an intense debate on this blog and other sites. A neighbor saw someone forcing open a front door and did the right thing in calling police, in my view. It would be a bit unfair to suggest that this neighbor Lucia Whalen was clearly racist in making such a call. Assuming that we agree that she was correct in making the call, the main controversy focuses on the police and their response. The officers insist that Gates became immediately belligerent and refused to come out of the house. On the other hand, accounts suggest that Gates was willing to show this proof of residency and eventually did come out on to the front porch. Even assuming Gates acted in a boorish and insulting manner in allegedly calling the police racists and pulling rank, I fail to see why an arrest was warranted.

pic-240-1211452Police officers, however, may be a bit put out by the President’s intervention. The police insist that Gates escalated the matter and could have simply resolved the dispute by cooperating without the alleged outburst. I am not sure that we will ever know the facts with complete certainty. The issue of profiling is an obvious concern, though most people (I think) would agree that a call is appropriate when someone is seen forcing their way into a home. Moreover, the police may argue that they needed Gates to come out on to the porch to match his identification with his face and confirm that there was nothing suspicious occurring. I would expect that officers would be equally insistent on speaking directly to me if I were seen forcing a door at my own home.

This may be a case of everyone allowing a routine police call to get out of hand.

The officer, Sergeant James M. Crowley, denies that he is a racist and refused to apologize, here. Below is Gates’ account.

For the full arrest report, click here.

For the story, click here.

Statement on Behalf of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. — by Charles Ogletree

This brief statement is being submitted on behalf of my client, friend, and colleague, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This is a statement concerning the arrest [1]of Professor Gates. On July 16, 2009, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 58, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor of Harvard University, was headed from Logan airport to his home [in] Cambridge after spending a week in China, where he was filming his new PBS documentary entitled “Faces of America.”

Professor Gates was driven to his home by a driver for a local car company. Professor Gates attempted to enter his front door, but the door was damaged. Professor Gates then entered his rear door with his key, turned off his alarm, and again attempted to open the front door. With the help of his driver they were able to force the front door open, and then the driver carried Professor Gates’ luggage into his home.

Professor Gates immediately called the Harvard Real Estate office to report the damage to his door and requested that it be repaired immediately. As he was talking to the Harvard Real Estate office on his portable phone in his house, he observed a uniformed officer on his front porch. When Professor Gates opened the door, the officer immediately asked him to step outside. Professor Gates remained inside his home and asked the officer why he was there. The officer indicated that he was responding to a 911 call about a breaking and entering in progress at this address. Professor Gates informed the officer that he lived there and was a faculty member at Harvard University. The officer then asked Professor Gates whether he could prove that he lived there and taught at Harvard. Professor Gates said that he could, and turned to walk into his kitchen, where he had left his wallet. The officer followed him. Professor Gates handed both his Harvard University identification and his valid Massachusetts driver’s license to the officer. Both include Professor Gates’ photograph, and the license includes his address.

Professor Gates then asked the police officer if he would give him his name and his badge number. He made this request several times. The officer did not produce any identification nor did he respond to Professor Gates’ request for this information. After an additional request by Professor Gates for the officer’s name and badge number, the officer then turned and left the kitchen of Professor Gates’ home without ever acknowledging who he was or if there were charges against Professor Gates. As Professor Gates followed the officer to his own front door, he was astonished to see several police officers gathered on his front porch. Professor Gates asked the officer’s colleagues for his name and badge number. As Professor Gates stepped onto his front porch, the officer who had been inside and who had examined his identification, said to him, “Thank you for accommodating my earlier request,” and then placed Professor Gates under arrest. He was handcuffed on his own front porch.

Professor Gates was taken to the Cambridge Police Station where he remained for approximately 4 hours before being released that evening. Professor Gates’ counsel has been cooperating with the Middlesex District Attorneys Office, and the City of Cambridge, and is hopeful that this matter will be resolved promptly. Professor Gates will not be making any other statements concerning this matter at this time.

74 thoughts on “Obama Weighs in on Gates Arrest — Denouncing Police As Acting “Stupidly””

  1. To Reaganite Republican:

    Thanks for bringing it up again: All Crowley had to do was READ the ID, SAY “Thank you very much, I hope we didn’t incovenience you. We were here to protect your home and now we see it is safely in the care of it occupant, goodbye, sir,” AND leave.


  2. mespo727272,

    The statute he is charged with violating is what is relevant, and the case law interpreting it.

    There is no case whatsoever in Massachusetts law that would support a conviction under these facts elaborated in the police report, hence the D.A. dismissed it before the ink dried.

    If Professor Gates sues for false arrest the arresting officer will have to carry the burden and prove probable cause under Massachusetts law.

    Who is going to call the D.A. as a witness and ask him “if there was probable cause” why did you drop the case immediately?

    The police officer does not have to do what the D.A. does, and that is prove beyond a reasonable doubt before a jury each element of the offence.

    As stated, the case would fail on the “no legitimate purpose” leg of this Massachusetts law.

    Where there is a legitimate purpose, whether the defendant is right or wrong like the woman picking up her kids, there can be no violation of this particular statute as a matter of law.

  3. Mespo,
    Let me just follow up a little with Crown Heights. The Jewish population is about 10% compared to the black population’s 90%.
    There are about 150,000 in the community today, probably that’s risen from when I worked there. The black population was about 70% from the Caribbean and 30% American blacks. Thus there were tensions within the Black community as well. Even though the Lubavitcher’s were only 10%, they voted as the Leaders told them to vote and to a politician if you can get near 100% of any small voting block, that block wields political power. The services received by the Lubavitcher’s were out of proportion and that was what made them offensive to the Blacks.

    The second part and there are many Jews who may not agree with me, is that I see them as a cult. As such they didn’t go out of their way to make friends with non-Lubavitcher’s. The exception to that is that they are great and savvy proselytizers to young Jews and their message is targeted to them. They are a lot more enlightened and benevolent than most cults in truth and do some good things to boot, but I am not a fan of any group that requires such internal discipline that those who don’t conform are ostracized.

  4. “My point was simply that ol’ Al is more showman than scholar, and has a proclivity as much for foot-in-mouth disease, as erudition.”

    This is true about Sharpton but he doesn’t rise to the level of people like Newt, Rove and the whole crew who are also grifters but have in their time done far more harm than Sharpton and when you get him beyond his game playing he really does show insight. Same is true of Jesse Jackson, who has played the game better than Sharpton. To me though there are so many white clowns out there who are treated with respect, rather than the disdain Al and Jesse get and who are far more
    dangerous to us all.

  5. “I thought I was the only one who disliked Reagan for what he did to the US’

    I loath the man and pity him at the same time. He was a puppet for a much more evil group of people including GHW Bush, Schultz, Weinberger and the whole sick crew. What I wrote too, as I suspect you already know, was not even a scratch on the surface of the harm that man’s administration did to this country.

  6. Mike S:

    Thank you for your interesting break down of the Crown Heights dynamic. I too suspected there were no angels in that dust-up. My point was simply that ol’ Al is more showman than scholar, and has a proclivity as much for foot-in-mouth disease, as erudition.

  7. Dredd:

    You and I agree on your cited example, but disagree on the facts here. I believe the charge stems from the conduct of Gates inciting the crowd of seven or so people. The purpose of the disorderly conduct charge to to prevent persons from inciting those around them to lawlessness or public disruption. Here is an analysis from a Mass. appellate attorney:

    “The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has stressed the public disruption element of “disorderly conduct” as ordinarily charged: the classic formulation of the offense and its enabling statute is found in its decision in Alegata v. Commonwealth, 353 Mass. 287, 303-304 (1967)(emphasis supplied), quoting from Model Penal Code § 250.2 (Proposed Official Draft 1962): “It is our opinion that “disorderly” sets forth an offence. . . designat[ing] behavior such as that singled out in Section 250.2 of the Model Penal Code (Proposed Official Draft): ‘A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if, with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he: (a) engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior; or (b) makes unreasonable noise or offensively coarse utterance, gesture or display, or addresses abusive language to any person present; or (c) creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor. `Public’ means affecting or likely to affect persons in a place to which the public or a substantial group has access.’. . . .[T]he statute. . . aims at activities which intentionally tend to disturb the public tranquility,” and penalizes one who “with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, . . . creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor.”

    In a 2008 case, the state’s Appeals Court revisited the matter and reiterated “[t]he “public” element of the offense [may be] satisfied if the defendant’s action affects or is ‘likely to affect persons in a place to which the public or a substantial group has access.'” Id.”

  8. Mike S.,

    I could not have said it better. I am impressed. I thought I was the only one who disliked Reagan for what he did to the US and the aide and assistance his Veeps son protested. Humm…

  9. Reaganite Republican,
    So we should take the point of view of a man who supported a mediocre actor, whose failing career was rescued by America’s largest defense contractor, who this hack as puppet gave speeches they wrote for him; dealt with Iran to hold our hostages until his election; provided Iran and Osama Bin Laden with air to ground missiles thus creating Al Queada; provided poison gas to Iraq; enacted the largest tax increase in history aimed specifically at the Middle Class, while he cut taxes for the rich; put us into heavy deficit spending through a bloated defense budget that paid off his campaign backers with government contracts; visited an SS cemetary to pay homage to soldiers who had murdered millions and fought against US troops; made our Airline industry unsafer; and falsely claimed credit for the fall of the USSR, while suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease; believed he was actually at war in WWII while he was only making movies; brought into being an anti-missle program that he once saw in a bad science fiction movie but nevertheless gave billion$ to his political supporters; committed treason in Iran Contra and finally ran like a scared puppy after 250 of our finest were blown up in Lebanon, never taking action to get the bombers; that Ronnie Reagan who you idolize?

    You are certainly no student of history or government and you put your faith in frauds. Reagan, your hero was also a racist
    hero, but to you i guess that only recommends him more. Why do you hate our country?

  10. Nice work Barack… with one comment you managed to alienate 75% of America.

    And anyone who has spent any amount of time in the “higher” education system knows the Professor Gates type: bitter, spiteful, bigoted racist with a position of power who felt emboldened to make a political statement.

    This is the type of Professor who would change the subject on you when you attempt to engage in a debate- or would give you a poor grade because you actually have an opinion, and done research outside of marxist texts and such. You are fooling no one, Mr Gates.

    And Mr President, is this “nuance” you’ve spoke of? “the police acted stupidly”? -please

    Obama is out to rip this country to shreds in EVERY way- who can question that such ill-advised statements are divisive… and NOT helpful? He has no idea what happened, he admitted it- and apparently doesn’t care, either… he’s picked his side.

    But back in reality, the childish and paranoid Gates completely baited the cop, who acted with admirable restraint, IMO… all he had to do is show his ID and shut up, he was treated with respect. This guy was clearly looking for a fight… and he ought to thank God he didn’t find one.

    Obama is going to destroy race relations in this country with his vengeful “get even” mentality… some messiah- Americans should have chosen a fair and sensible human being instead of this embittered nut.

  11. mespo727272,

    I assume the facts exactly like the police officer filed them. I assume none of the facts Professor Gates advanced. (Kinda like a motion to dismiss a complaint under the federal rules.)

    Read the Massachusetts case I cite in my post. The white woman double parked waiting for school to get out and pick up her kid, who resisted and kicked the police, who had broken the traffic laws, and who was found guilty by a jury, had the “disorderly conduct” charges against her dismissed.

    The exact statute Professor Gates was charged under.

    The controlling issue under Massachusetts case law is whether or not there was “a legitimate purpose” for what a defendant was doing. If so the conduct cannot be disorderly as a matter of law.

    The defendant can be dead wrong on the facts (no racial motive for example) and still have “a legitimate purpose” under the statute at issue. Free speech is a legitimate purpose.

    Professor Gates can stand on his porch all day long and loudly call a policeman a racist and it is not “disorderly conduct” under the applicable Massachusetts statute.

  12. It’s been many years since I’ve lived in Cambridge, but while I was in college I drove a cab out of East Cambridge for a year. Most of my fares were working class Irish and Italian folks. I enjoyed that job and came to know some of the people fairly well because they were repeat customers. For the most part, they were friendly, caring, hard working people who loved their families, their churches, the Red Sox, the Celtics and the Bruins. But they also had some very negative attitudes about blacks and hispanics, and were not hesitant to share those attitudes with me. This was the late ’60s, after all, and a time of great turmoil. I knew plenty of cabbies who would flatly refuse to pick up fares in Roxbury, which meant that many black people had problems just trying to get transportation. There were also many confrontations between blacks and whites when Boston began integrating its schools. In short, racism in the North, even in bastions of liberalism like Massachusetts, was pervasive in those days. Most of us understand that anger and resentment breeds distrust, which takes a long time to overcome.

    We will probably never know all of the facts surrounding the incident, including what was actually said and, just as imporantly, the manner in which it was said. It will have to work itself out over time. My only opinion is that I think it was unwise for the president to comment on the incident at his press conference for two reasons. First, he knew no more about the facts than the rest of us. Second, I do not believe that essentially local situations, regardless of the prominence of the participants, are appropriate subjects for presidential pronouncements.

  13. Sorry for the typos above. This is what I was stating.

    “If the Jews want to get it on,” he said, “tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.”

    Perhaps the adjective brilliant didn’t come to your mind, but then I assume you know little about the Crown Heights Community and about the ethnic tensions there. I do, more than most. In 1972 I became part of the spearhead group to establish an Office of Community Services (OCS) in Crown Heights. This was to bring together in one office all the varied government social services offered. It was Mayor John Lindsay’s attempt to destroy the local party ward offices, that historically in New York City provided a range of services to citizens. Since these ward offices were Democratic and Lindsay was then a Republican, there was of course political motivation in his actions. Our office was located in a three story Brownstone at 823 Eastern Parkway. We we diagonally across the street from the Lubavitcher Hassidim Sect’s World Headquarters.

    I became the liaison to the Lubavitcher’s because they knew I was Jewish and had long hair and a full beard. I was also 29 at the time and they saw me as a potential recruit, since with the hair/beard all I would need was to cut my hair to shorter length, don their 17th Century attire and I would look like one of them. As liaison I attended services a few times at The World Headquarters and was invited to Shabbos dinners at Rabbi’s houses. I came to know the community very well.

    Now the Lubavitcher’s, as I see them, are a cult. I could give you the reasons but that is easy enough for you to find out. They had a large presence in the Crown Heights Community that almost equaled that of the Black population. However, they received a disproportionate number of City services and perks from the City. The reason is simple. The Lubavitchers voted as a block. In any given election you could get almost 100% of Lubavitcher’s voting the same way. They voted as their leaders told them to vote. This as you might surmise made them a voting bloc with power that far exceeded their neighbor’s. They also were a close knit group, that didn’t particularly like blacks, or try to coexist with them, but reasonably they didn’t like anyone from the outside as is the wont of most cults. There was also an occupied police car stationed 24 hours a day outside of the 770 Eastern Parkway World Headquarters. This was an affront to members of the community for not only the special privileges it implied, but because it seemed a symbol of who had power in the community. The ironic thing was I learned many years later that the car was there because the Satmer Hassidim of Williamsburgh, an even more radical cult that didn’t believe in Israel, had made death threats against the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

    That was the festering background of the Crown Heights Riots and the Lubavitcher’s remained an unequal power in the Crown Heights Community into the 90’s, when the riots developed.
    That the car that hit the child was part of the Rebbe’s motorcade was a last straw that burst years of festering anger and in many cases justified resentment.

    Now I also made clear that I hold no brief for Sharpton, or Jesse Jackson. Certainly Sharpton’s remarks were over the top.
    However, given that to the Crown Heights Community the face of Judaism was seen as this cult, that in every way equals Fundy Christian cults, it was a bigoted yet understandable remark. Please let me be clear Mespo, I am not just some guilty apologist for the oppressed of this world colored by my radical political beliefs. I could fill pages with critiques of black politics in the US and of some black attitudes. I could fill more pages relating the “black is right” party line of the communists in the 60’s, who were trying to gain black support. What they didn’t get was that black people were much to aware of manipulative techniques
    to be easily fooled. However, understanding the history, knowing the culture as well as a white man can and having had first hand experience with certain situations and finally being quite aware of the still underlying racism and stereotyping that exists in this country, I can understand, if not particularly like Al Sharpton. By the way he is brilliant at times in his political analysis.

    Finally, I find it more than telling that an entire range of basically racist Republican pundits, let’s start with the crooked clown Newt Gingrich, are treated respectfully by the media and weight is given to their ideas, while Sharpton and Jackson are derided. Do I think that Al and Jesse are just as corrupt as Newt, yes I do. However, they are far less vicious and racist then Newt, and his buddies are and they are certainly much smarter.

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