Deconstructing the Police Report in the Skip Gates Arrest Case

I think this may be the best posting on the Skip Gates arrest case — The Reality-Based Community: Nightmare on Ware Street.

You can read the full police report here.

PS. I know Prof. Henry Louis Gates from way back — we had the same Mellon fellowship in different years — and he was, then at least, universally known as 'Skip'.

Update (7/25): The post at Justice Building Blog looks good too, especially in light of some of the comments below.

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28 Responses to Deconstructing the Police Report in the Skip Gates Arrest Case

  1. King of Cats says:

    1. Why do you feel Mr. Kleiman’s article is so great?
    2. Why is it relevant that you know him?

  2. michael says:

    1. Because unlike most commentaries it didn’t try to make up facts about the encounter, and the writer wrote with a persuasive authority.

    2. On some other blogs I read about this, people asked in comments why the author or other commentators called him ‘Skip’ instead of his formal name, and I thought I might head off those questions here. (And to the extent you might wish to decide I’m biased in his favor, you get the facts…)

  3. Frank says:

    The assumption that ther are lies in the police report without proof makes the author a liar.

  4. loudspeaker says:

    Why is it ok to call a police officer or anyone else a racist because they are investigating a break in at your house?

    According to the police report Gates started blasting the officer with accusations the moment he opened his mouth. I do not believe Gates has ever disputed this. If Gates had acted like an ordinary person, greeted the officer professionally and identified himself he would not have been arrested. Unfortunately, Gates wanted to be arrested and acted like a righteous Ivory Tower a$$hole who did every thing he possibly could to get put in handcuffs so that he could have a story to talk about, a book to sell and a media tour to go on.

    Gates’s actions are just as shamefull and “racist” as the officers.

  5. King of Cats says:

    Michael-
    I agree with you on #1, but only so far as it analyzes the officer’s tactics and professionalism.

    Kleiman states, “We all know that race and sex explain the difference in the way Sgt. James Crowley treated Professor Gates, but I’d like to leave that to the side for now.”

    Have you concluded that the officer’s motivations were entirely based on the professor’s race and sex? Why do so many assume that to be the case? What suggests the officer’s motives were racial or sex-based, other than the fact that the professor is a black male?

    I haven’t seen any media outlet post details about the officer’s past. Have you?

  6. michael says:

    I haven’t concluded anything. I think the writer — Lowry Heussler — makes a pretty good case that the officer acted wrongly and is covering up. There may be another side, and one would have to hear it before reaching a conclusion.

    If you want to argue that this cop, or some cops in general, might arrest people for disturbing the peace because the cop felt sassed, and that is a function of authority in post-9/11 America, or even pre-9/11 America, and not a racial or gendered thing, I’m prepared to hear you.

    And if you want to argue that anyone who yells at a cop in his own home deserves to be taken down to the station house, I’m prepared to hear you too — but you’re going to face a pretty skeptical audience.

    Etc…

  7. loudspeaker says:

    If you want to argue that anyone who yells at a cop in his own home deserves to be taken down to the station house, I’m prepared to hear you too..

    It’s not about simple contempt of cop. You know that, and Mr. Gates certainly knows that. It’s ” because [he’s] a black man in America.” We live in a society where it is national news and congressional investigations are launched because some children are denied entry to a pool based on race. Mr. Gates knows this and wanted to utilize the situation to be arrested so that he could make headlines, and confirm his world view: that Police hate black men.

    Seriously who is at fault here? The Cop who shows up to investigate a burglary, and is blasted with accusations of “racism” the minute he shows up? Or the either delusional or highly opportunistic Harvard Proff. who hurls racial accusations at a police officer until he is arrested, so that he can hit the talk show circuit?

    An analogous situation professor would be you, or another tenured male professor, inviting a young female, visiting, gender-studies professor to your office to discuss her writing and opportunities for advancement. Whereupon she accuses you of making sexually harassing comments about her extremely loudly so that everyone in the library can hear her. At this point you probably would work very hard to permanently block her ever being hired at Miami or anywhere else. Voila, all of a sudden You ( a man) have prevented her (a woman) from advancing her career, she has a great story about how men keep her down.

    Same thing.

  8. King of Cats says:

    As I said, I agree with the analysis with the exception of the (mis-attributed) quote.

    I cannot speak for the Boston area, nor can I speak from a scientific sample. But I’ll make a fool of myself anyway. In South Florida, I have seen this occur to many people for the reasons you just gave in your last comment. I don’t know the racial makeup of Broward County percentage-wise, but it seemed to me that African-Americans were not disproportionately represented in the county I saw this happen.

    I remember one woman (white) in Broward County who took her case to trial…jury trial! She was just an average lady who had been arrested for disorderly conduct after yelling at a police officer who she felt was roughly handling a homeless man. It was a very similar situation to the professor’s case, two stubborn personalities together at the wrong place at the wrong time. She even took the stand, it was great. The jury acquitted her after about 5 minutes of deliberation. It was a typical case, factually, just disposed of in a more expensive manner than most. Most were offered withheld adjudication and went on their merry way, forever pissed at “the man” but a little wiser about how to speak to police officers in the future.

    This is definitely an issue about police, but really its nothing new. Power corrupts…yada yada. I’ve never met a cop that didn’t have a little but of a bully in him/her somewhere inside. Fact is, its part of the job, within limits, managing the difference between assertiveness and being a bully.

    My problem is that everyone, including intellectuals who should know better, are assuming that race was the issue here. I’m not saying you are, but the author of the “best” article you found certainly is.

    In the meantime, I stumbled across this article:
    http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/07/23/officer_at_eye_of_storm_says_he_wont_apologize/?page=1

    Last time I was trained, part of CPR is mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

  9. Go Democrats says:

    Gates played the racism card first and he antagonized the officer until the officer lost his ability to act professionally and reacted by “getting even.” It is obvious that the officer did not discriminate in any way. I mean get real, do we really think that the officer believed that a middle aged african american man near retirement who walks with a cane was going to break into a house and rob it, and then have the cojones to get all up in the officers face about it? (Oops did I just discriminate on the basis of age?) The only one shouting racial epithets was Gates. The officer is guilty of “getting even” by enticing Gates to walk outside so that the public could witness his rant. That is it. They are both in the wrong. Make them both write letters of apologies. But if the officer loses his job over this and the reason behind the firing was racially based, I do hope the strong people of the commonwealth stand up for the officer’s rights.

    Froomkin, quit trying to pretend you are neutral and state your position on this. I think we all know it already. It is obvious you are a staunch democrat and take positions out of habit, the same way that other people who are zombies to their political party do.

  10. King of Cats says:

    Go Democrats-

    Police power, at all levels, should always be vigilantly checked. Someone has to watch the watchers.

    That said, I agree with you to the extent that boys will be boys, and society would be better off with your Solomon-like solution of having both men write apologies and learn from their mistakes. I think the officer should face some minor discipline though, so other officers understand what’s expected. Incidents like this will always happen though, cops aren’t robots.

    But do you really thing Je$$ie Jack$on and Al $harpton will let that happen? And the good Harvard profe$$or will surely want to milk it too.

    Do you think Obama’s statement last night helped or hurt things?

    Anyhow, I’m not sure the attack on Froomkin is appropriate. I don’t think he’s joined his wagon to the circle around the Harvard prof…not yet anyway!

  11. PHB says:

    You are all missing a rather significant fact, this is the Cambridge Police force, an organization that has a most peculiar relationship to the community it polices.

    Houses in Cambridge cost a fortune, so it is not a city where cops live. So the city is a rich, liberal town policed by a conservative working class police force commuting in from other towns. You do not have to be black to have the Cambridge police act boorishly.

    I am trying to avoid talking about the subject with my Cambridge friends as they all want to give their own litany of complaints.

    The corruption of the traffic department is legendary, Cambridge residents regularly get parking tickets for cars parked in their own driveways. Its how they make the quota.

  12. Go Democrats says:

    King of Cats,

    Obama’s statement was definately unnecessary and ignorantly blurted out, recklessly and without rational thought… the same way his predecessor Bush Jr. always did (remember when Bush actually stated that FEMA’s response to Katrina was “excellent”?). I apologize if what I am about to say sounds arrogant or “machista” but I will say it anyway. After reviewing the facts and circumstances, there is NO OTHER conclusion that anyone can rationally draw than what I concluded earlier. Gates taunted the officer with ridiculous claims of racism, and the officer threw a snit and decided to “Get Even” by teaching Gates a lesson in messing with an officer of the law.

    I dare anyone to disagree.

  13. King of Cats says:

    Go Dems-

    You say: “I dare anyone to disagree.” Well I just think all the facts aren’t out yet.

    So be cool, and (you knew this was coming….wait for it….)

    DON’T TASE ME BRO!

  14. Go Democrats says:

    King of Cats,

    Obama’s statement was definately unnecessary and ignorantly blurted out, recklessly and without rational thought… the same way his predecessor Bush Jr. always did (remember when Bush actually stated that FEMA’s response to Katrina was “excellent”?). I apologize if what I am about to say sounds arrogant or “machista” but I will say it anyway. After reviewing the facts and circumstances, there is NO OTHER conclusion that anyone can rationally draw than what I concluded earlier. Gates taunted the officer with ridiculous claims of racism, and the officer threw a snit and decided to “Get Even” by teaching Gates a lesson in messing with an officer of the law.

    I dare anyone to disagree.

  15. Patrick (G) says:

    Seems to me that there are a whole bunch of people that want to shoehorn this episode into self-serving narratives, the facts of the matter be damned.

    “Go Democrats”
    far from agreeing with you; the more ridiculous the taunts, the less the officer should have been by affected by them. Arguing that the officer was provoked by “ridiculous claims” is not a defense. It -by necessity- calls into question whether the officer has the temperament required to do his job.

  16. High Ping Bastard says:

    Officer Crowley’s Report….
    “While I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence, I was quite surprised and confused with the behavior he exhibited toward me”

    That sentence should be enough to at least make a reasonable person think twice about the veracity of Officer Crowley and this particular incident. Since when are veteran cops, who also instruct others about racial profiling, so “surprised” by racial confrontation? Mind you, this affront to this officer’s authority is coming from a 57 yr old, 150lb man who needs a cane to get around. Please, catch a clue.

  17. Just me says:

    I’m not sure whether this was a racially motivated incident or not, but I will say that the cop acted inappropriately when he arrested Gates. To the commenter(s) above who suggested that both Gates and the cop are equally wrong, that they should just apologize to each other, and move on, you miss a critical issue: cops are not the same as members of the public.

    With the authority granted to the police comes great responsibility. When a cop blows it on the job, he MUST be punished. When a cop arrests someone just to “get even” he should be fired and permanently barred form being a cop in any department. It is simply unacceptable for cops to abuse their power that way.

    For those of you who would say that this sort of thing is par for the course with the police, I agree. However, that simply raises the stakes on punishment. When we catch a cops abusing power, we should punish them with the highest level of severity so as to discourage the many other cops that we do not catch in the act.

  18. CH3MO says:

    Having read the police report of Officer Crowley and Officer Figurosa I find it both believable and plausible. What I can’t understand is how the writer of this article jumps to her conclusions about the event. She makes nonsensical statements forwarding her own views with absolutely no supporting statements or evidence. If she has a past history of involvement with police racial issues it seems it has prejudiced her ability to provide an unbiased analysis.

    Professor Gate’s own version of the event he admits at least once to the volatile and offensive tumultuous behavior that ultimately lead to his arrest. ‘Why are you not responding to me? Are you not responding to me because you’re a white officer and I’m a black man?'” (See the link here to the quote http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/07/24/national/main5185908.shtml). Here we see Mr.Gates state of mind and a commitment on his part to create a conflict under his own paradigm of the event. Even under Gate’s version of events this was not a police officer who was bent on arresting him. Gate’s admits that when the officer was sufficiently convinced that Mr. Gates was in his own home and there was no crime the officer left the premises. It was Gate’s who followed him continuing to create a disturbance. If he had needed the officers name and badge number he could have asked any of the officers there to help him with getting it if as alleged Officer Crowley had not been compliant. We already know that officer Crowley had provided his name at the start of the event which Mr.Gates has not refuted. Officer Crowley when asked at the start by Mr.Gates “Who are you and what do you want?” asked Gates. Crowley responded .” I’m officer Crowley with the Cambridge Police Department and I am investigating a possible break in.” Mr.Gates could also have gotten the officers name and badge from the police department as well as a copy of the police report if he needed to have that information.

    My question is why is Mr. Gate’s not being held accountable for his actions. As a Harvard educated scholar specializing in Black History and race relations it is clear he thrust his interpretation of the event as racially motivated on Officer Crowley from the start with no proof whatsoever. Hiding behind this as racial profiling denigrates that fact racial profiling does exist and it is heinous. However sacrificing a good man and an excellent police officer who has been part of the answer to combat racial profiling is equally offensive.

    Lastly I have heard the comment from President Obama. That there was no need to restrain and arrest a 60 yr old who walks with the aid of a cane. I also describe that as disappointing. Mr. Gate’s was not detained due to his physical presence but due to his oratory and the alarm it was raising among spectators. If President Obama had a full understanding of the event I am at a loss how he could have made the comment.

  19. Just me says:

    CH3MO:

    Your 3:44 pm post includes the following: “Mr. Gate’s was not detained due to his physical presence but due to his oratory and the alarm it was raising among spectators.”

    Do you mean to say that Gates was arrested for speaking and upsetting people with his speech? Last time I checked, you cannot be arrested for upsetting people with speech, especially not on your front porch. Surely, you must have misspoken.

  20. High Ping Bastard says:

    It’s moot now, Obama caved.
    The way our President handled today’s WH Presser was very disappointing to me. But c’mon, these flops have been going on since even before his inaugural. Why doesn’t he simply explain why the police acted stupidly TO THE CAMBRIDGE POLICE & UNION instead of sucking down some cold ones and avoiding the issue of arrest discretion altogether…. leave that sort of Good-Ol-Boy Presidency to the last bozo we had in office there. I mean I don’t care if you accidentally say the truth once in a while Mr. President after that fool’s reign. He was incapable of facing reality. Your candor was refreshing while it lasted Barack.

    PS. Good thing Gates wasn’t tasered eh? A little harder to enjoy the beer party with the cop then.

  21. Davis X. Machina says:

    …and he antagonized the officer until the officer lost his ability to act professionally and reacted by “getting even.

    Which ‘getting even’ is, at least in the Ninth Circuit, unconstitutional. Duran v. City of Douglas 904 F.2d 1372 (9th Cir. 1990)

    “[T]he First Amendment protects a significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers.” Hill, 482 U.S. at 461, 107 S.Ct. at 2509. The freedom of individuals to oppose or challenge police action verbally without thereby risking arrest is one important characteristic by which we distinguish ourselves from a police state. Id. at 462-63, 107 S.Ct. at 2510. Thus, while police, no less than anyone else, may resent having obscene words and gestures directed at them, they may not exercise the awesome power at their disposal to punish individuals for conduct that is not merely lawful, but protected by the First Amendment.

    No less well established is the principle that government officials in general, and police officers in particular, may not exercise their authority for personal motives, particularly in response to real or perceived slights to their dignity. Surely anyone who takes an oath of office knows–or should know–that much.

  22. Michelle says:

    Professor Gates got exactly what he asked for, to be arrested for screaming at a police officer and accusing said police officer of racism. No he wasn’t arresting Gates because he was black, he was arresting him because he was an a**hole.

  23. Davis X. Machina says:

    No he wasn’t arresting Gates because he was black, he was arresting him because he was an a**hole.

    ‘Being an asshole’ is not, unless the Great and General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has acted very recently on the topic, not a crime.

    On the other hand, arresting someone just because they’re a pain in the ass is a good way to meet 42 USC 1983 up close and personal.

  24. loudspeaker says:

    Just me:

    “When a cop blows it on the job, he MUST be punished. When a cop arrests someone just to “get even” he should be fired and permanently barred form being a cop in any department.”

    I disagree. America is unique in that almost anywhere you can call 911 say “someone is breaking into my house” and armed police will arrive within minutes, if not seconds, to defeat and detain the perpetrator. American police can and will whoop ass and that is a good thing. Yes they are violent and can be rough around the edges, however (1) they have to be to do their jobs effectively, and (2) as long as you are not their target in an escalated situation you are fine.

    We could have unarmed sissy police, that are not allowed to take control of a situation. However then we wouldn’t have police officers that would confront bank robbers, or drunken bar brawlers single handed. I’ll take the former thank you.

  25. ann S says:

    All these comments, Hum; must be a nightmare for some of you.
    Any person in a professional status should hold his peace when attempting to speak to someone in
    the situation such as Mr. Gates. the officer; seeing this man trying to get into his home and not
    attempting to attack the officer should have been more Pro. than what he displayed. I had a job
    where I was called all kind of names, you just need to know how to keep yourself together and be of
    help in assisting where needed.

    Listen; we pay these people salary for their help, it’s not like the officer was doing such a Big favor, he gets paid to do a job whether he’s called for it or not, he still get paid. Just when does money from Blacks change colors and you don’t use it because it come from a black hand, that I haven’t seen yet?. Officers say they’re followering their training, so what exactly are they being trained to do when the suspect, or person they are going after is Black. It tells me that Training needs to be changed for the better, not just for blacks, but for all people and especially Blacks.

    Now whose calling who an a$$HOLE?, where did you get your education, experience, knowledge,and analytical Spunk. Seems you just got a degree in A.S.S from the HOLE U. True or not, we believe you did (king of cats).Why Dare someone, thats telling them to BRING it on, just keep that to self.

    And you’ saying to the President things even worse than you could imagine. How could you say who is so Ignorant,Blourted,Reckless, ETC, other than yourself. you havent thought-out anything either, otherwise you would have sealed it.

    An officer should have the utmost of training with a 3.5 GPA before he can be a police Officer.because we have too many making bad judgements, and lying, never wrong and never paying for abuse they bring to citizens that pays their SALARY.

    Tell me why are you so hard on the President you can’t think straight yourself, so where are you coming from? All of you just shut it UP, you don’t even know the facts, the video should be proof
    if not Altered.

    Train Officers the way they should act, so they bear responsibility for something done right, and take some Blame sometimes. No one is always right, but the COPS.

  26. CH3MO says:

    Ive seen a couple of posts saying you can’t be arrested for what you say. Free speech does not condone creating a public disturbance and believe me if you are using your speech to create a public indcident the police can and will haul you away. Especially when said speech is hate mongering. The police can and will difuse a situation by putting you in cuffs and hauling you downtown. They may have no intention of the charges sticking but it difuses the situation.

    Again I believe Gates was educated at Yale and fellowshiped at Harvard with his speciality in Black History and race relations why isn’nt he being held to the professional standard? His training should have far exceeded the police

    He continues to cry racial profiling which this case most certainly isn’t. The police responded to a call not randomly select Mr. Gates to harass

    Officer Crowley did what a policeman was taught to do when the situation looked like it could spiral out of control he stepped in and controlled it. That is what he is paid to do.

  27. UM ALUM says:

    How is that possibly the best post on this topic? The author of the post clearly didn’t even read the police report. The author makes a big deal of the fact the office refused to leave or give his name and states that these facts are reflected in the police report. The only problem is that according to the police report the officer not only left but gave his name several times.

    That blog post is terrible analysis. The cop probably shouldn’t have arrested Gates, but clearly Gates was being obnoxious and nobody cares when an obnoxious person gets whats coming to them.

  28. michael says:

    “the situtation could spiral out of control

    There were about as many police officers as there were other onlookers. Had there been any way in which this arrest could be defended, charges would not have been dropped: police departments protect their own, and dropping the charges makes the officer look bad.

    “nobody cares when an obnoxious person gets whats coming to them”

    So much for the First Amendment. And the Fifth (Due Process of Law).

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