police report

Lots of folks are already on this, but I wanted to post about  the police report for the arrest of Henry “Skip” Gates in Cambridge the other day. Here’s a copy of the police report on the arrest of Gates for disorderly conduct which was posted by BigSole whom I got to from Field Negro. Today a Facebook link pointed me to this careful analysis of the report at SameFacts.com. The officer is clearly trying to justify the disorderly conduct arrest, which has to involve other people and a public place and cannot be made inside a person’s own house. Even the officer’s own version of events involve him persuading Gates to walk outside so that he could have an excuse to arrest him. Gates had already provided his identification and the officer makes it clear in his report that while he was still inside Gates’s house he knew he was no longer investigating any kind of crime. Gates’s “crime” in the officer’s own report consists solely of loudly accusing the officer of being a racist and asking for his name and badge number. The report makes it clear that the arrest was meant as a retaliation for being yelled at and called a racist, and he really didn’t care that the charge wasn’t going to stick.

One of the many disputes that have arisen in task force debates is the complaint of some “community” people that police sometimes lie on their reports and that the prosecutor just assumes the police are telling the truth. Law enforcement folks and prosecutors react with offense: “It is a felony to lie on a police report.” I roll my eyes. Um, it is a felony to deal drugs, too, but that doesn’t mean people don’t do it. And there have been at least some cases in which movement activists have video taped protest policing and caught police lying on reports. To point out that some people do break the law, by the way, is not to assert that all or even most police lie. Most often there is no need to lie. There is the time-honored and safer tactic of putting the most persuasive possible construction on ambiguous events. Not to mention the ubiquitous problem that different people simply see events in different ways and that well-intentioned honest police may still lack a complete view of the situation.

Out on the streets, this kind of interaction happens all the time: objecting to police treatment when you have, in fact, done nothing wrong gets to you arrested for disorderly conduct or resisting an officer. It does happen to Whites, but it happens a heck of a lot more often to people of color. To me the most frightening thing about this incident are the large number of commenters on some sites who are sure the police have the right to retaliate if you object to their mistreatment of you.

Author: olderwoman

I'm a sociology professor but not only a sociology professor. I keep my name out of this blog because I don't want my name associated with it in a Google search. Although I never write anything in a public forum like a blog that I'd be ashamed to have associated with my name (and you shouldn't either), it is illegal for me to use my position as a public employee to advance my religious or political views, and the pseudonym helps to preserve the distinction between my public and private identities. The pseudonym also helps to protect the people I may write about in describing public or semi-public events I've been involved with. You can read about my academic work on my academic blog http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/soc/racepoliticsjustice/ --Pam Oliver

19 thoughts on “police report”

  1. What I found fascinating is that the officer (to quote NRP), “is a police academy expert on cultural diversity. Cambridge Sgt. James Crowley has taught a class on diversity for five years at the Lowell Police Academy after being hand-picked for the job by former police Commissioner Ronny Watson, who is black, said Academy Director Thomas Fleming. “I have nothing but the highest respect for him as a police officer. He is very professional and he is a good role model for the young recruits in the police academy,” Fleming said on Thursday. The course, called “Racial Profiling,” teaches about different cultures that officers could encounter in their community “and how you don’t want to single people out because of their ethnic background or the culture they come from,” Fleming said.”


  2. I’m sure that checking the ID was necessary and proper, after there was a call about a possible break-in, and I don’t think anybody said it wasn’t. It’s even possible that Gates wasn’t as nice about it as he should have been, although it is just as possible that the officer wasn’t as nice/respectful about asking for the ID as he should have been when encountering a suspected burglar who was 60 years old and acting like he owned the place.


  3. Thanks! Now that I have all the facts (this document and Gates’s radio interview about how exciting it was that Obama referred to him as a “friend”), I can make my carefully considered public statement. The whole sequence, from the call (I love the “backpacks” – is that really what Gates takes on a trip to China, multiple backpacks?) to the demand for ID, was race-dependent. If he had been a 60-year-old white man, wearing a corduroy jacket with elbow patches, standing in the foyer of a Harvard house when the cop arrived, would the cop even have asked for his ID? The script, the “reasonable” actions the cop performed, were racialized. As was Gates’s inflammatory response, no doubt. Arresting him seems to have been driven by embarrassment. This doesn’t speak well for this guy’s diversity training classes.


  4. 1. Who are the people in your neighborhood?
    The woman who called the cops is a fundraiser for Harvard Magazine, and she didn’t recognize Gates.

    2. The cop doesn’t sound like the sort of guy who was the star of diversity training class. But Gates too seems very different from the way he comes across in his writing.

    3. Is there a literature on molehills getting turned into mountains? There are so many ways this could incident could not have become a big deal. It’s like Bong Hits 4 Jesus, a schoolkid’s joke that becomes a Supreme Court case, and nobody comes out of it looking very good.


  5. I’ve been assuming that Gates was, in fact, yelling, and that the police officer was not behaving in a conciliatory fashion either before or after verifying the ID of the suspect. It’s the arrest for DC that seems out of line.

    Not recognizing someone you saw only the back of seems not so odd to me. And seeing someone break in to a house does seem to warrant a call to the police.


  6. One of the neighbor’s pictures shows an African American officer exiting the scene at the arrest, and I’d love to hear his take….

    I’m totally in agreement on the give and take OW presents. It doesn’t matter who you are, you can’t talk shit to cops and not expect to get arrested (or worse). And Gates was obviously in a full blown rage, however justifiably.

    And, so Gates is renting…must be on the market, again….


  7. Sherkat: we’re not in agreement. I think it was the officer’s fault. It is clear in his report that it was quickly apparent that this was not a burglary. I doubt very much that he said, “I’m sorry for the inconvenience, sir, we have a report, I need to check your ID.” And the DC arrest was unnecessary, it was by the officer’s own report a retaliation.


  8. No, I agree with that! What I mean is, that once you are being “hassled by the pigs” (take back to the old “Young Ones” episodes), you have some agency to make sure that the already bad situation doesn’t get worse.


  9. seems to me that too much blame is being put on the cop, and too little on the person who called the cop in the first place. I’m not saying the cop couldn’t have acted better in the situation, but structually, it seems like it reflects the general pattern of white middle to upper class people being racist from their homes and asking policemen to do the “dirty work” for them.


    1. @8: I’m not big on calling cops, “pigs”. Or name calling in general. Insulting all police officers this way strikes me as counter-productive. I know it’s in quotes, but still…

      @9: Gates’ front door was jammed. He had to force his way into it. Calling the cops after witnessing someone forcing their way into a home strikes me as perfectly reasonable. What’s no reasonable was how the cop(s) responded.


      1. Shakha: I think that’s the problem. Do you think that the fact that Gates was black had no influence on the way the person who called framed the situation? Sounds to me like those pictures when there were Hurricane Katrina: white people take, black people loot, that is, two exact images, but the race of the person changes the meaning. And also it seems like we can’t dissociate race relations from whites (esp. middle-class) attempts to “protect” themselves, their neighborhoods, their children. Now, is it statistical discrimination, given the structural inequality, etc? Perhaps, but it ends up affecting negatively a lot of innocent minorities.


  10. The “hassled by the pigs” isn’t just in quotes for notation, it’s a quote from Neil, the long haired hippy in the Young Ones! Sorry for the reference to obscure British comedy, but is also evokes the cross-national and crosscultural problem of dealing with agents of authority. It’s not just African Americans in the US who face this issue when under the gun from police, militias, or other repressive agents.


  11. and let me add something to my previous post, after some thought. I think that as sociologists we could contribute to the debate by, instead of finding who is to blame, and who is racist, what are the structures in place that create situations like this. For example, is there organizational cultures within the police that causes police officers to react strongly to situations? If so, why do these cultures exist? It seems like, as a society, we are demanding contradictory things from police officers: one, that they “protect” white middle-class people from black, (mostly) lower-class people.Is there a way that we can address this broader problem? And police officers end up, it seems, creating a culture that can allow us to defend themselves from these contradictory situations where they are put all the time. And racial profiling is not only institutionalized in the police, but the woman who called the police also racially profiled the person, so as a society we are accepting it. And, of course, the black professor reacted strongly right from the beginning, because he probably has had several experiences throughout his lifetime of policemen approaching him for all kinds of reasons, this was likely not the first time this happened to him. So it seems like we should be going beyond the journalism and talking to a general audience about the general picture.


  12. I’ve got a deadline on the task force report, so I can’t say much except to endorse the idea of thinking sociologically about these issues. A couple of thoughts. (1) Police departments vary in the behavior expected/required of police. A lot of this variability is related to the economic circumstances of the typical citizen. (2) Things are interactive. Where there are more threats to police they will be more afraid; where police are more threatening, people will be more afraid of the police. People (including police) do worse things when they are afraid. (3) “Cultural sensitivity” training is useless if it does not give you tools for thinking about how things look from the other guy’s point of view.


  13. socfreak: “the woman who called the police also racially profiled the person …”

    The AP is reporting that Lucia Whalen didn’t mention race in the 911 call, just “two men.” When asked to give a description, she said that she couldn’t see their faces. The officer added the racial identifier to the report. (BTW, Whalen also said that she called 911 because there’s been a rash of break-ins in the area.)

    I find it mildly amusing, in an otherwise unamusing story, that the officer’s name is Jim Crowley. JIM CROW-ley.


  14. I’m going to post more later about this, but for now I’ll say that I happened to have to look up the psych research for a different purpose, and realized what I should have remembered. “Prejudice” functions in two different ways in the brain. One is conscious cognitions. The other works through the autonomic system and is entirely unconscious and cannot be controlled consciously. The autonomic responses are associative and emotional and are influenced by past experiences and media images, among other things. Slowing down a decision can give conscious cognitions a chance to override the associations that come from the autonomic system. What all of this means is that race can and often does factor into a decision without a person even being aware of it. This matters a ton for understanding situations like this one, and matters a ton for getting beyond simple ideas that people either are or are not “racist.” More later with citatiosn in a separate post. For now, I’ll say that a name to search for if you want to follow this up now is Patricia Devine.


  15. The woman who called did not mention the race of the person that appeared to be breaking in and repeatedly stated that she was not sure this was a crime. When pressed by the dispatcher, the caller said he might be Hispanic.


    I’d call the police if I saw someone forcing their way into my neighbor’s house. There is NO WAY I would confront the person if I did not know them, but I know my neighbors and they know me. (and before we go out of town, we tell each other who has permission to go in and out of our house taking care of pets or whatever for precisely this reason). I hope they would call for me. And I hope the Evanston police would behave better. Until more info is released, we don’t know what the dispatcher said to the cops who responded.


  16. LBN: I also listened to the 911 call and agree with you. Dispatcher raised the question of race, she didn’t. She clearly said she saw suitcases, it was possible it was a resident who had been locked out, stressed that she wasn’t sure it was a crime. Further, it was clear that the dispatcher wasn’t treating it as much of an emergency, hassling her about whether she really wanted an officer to respond, and sounded like the prior was that it was no big deal, probably a mistake. I did hear the dispatcher and Crowley have an exchange in which Crowley said “appears to be a resident but he’s being uncooperative” and then he asks for Harvard police. He also repeats the name Henry Louis Gates to the dispatcher several times, so he has an ID. It sounds like he got afraid or mad (or both) when he was being yelled at by a middle-aged smallish Black guy. (The emphasis on Gates as “elderly” weirds me out, as he is a year or so younger than I am!)


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