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.