?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Recent police misconduct, a couple of links - Input Junkie
July 26th, 2009
07:55 am

[Link]

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Recent police misconduct, a couple of links
From Digbby:
The arguments are usually something along the lines of "that guy was an idiot to argue with the cops, he should know better," which is very similar to what many are saying about Gates. He has even been criticized for being a "bad role model," thus putting young black kids at risk if they do the same things.

Now, on a practical, day to day level, it's hard to argue that being argumentative with a cop is a dangerous thing. They have guns. They can arrest you and can cost you your freedom if they want to do it badly enough. They can often get away with doing violence on you and suffer no consequences. You are taking a risk if you provoke someone with that kind of power, no doubt about it.

Indeed, it is very little different than exercising your right of free speech to tell a gang of armed thugs to go fuck themselves. It's legal, but it's not very smart. But that's the problem isn't it? We shouldn't have to make the same calculations about how to behave with police as we would with armed criminals.


It's interesting that the usual advice on how to behave around the police is given in a tone that's not so much pragmatic as moralizing-- you're a fool if you don't accept that the person with the least actual power is responsible for how a situation turns out. And I'm going to indulge in a little mind-reading here-- I keep getting the impression of "I'm a tough person who understands how the world is, and anyone who thinks the police shouldn't have arbitrary power is a just naive".

Link thanks to womzilla.

From bradhicks:
Let's give Crowley the benefit of the doubt about part of this, just once, as a thought exercise. Let's suppose, even though he clearly isn't telling the truth about the disorderly conduct charge, and even though nobody has ever heard Dr. Gates say "your momma" in anger to anyone, let's imagine that he might have been telling the truth when he alleges that Gates, at least at first, only handed him his Harvard ID and asked, "Do you know who I am?" This is not a stupid question from a prima donna, this is an entirely legitimate question, because Henry Louis Gates isn't just any random black homeowner. He's a black homeowner who has lived in the neighborhood that Sgt. Crowley patrols for 18 years. But he isn't just any 18-year homeowner, he's an 18-year homeowner who has been a department chief at Cambridge's single most important employer for that whole 18 years.

This is the first mention I've seen that Crowley patrolled that neighborhood and should have known who lived there, which I think of as a much stronger claim than that everyone ought to follow the visual news actively enough to know what Gates looks like.

Nitpick: the woman who phoned the police wasn't Gates' neighbor. She just happened to be in the area.

General point: It's plausible to think that racism was involved, but not necessary. White people are at risk from the police, too, and it's getting worse.

(25 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:July 26th, 2009 01:12 pm (UTC)
(Link)
To argue to the point of yelling, gesticulating, or otherwise getting physically wound up is to force the cop into a highly defensive position.

Not exactly. There are methods for calming people down.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:bradhicks
Date:July 26th, 2009 03:37 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Really? When I was in security officer training, they showed us the same video they show new recruits on how to handle people who are really angry, and step one was back up, get some distance between the two of you, both to calm the other person down and for safety's sake. Step two was use calm words to de-escalate the situation, if possible.

My experience, combined with what little training I have, tells me that there are cops who think that the way to handle a situation where the other person is angry at you is to use your authority and your weapon to intimidate them into submitting to you meekly. There's even a technical term for officers like that: "lousy cops."
[User Picture]
From:holzman
Date:July 26th, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
(Link)
For what it's worth, they told me the same thing in my security training that they told bradhicks.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:July 26th, 2009 02:07 pm (UTC)
(Link)
By all accounts, Gates was loud and insulting, but not violent.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:July 26th, 2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
(Link)
This is why I think we have it better in the UK than in the US. Our police are recruited from just the same pool of people as your police; I assume they are no more saintly in terms of their demeanor and attitudes. However, few people in the UK would make any of the points you make in your first paragraph.

I've personally argued with policemen. I've personally shouted 'show me your badge number' at two policemen - me a young woman (at the time) in a shift dress, vs two uniformed policemen, and they ran back to their car and drove away. I took their car number and reported them.
[User Picture]
From:pecunium
Date:July 26th, 2009 07:50 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Your right: though we have very different takes on the matter. I can deal with the armed criminal, and be pretty sure the only risk is from the weapon wielded, and the intent to use it.

If one accosts me; say barging into my home, and threatens me, I am within my right to, "get medieval on his ass". If a cop does it, I have to just stand there and take it. Even when it leads to my being falsely arrested.

So, all things being equal, I'll take the armed criminal again; I know where I stand, and the level of caprice is a lot less, to say nothing of the ability to assess risk.

[User Picture]
From:dglenn
Date:July 26th, 2009 09:12 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I had a cop decide, because I was uncertain what to do in response to an unclear instruction, and was standing upright and maybe a fraction of an inch taller then him, that I "looked like I was about to punch him". I wasn't even yelling or gesticulating. I sure as hell wasn't angry enough to want to hit anyone, much less far enough gone to consider physically assaulting someone with a gun and the power of the state behind him.

"That sort of trust would get them killed more often than they already are."

My trusting cops to have reasonable judgement and professionalism and not be bullies may get me killed or arrested; I cannot afford to trust cops. (Expected counter: "most cops are decent"; problem is, unless I know ahead of time which are which, it doesn't take very many bad ones to make the risk:reward balance tilt toward cannot-afford-to-trust-cops.)

Regardless of how difficult figuring out a solution may be, there is nonetheless a Problem.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:dglenn
Date:July 26th, 2009 10:13 pm (UTC)

"With great power comes great responsibility"

(Link)
When citizens can't trust cops, then cops' jobs get more difficult. A few bad cops make all police less effective.

And the lesson I learned wasn't that I'd be a fool to rant and rave to a cop; it was that treating a cop like a reasonable adult is dangerous, that saying anything other than "yes sir" or doing anything other than trying to stay far enough away to avoid interaction in the first place, is enough to fear something bad coming of it. A lesson from a different day was that photography is apparently only legal if you look like you don't know what you're doing. From yet another day, that attempting to report a theft, when the victim is from a poor part of time, can lead to the victim being threatened with arrest -- and that happened in a police station with no voices raised and no violent gesticulations, not exactly a "cop was scared of not being in control" street situation. Still another encounter: that when a transgender person is beaten up it's a laughing matter, not a real crime. And also, based on the illegal instruction a cop gave to a neighbour, that some cops either don't know the law or are willing to lie about it to convince civilians not to exercise their rights. (And that's not even getting into shenanigans I've observed during traffic stops -- most of which I've deserved but a couple of which required falsehoods from the police to justify, one requiring some dangerous driving by the cop to force me into a situation that he could claim justified the stop.)

The meta-lesson? The police are not here to protect me and instead pose a significant risk to my safety and liberty. And this in spite of having spoken to good and/or helpful cops as well as the aforementioned bad ones, and having been brought up with the white, middle-class expectations that the police are on "our side", and if you're not doing something wrong you should be glad to see a cop because they're there to protect us from the bad guys. The police had a huge head start in convincing me to respect them, because of my childhood indoctrination, and they've managed to convince me that they're at least as dangerous to me[*] as the criminals I'm likely to encounter, and not likely to be a lick of help when I'm a crime victim anyhow -- neither protecting me or rescuing me, nor helping to find and arrest the perpetrators.

(Yes, I understand that if we had no police, I'd likely encounter criminals more often. I would be a lot more thankful for their help on that score if the police themselves weren't a threat to me.)

If entire communities are taught the same lessons the police have taught me (as I understand is the case, based on what I've seen others write about the police and complaints I've seen from police departments about lack of cooperation from communities), how much harder and more dangerous does that make each cop's job? It's in police departments' interests as well as society's interest as a whole, to see bad cops retrained or dismissed and prosecuted, depending on how bad, instead of making excuses for them and letting them continue to be bullies.

[*] For context/perspective: I'm visibly trans (thus a potential hate-crime target) and live in a poor section of Baltimore. My neighbourhood isn't a rough as it looks -- walk two blocks for that -- but it's not like the wealthier parts of town either. I've been burgled, I've been assaulted, I've had someone try to rob me; the police still make me more nervous than the criminals because they can arrest me for disagreeing with them or being insufficiently obsequious, and have effectively an unlimited number of reinforcements (and are more likely to be armed than the crooks here). Worse, if a dispute between me and a criminal winds up in court, I've got a fair shot at justice; if it's between me and the police, not so much.
[User Picture]
From:dglenn
Date:July 26th, 2009 10:18 pm (UTC)

Got a little off topic there ...

(Link)
To drag myself back to what you actually said ... my lesson wasn't that ranting and raving, or even just raising one's voice, was enough to make a cop nervous; just politely saying anything other than "yes sir, right away sir," was enough to either make him frightened or make him decide to claim to be frightened as an excuse to escalate.

And I really do not think that's reasonable.
[User Picture]
From:coyotecollector
Date:July 26th, 2009 12:39 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Indeed, it is very little different than exercising your right of free speech to tell a gang of armed thugs to go fuck themselves. It's legal, but it's not very smart. But that's the problem isn't it? We shouldn't have to make the same calculations about how to behave with police as we would with armed criminals.

I call false dichotomy. Had that cop been an "armed criminal" there's a strong possibility that Mr. Gates would be dead, not giving interviews to the media.

He wasn't necessarily an idiot to argue with the cops. He was an idiot to argue with the cops and not expect there to be consequences. People don't like to be argued with or shouted at or belittled, regardless of how justified these behaviors may be. "Cops" are a subset of "people". A more professional policeman would have handled it better; this cop was clearly less professional than many.

Saying that the cop should have acted more professionally, or that Mr. Gates should have acted more wisely, is Monday morning quarterbacking. They didn't. They both acted like people, tired, fed up, aggravated people.

I've read and heard a lot of essays that give advice as to how to deal with the police. And they all boil down to "treat the police as you would any other human being in an even slightly stressful situation that you don't want to escalate." Be polite, be calm, be respectful, keep your voice down, keep your hands in plain sight, don't make any sudden movements. These signals aren't necessarily the markers you'd want to use in any mammalian interaction--some of them would mark you as beta in a coyote pack--but they work well enough for humans.

Mr. Gates violated a lot of these dicta, as people will when they're tired, frustrated, and stressed out.

I ain't seeing racism here. I'm seeing people acting like people.
[User Picture]
From:lysystratae
Date:July 27th, 2009 04:10 am (UTC)
(Link)
I didn't see racism until the cop phonied up that 'your momma' comment. A highly educated Harvard man is going to say 'your momma'? Hell, a man over the age of 25? Not in my experience. Since that's a phrase society associates with blacks (particularly young and/or uneducated blacks), using that in his report to try and justify what happened fairly screams racism.
[User Picture]
From:pecunium
Date:July 27th, 2009 10:43 am (UTC)
(Link)
The cop isn't entitled to, "act like people". The cop gets trained, then has to qualify POST, then gets more training.

Why? Because we give them huge amounts of power, and discretion. We arm them, and allow them to use those arms (baton, mace/pepper spray, taser and gun) when they feel, legitimately, threatened. We allow them to use those weapons when they feel someone else is threatened (this is not a right generally afforded to the populace at large). We allow them to use those weapons in the maintenance of public order.

In exchange for that license we have the right to demand more restraint from them. They work for us. They should be required to answer to us. We pay them to deal with angry people.

I've seen a lot of how to deal with cops; up close and personal (my dad was a deputy sherrif, I worked with a lot of cop while in the National Guard, and I've been stopped more than once, arrested [falsely] and dealt with them in course of witnessing several accidents, and reporting several crimes); the first rule, be very careful because if they get irritated you will end up in cuffs, and perhaps in prison.

That's because you don't know what the cop will do, merely what the cop can do, and that is a huge risk factor; because almost anything can be construed as, "disturbing the peace", or "resisting arrest."

The cop was in Gates' home. Gates had every right to be there. The cop should, from the get go, been aware of the risk that his presence was likely to upset the homeowner; and more senstitive to how a black man might feel when so challenged in his own home.

Gates had every right to be upset, the cop did not. Not getting upset is the cop's job.
[User Picture]
From:anton_p_nym
Date:July 26th, 2009 12:51 pm (UTC)
(Link)
The cop was clearly wrong to make an arrest for "incitement to riot"; that charge is bogus. However, Gates seems to have followed a "how-to" guide for alienating first-responders.

Let's file the names off the case. A bystander sees an unfamiliar person attempting to force the front door of a house, and calls the cops. That's a reasonable reaction, IMO... there's no way for a bystander to know that it's the home-owner, and it's risky for a bystander to make a direct intervention. The police officer arrives to find that entry has indeed been forced through a back entrance... that is reasonable grounds for making a tentative conclusion that a break-and-enter has happened. A person is found inside and becomes argumentative when asked to provide ID, then provides ID issued by a non-governmental body which may or may not show proof of residence and is likely easier to falsify.

Yeah, I'm having trouble blaming the cop for insisting on a driver's licence or passport or something.

-- Steve agrees with coyotecollector on this case; this isn't evidence of institutionalised racism, this is a case of two people having very bad days.

PS: To be perfectly honest, I wouldn't have recognised Gates myself... then again, I'm a danged furriner and don't watch much American TV. Still, I agree that the arrest was bogus and Officer Crowley does owe Prof. Gates an apology for that at the very least.
[User Picture]
From:womzilla
Date:July 26th, 2009 01:36 pm (UTC)
(Link)
"Yeah, I'm having trouble blaming the cop for insisting on a driver's licence or passport or something."

And that's mostly irrelevant to the true police misconduct here. Once Gates produced his ID, and Crowley called the Harvard University Police Department to confirm Gates's identity, Crowley refused to leave Gates's house when requested and refused to give Gates his badge number unless Gates "stepped outside". The former is criminal trespass; the latter is a gross violation of police procedure and was done solely to create the context for arresting Gates for creating a public nuisance--being as one cannot create a public nuisance in the privacy of one's own house.

Those both move far past "misunderstanding" and into the realm of "you have pissed off a cop, and the cop will get his revenge".
[User Picture]
From:anton_p_nym
Date:July 26th, 2009 02:37 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Crowley refused to leave Gates's house when requested and refused to give Gates his badge number unless Gates "stepped outside".

That's what Prof. Gates is alleging. The officer alleges otherwise. I'm taking neither at their words over the other's, given how badly things turned out.

-- Steve wonders if we'd be having the same discussion if the name "Prof. Gates" was replaced by the name "Mel Gibson".
[User Picture]
From:womzilla
Date:July 26th, 2009 06:24 pm (UTC)
(Link)
"That's what Prof. Gates is alleging. The officer alleges otherwise."

Well, no. That's what the officer says in his own report.

"As I began walking through the foyer to the front door, I could hear Gates again demanding my name. I again told Gates I would speak to him outside."

So, it's sort of a "he said/he agreed" situation. I recommend this analysis of Gates's behavior from an expert in Massachusetts police procedure.
[User Picture]
From:dhole
Date:July 26th, 2009 12:55 pm (UTC)
(Link)
It's interesting that the "tough minded" attitude is always "you're a fool to talk back to the police," and never, "you're a fool to hassle the president's friends."
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:agrumer
Date:July 27th, 2009 12:11 am (UTC)
(Link)
Do the police have an international network of secret prison camps?
[User Picture]
From:fengi
Date:July 26th, 2009 01:37 pm (UTC)
(Link)
An addendum to you nitpick: The woman who called the cops was the cheif fundraiser and circulation manager of Harvard Magazine, the alumni publication. Her office was down the street from Gates and her publication had run numerous stories about Gates in print and online.

I'm not saying she should know exactly who Gates was or where he lived, but she was walking around at noon next to campus in a heavily trafficked and safe area, and felt safe enough to hang out front after calling police. We'll never know what she she saw exactly or what she thinking, but the decision to assume the worst and dial 911 without checking further does fall into the larger pattern of black/white relations in general, and how the cops treat black people in Cambridge in particular. It strikes me how many seem determined to act like race isn't an issue in this at all, as if Gates - who grew up working class, black and with a disability before working his way to Harvard - was like Paris Hilton blowing off the law.
[User Picture]
From:dcseain
Date:July 26th, 2009 06:18 pm (UTC)

Re: The bradhicks quote

(Link)
I believe that he underestimates the degree of racism in the Boston area. It would not surprise me in the least to know that a police officer with x years on a beat would not know that a person of color lived in any given house. From what i saw when i lived up there, most white people simply ignore people of color, unless it is required that they interact with them, and when required to interact with a person of color, most white people there will only interact to the degree minimally necessary.

So, though racism may not, per se, be the cause/core issue in the interaction between Gates and the officer, i do think that the nature of race relations cannot be fully ignored/discounted.

Edited to correct subject.

Edited at 2009-07-26 06:19 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:lilairen
Date:July 26th, 2009 06:30 pm (UTC)

Re: The bradhicks quote

(Link)
When I heard about this story, I immediately thought of a friend of mine - a native New Yorker who has lived in a variety of areas - whose worst encounter with racism (physically attacked by a skinhead) was in Cambridge.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 27th, 2009 01:14 am (UTC)

The question is whether the cop "has to win"...

(Link)
The cop's proper job was to determine whether there was a crime involved. Having done so, his proper response, as far as his job was concerned, was to leave.

But this cop had an additional agenda, one that's all too common these days... having been faced by a citizen who had "disrespected" him, he wanted to "win the fight" -- in this case, by bringing in the full power of the legal system. In another case -- a less well-connected victim, or just fewer witnesses, he might well have resorted to his gun. Someday, he might well do just that with someone else.

That extra agenda, the need to "show them you're the boss", is grossly unprofessional -- indeed, I'd say that all by itself, it's enough to switch a cop from being part of the solution, to being part of the problem. When a cop with that attitude shows up, they're likely to take any low-level conflict, and make it worse. The proper role of a cop is not to "win", it's to maintain public safety -- and their "any means necessary" had damn well better include taking a few insults and backing down!

Dave Harmon (visiting from ML)
Crowley was dealing with an elderly, handicapped, professor -- with someone else, he might well have turned his "possible B&E" into a shooting, either direction. Indeed, he may already have helped turn some *other* cop's future confrontation into a shooting....

And yes, the racial tensions in Cambridge (and Boston in general) are pretty nasty. When I showed up for commencement in 1984, there were, IIRC, nine black students in the incoming class. By the end of the day, there was one less, because the parents of one of those students, trying to watch their kid enter Harvard, had been "escorted off campus" by the Harvard cops. I don't blame that kid a bit....
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 27th, 2009 11:35 am (UTC)

Re: The question is whether the cop "has to win"...

(Link)
I'm not sure how my signature above got transplanted into the middle of my note. :-(
[User Picture]
From:subnumine
Date:July 27th, 2009 07:43 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I agree with Digby (and part of Brad Hicks' post you haven't quoted). The central problem here is the police misconduct.

Whether Crowley was racist is a secondary question - several posters here have made the case that what he did was tinged with racism; but the reason why racism matters as a question of public policy is that it leads to police misconduct and other evils.

Otherwise we'd treat it like other forms of social stupidity: reason to avoid someone in private life, but no business of the law.
nancybuttons.com Powered by LiveJournal.com