Sunday, July 26, 2009

On Life in a Growing Police State

posted by Armadillo Joe

Been busy the last few weeks, so not holding up my end of the blogging bargain very well at this'n here site, but I wanted to check-in real quick with something that has stuck in my craw all week.

Henry Louis Gates should sue the shit out of the Cambridge PD and Obama should not have apologized for saying they behaved stupidly. Since the days of Goldwater and Nixon, "law and order" has been a crypto-fascist cudgel (along with "strong national defense" and "family values") the GOP has used to bash the licentious girly men of the Democratic Party into meek apology, not to mention the dog-whistle language of veiled racism that specific phrase has thanks to Tricky Dick and his evil minions. Officer Crowley was wrong. Further, I would posit that he acted wrongly knowingly and with malice-aforethought. What did he do?

From Mark Kleiman at The Reality-Based Community blog (bold-faced sections are mine):
No one who is familiar with law enforcement can miss the significance of Crowley's report. As so often happens with documentary evidence, a person seeking to create a false impression spends lots of time nailing down the elements he thinks will establish his goal, but forgets about the larger picture. Under color of law, Crowley entered a residence to investigate a possible break-in, and after his probable cause had evaporated, he continued to act under color of law, but without any justifiable purpose. And he covered it up with false charges. Figuring that his best defense was a criminal charge, Crowley did what bad cops do. He decided he would look better if Gates looked worse.


Sgt. Crowley's report almost certainly contains intentional falsehoods, but even accepting his account at face value, the report tells us all we need to conclude that Crowley was in the wrong here, and by a large factor.

The crime of disorderly conduct, beloved by cops who get into arguments with citizens, requires that the public be involved. Here's the relevant law from the Massachusetts Appeals Court, with citations and quotations omitted:
The statute authorizing prosecutions for disorderly conduct, G.L. c. 272, § 53, has been saved from constitutional infirmity by incorporating the definition of "disorderly" contained in § 250.2(1)(a) and (c) of the Model Penal Code. The resulting definition of "disorderly" includes only those individuals who, "with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof ... (a) engage in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior; or ... (c) create a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor.' "Public" is defined as affecting or likely to affect persons in a place to which the public or a substantial group has access.
The lesson most cops understand (apart from the importance of using the word "tumultuous," which features prominently in Crowley's report) is that a person cannot violate 272/53 by yelling in his own home.

Read Crowley's report and stop on page two when he admits seeing Gates's Harvard photo ID. I don't care what Gates had said to him up until then, Crowley was obligated to leave. He had identified Gates. Any further investigation of Gates' right to be present in the house could have been done elsewhere. His decision to call HUPD seems disproportionate, but we could give him points for thoroughness if he had made that call from his car while keeping an eye on the house. Had a citizen refused to leave Gates' home after being told to, the cops could have made an arrest for trespass.

But for the sake of education, let's watch while Crowley makes it worse. Read on. He's staying put in Gates' home, having been asked to leave, and Gates is demanding his identification. What does Crowley do? He suggests that if Gates wants his name and badge number, he'll have to come outside to get it. What? Crowley may be forgiven for the initial approach and questioning, but surely he should understand that a citizen will be miffed at being questioned about his right to be in his own home. Perhaps Crowley could commit the following sentences to memory: "I'm sorry for disturbing you," and "I'm glad you're all right."

Spoiling for a fight, Crowley refuses to repeat his name and badge number. Most of us would hand over a business card or write the information on a scrap of paper. No, Crowley is upset and he's mad at Gates. He's been accused of racism. Nobody likes that, but if a cop can't take an insult without retaliating, he's in the wrong job. When a person is given a gun and a badge, we better make sure he's got a firm grasp on his temper. If Crowley had called Gates a name, I'd be disappointed in him, but Crowley did something much worse. He set Gates up for a criminal charge to punish Gates for his own embarrassment.

By telling Gates to come outside, Crowley establishes that he has lost all semblance of professionalism. It has now become personal and he wants to create a violation of 272/53. He gets Gates out onto the porch because a crowd has gathered providing onlookers who could experience alarm. Note his careful recitation (tumultuous behavior outside the residence in view of the public). And please do not overlook Crowley's final act of provocation. He tells an angry citizen to calm down while producing handcuffs. The only plausible question for the chief to ask about that little detail is: "Are you stupid, or do you think I'm stupid?" Crowley produced those handcuffs to provoke Gates and then arrested him. The decision to arrest is telling. If Crowley believed the charge was valid, he could have issued a summons. An arrest under these circumstances shows his true intent: to humiliate Gates.
Obama, by walking back from the word "stupid", has legitimized the poo-flinging monkeys of the GOP who leap on the faintest quiver of "disloyalty" to supposed attacks on 'murrican hee-roze not from a genuine sense of offense, but from a sleazy desire to drum up votes via political theater performed within the carefully-constructed narrative (a narrative our nation's media buys and sells hook, line and sinker) of the Republicans as the Daddy Party -- the strong disciplinarian, the hard-hearted, steely-eyed protector of the nation's honor -- and the Democrats as the Mommy Party -- the profligate coddler, too soft-hearted and full of "love" to make the hard choices that keep us safe, both from threats foreign and domestic. Of course, the narrative is bullshit, but it still frames our national discourse and the true measure of raw GOP power, even after the godawful nightmare of eight years of Bush-as-GOP-apotheosis, even after the drubbing they've taken in two consecutive elections, even after every buck-fuck nuts, crazy-as-a-shithouse-rat, hare-brained scheme for reinforcing our calcifying corporatocracy for the sake of Amerikkka Inc.'s bottom-line and old-money's trust funds (with the added side-benefit of protecting white privilege generally, no matter the social status) which all got passed off as a fresh, new "ideas" has finally, fully been utterly discredited and flushed down the historical toilet, even after These United States finally elected a man to the most powerful office in the land who within the living memory of over half the electorate would have been killed for even attempting to exercise his right to vote in vast swaths of this country (most of which represent the GOP's current base of power, BTW)... even after all of that the true measure of the GOP's latent, pervasive raw power is that Barack Hussein Obama has to apologize for calling "stupid" the actions of a thin-skinned white cop who can't take being righfully challenged on over-stepping his authority by a understandably upset black man.

Evidently, in America today, it's a crime to disrespect a police officer, even after he's disrespected you. Gates is lucky he wasn't tasered, in which case being disrespectful could be a death-sentence.

Watch what you say to the po-leese.


NowhereMan said...

Dead on!If its not racial profiling,its something worse if your black OR white:its a thug wearing a badge and gun.
Any body who reads the report and takes the racial component out of it can only conclude instead of defusing the situation,he made it worse and gave honest cops a black eye.
Hes obviously not qualified to be teaching anything at the academy and should be a student at a common sense class.Obama shouldn've have had to apologize and you're right.Gates should sue their asses off!

Fraulein said...

Oh, Gates is going to sue them alright. He's got a very good case. Yet another measure of the stupidity of these cops is the fact that they didn't realize this particular guy has the resources to fight back--unlike many more anonymous people (of all colors) who get harassed by the police for no good reason.