The Arrest of Gates

A couple of good articles are John McWhorter’s “Gates is Right–and We’re Not Post-Racial Until He’s Wrong,” and Lowry Heussler’s “Nightmare on Ware Street.” The full police report is at “Gates police report.”

I think PHB’s comment on Michael Froomkin’s post is quite interesting:

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.

When my apartment in Cambridge was burgled in 1999, the responding officer didn’t even want to get out of his car. When he finally did, he didn’t want to bother to physically examine anything, the one item that I pointed out had a grimy fingerprint was shattered and returned in pieces, and his report failed to document either that the front door was ripped from its hinges, or that a stack of currency from four countries had gone missing.

Sorry, PHB was trying to avoid that. I suspect that both the race and class cards played into this. There’s a strong echo of that in Crowley’s statements reported widely:

“I know what I did was right,” Crowley said in an interview with Boston-based WEEI Sportsradio Network. “I don’t have anything to apologize for.”

There’s one other element of this, which is that the police are separated from communities by a foolish and unwinnable war on drugs. Our last three Presidents have smoked pot, the last two snorted coke. But as long as the police are charged with impossible duties, they will be separated from whatever community may exist.

Please keep the comments civil and respectful of Gates, the officer and one another.

13 thoughts on “The Arrest of Gates

  1. I also think that the post-9/11 environment has aggravated the us-vs-them attitude that law enforcement officers always tended to have. Everyone now is not just a potential criminal, but also a Potential Terrorist And Threat To Our Way Of Life, and if you question anything that law enforcement is doing you’re clearly in league with the bad guys. You see this in the way the TSA acts, too; they get very prickly if anyone questions whether their security procedures are really making anyone safer.

  2. If you get stopped by the police, they have to “prove” that they were “right” to stop you, by finding that you did something wrong. Thus, when they invade your home and you object, you are wrong. Gates is lucky they didn’t shoot him.

  3. If you read the report Gates started off by calling someone on the phone “what’s the (police) chief’s name”. It’s the “do you know who I am” attitude that got him arrested. He got what he deserved. Notice black cops in the pictures as well, this is not racism but arrogance

  4. Andy,
    Could you cite a section of Mass law that forbids being an asshole with attitude? I mean, foolish when they have a gun, sure, but I’m not sure anyone deserves to be arrested for being foolish.

  5. Yeah, I feel that Gates’s actions were foolish, but they weren’t illegal. John McWhorter’s article made me understand better why he acted the way he did.

  6. Have to say I agree with PHB’s comment too. The disconnect factors is great for police and other ‘public services’ who can’t afford to live where they work. It subtly reduces the ‘I belong here’ factor for them and increases the ‘these rich bastards think they can get away with anything’ factor.

  7. You are merely living up to my expectations Adam.
    I am not sure that the war on drugs is such a big factor as you say. The war on pot is surely idiotic, but heroin, meth and crack are at the root of a lot of crime.
    And the big problem with cocaine is that prolonged use fries your brain. Pretty soon you find you have gone AWOL from the national guard and have started a land war in Mesopotamia.

  8. PHB,
    Alcohol is at the root of a lot of crime, too. We tried banning it for a while, didn’t work. We gave up. We tried banning coke and heroin. Didn’t work. We keep trying. Why?

  9. If you read the report Gates started off by calling someone on the phone “what’s the (police) chief’s name”. It’s the “do you know who I am” attitude that got him arrested. He got what he deserved. Notice black cops in the pictures as well, this is not racism but arrogance

  10. Being foolish is not illegal, but it leads to illegal acts such as “tumultuous behavior” — I guess that’s what he was booked for.
    P.S. Sorry for the double posting

  11. I lived in Cambridge itself for 9 years; 5 years in a dorm and 4 in a working-class part of town. Only 1 run-in with the police in the public that I can recall, and that was the campus police when I was on a building roof. I was far enough away to calmly walk out of sight.
    I regularly interacted with the campus police at their headquarters, though, about arranging for officers (or exceptions therefrom) for large campus activities. The results were based a lot on the individual I met up with. Some were familiar with my group and didn’t see us as any danger. Some insisted that we get protection, and once the officer on duty demanded we shut down early.
    My expectation is that campus police forces work extra hard to make sure that their officers realize that they are dealing with college students, and that while about half of them come from upper-class backgrounds, others had more pedestrian upbringings.
    In my working-class living, I encountered quite a bit of yuppie-resistance; outsiders may think Cambridge is all progressive, but a few “stop Harvard encroachment” posters gets the point across. People nearly had a fit when a Bread & Circus was built around the corner from me.
    I don’t have any details about where the cops home towns’ are. Data on that would be appreciated.

  12. Dan Weber: Officer Crowley was born and raised in Cambridge but lives in Natick.

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