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« “We just want to have a little fun” | Main | Atlas Shrugged (film) (Joe) »

July 24, 2009


Professor Massey obviously belongs among that disturbingly large percentage of Americans who continue to see outrage by members of minority groups at being insulted or having their civil liberties violated as "disorderly conduct." It is also pretty certain that he believes Professor Gates "was asking for it."

Of course, President Obama's statement calling *the police action* stupid was meant to defuse the situation. Otherwise he would have said that the *policeman* was *racist.* But it did not defuse anything. People like Massey are twisting his words to distort matters further. This afternoon Obama came out to further explain what he had meant. He also mentioned that he'd had a phone conversation with Sgt. Crowley of the Cambridge police dept. I suspect that police fraternities all over America probably let the White House know in no uncertain words what they thought of the president's comment.

The election of a dark skinned president has made many Americans queasy. The deep seated prejudices are coming out in all sorts of ugly ways - Obama as ape, Obama not an American citizen, watermelon patch on the White House lawn and much more. And now this. Why wouldn't President Obama see racism where some others see a policeman "just" doing his duty?

With this kind of paranoia being spread by reactionaries, I am worried about Obama's safety. It only takes a determined kook seething with anger.

I have mixed feelings about the Obama retraction-apology. I guess it was probably politically necessary, but I'm glad he at least initially came out with some moderately sharp criticism.

I think you've mentioned Obama's safety before, and I still have trouble worrying about it precisely because it only takes one determined kook seething with anger. The wingnuts had people foaming at the mouth for Bill Clinton. I know some people had some pretty strong feelings about George W. Bush. I have to believe that the Secret Service knows what it's doing, although I do agree that the paranoia being spread is deeply disturbing.

Ruchira, all it takes is an event of this nature to unmask hidden attitudes, eh? We still don't know much about Skip Gates or the bully with a gun who taught him humility, but, sadly, people are suddenly discovering things about their friends and spouses. I participated in a comment thread on this topic in which a black woman married to a white man commented that she was on the verge of tears. At the least, one's sense of the logical, and the real, is violated. Here's an excerpt from another (short) thread I was in:

Andy on July 22nd, 2009 4:36 pm

There's a more nuanced look, that draws a similar conclusion, here:

It is, I think, a dumb idea to provoke a cop.


Steven Augustine on July 23rd, 2009 5:13 am

"It is, I think, a dumb idea to provoke a cop."

It's pretty dumb to fuck with the Klan, or neo-Nazis, too. People should definitely learn to be more docile in the face of potentially lethal authority wherever it is encountered. Gates should have said "yes sir, no sir!" in his own house while being bullied by a glorified security guard: that's a no-brainer. It's obvious that Gates' body language and speech patterns are those of a hardened criminal and that the centurions therefore had no reason whatsoever to *not* jump to the conclusion that they were dealing with a felonious black-skinned niggra. Kudos to our quick-thinking troops.


Andy on July 23rd, 2009 1:15 pm

Well, I’ll leave it to you [...] to behave belligerently toward "potentially lethal authority," Steven. It's not an endorsement of the actions of the police, or of their tacit policies, to suggest that the sane posture to take toward aggressive and armed men with the legal authority to use force is not necessarily the principled one. Sorry, there's no quicker way to get a cop to put his hands on you than to tell him not to put his hands on you. And any further resistance is a chargeable offense, period, fair or unfair. You don't have to be a University Professor at Harvard to know that there are better places to take your rage and better ways to seek redress.


Steven Augustine on July 23rd, 2009 2:23 pm

Andy, if no one's brave enough to call the heavily-armed centurions on their ever-spreading attitude that "disrespecting" them is in and of itself a crime, how will the behavior stop? I think you (and the police) have forgotten what it is the police are supposed to do: protect the legally innocent from abuse... not expose them to it.


Andy on July 23rd, 2009 4:03 pm

I haven't forgotten anything, Steven. Like I said, if you want to "call" the responding officer on his behavior, that's your choice. You'll have his foot on your back in a twinkling. I don’t quite understand the principle you're defending. It's too abstract for me. When a civilian is ordered to do something by a cop, or two cops, or more, the civilian has absolutely no leverage, irrespective of whether the civilian is in the right or not. It's asking for humiliation, at best, beating and arrest at worst. You can't be right, because the police decide what's right. I don't agree with it, it's absolutely Orwellian, but that's how it is, and that's how it's been since long before concepts like "Miranda warnings" and "probable cause" were admitted via the thin slit through which things gain entry to cops' consciousness.


Steven Augustine on July 23rd, 2009 6:43 pm

"You’ll have his foot on your back in a twinkling."

Well, people have been fire-hosed or billy-clubbed, by the police, for sitting at segregated lunch counters or swimming pools, too. It's a mistake to assume those days are entirely over.

"You can't be right, because the police decide what's right."

Uh, no, Andy. No.


And, Ruchira, you'll be interested to know that I was accused of "trolling" that thread by the blog's owner (Ed Champion). It goes without saying that I resolved never to comment there again. But, anyway: note Andy's belief system. The police "decide what's right". Chilling?

Steven, I'm not entirely sure why you posted your exchange from that other blog here, but I think you're misunderstanding Andy's point: the police have the physical, albeit potentially not legal, power to physically abuse you in that sort of encounter. Thus, to assert your rights (probably most relevantly here, first and fourth amendment rights) is to take a real risk. The police don't decide what's right in terms of what's actually "right," but it's a descriptive truth that they decide what happens in street encounters. It's an ugly fact about the world, but there it is, and not everyone is as brave -- or rash -- as you would apparently have them be.


Arguing that Gates *should* have done anything other than what he did is ridiculous/clueless in light of about 50 years of American history. All thoughts of "rational pragmatism" aside. White males all over the Internet are egging-on Iranians in lethal confrontations, in the name of Freedom, while at the same time opining that Skip Gates was "dumb" to back-talk a bully with a gun in his own home. If only you and Andy would think these things through before doing the condescendingly-detached "voice of reason" routine that far too many liberal white guys lapse into. Forgive me for presuming you to be white. But this race-based doublethink is really, really getting on my nerves.

In fact, Joe, I'm afraid I'll risk baffling and/or irritating you again by pasting a great comment from yet *another* blog here:

Lori, on July 25th, 2009 at 12:50 pm Said:

The thing I find so ironic about this is that the very same people who have been stockpiling guns since Obama was elected so that they can make sure the government doesn't infringe on their rights now turn around and believe that, if we don't show police officers complete deference in our own homes when they are not investigating a crime (which they weren't at the time that Gates yelled), we can be arrested? Or, perhaps, it's that they believe that white people have every right to resist the government but that black people must show appropriate deference to authority at all times.

But Joe, that's what got to change, doesn't it, that even law abiding citizens must fear the police?

That is the norm in countries like China, India, Pakistan, Russia, Latin America and most corrupt developing nations. Unfortunately, the US belongs with those countries in regard to the excesses of its law enforcement agencies, particularly when it comes to minorities. Police is not feared to this extent by the citizenry of Japan and western Europe. Perhaps, that's the ideal we need to aspire to in this country where cops are viewed as problem solvers in incendiary situations and not as instigators and bullies whose actions amount to state sponsored violence.

R: Yes -- that needs to change. How do we bring about that change? Gates will surely use his 15 minutes on race and law enforcement issues, and good for him.

S: I don't know that Andy person, but certainly you're misunderstanding my position if you think I'm saying that Gates was required to act subserviently or wrong to become upset. I'm simply noting that one particular course of action is far more prudent than the other, which is what I understood that commenter to mean. Everyone confronted with that situation will have to do his or her own risk assessment. I don't understand what your "Iran and Freedom" and "gun rights" points mean or have to do with anything, but if you're suggesting that I'm some sort of conservative Republican on these (or any) issues, you're mistaken.

Great discussion, guys. In reading the police report, it's clear that Gates produced ID to show that he was in his own house. The police should have left at that point, no matter how rude and angry he was. He certainly had a right to be pretty rude and angry, I would say. He's Henry Louis Gates for god's sake.

Is Calvin Massey white or black? Does anyone beside me care to know? It may be an inconsequential question - I am intrigued only because the first name runs in African American families, and the only other Cal Massey I know was a black musician who famously collaborated with Archie Shepp.

Hm! Interesting over here tonite!

I think what happened is never going to be fully understood -- it's too much like water-gazing, the way we see what we need to see through the lens of this horrible incident. Should Gates have been treated so badly because he could not contain his anger? And -- I guess -- lost sight of what everybody knows: some situations, you'd just better dial it down. As in, don't dial it up. He certainly had a right to be as angry as that.

But we don't grant him that right, if we think he really shouldn't have availed himself of it. When Prof. Gates avails himself of his right to be angry without getting arrested, he gets arrested.

So what's the arrest all about? Being Housed While Black? Or, Angry While Black? I am so sorry Officer Crowley felt dissed. But somewhere in the training manual, there must be a few ideas on treating cases of Angry While Black a lot like cases of Angry While White. I do wish the officer had given it a whirl. He's probably highly skilled at defusing some seriously ugly White on White situations, where he'd rather not make an arrest. Horrible to say, maybe those skills were needed that night chez Gates. If so, why were they not used?

Re: Narayan's question -

I am listening to Marty Moss-Coane's program on NPR on which a website called "" was mentioned as a site for cops to vent anonymously. I immediately checked and found it has been taken off the Internet. A possible story here? Other websites have been blacked out in the interests of public safety, but there are always enterprising people who manage to get access to them. Has anyone seen this site?

That's very interesting Narayan. Domelights is described by its members as The Voice of the Good Guys...a Website Devoted to the Abolition of Political Correctness . Apparently black police officers sued to shut down the site for the racist content of its discussions. A quick google search produced the following links:

The domelights website complaint that prompted the city to shut it down.

Here are the details of the 911 call. Unlike what Sgt. Crowley's official statement reads, the caller did not report a break in. In fact she mentions two suitcases on the porch and even suggests that the men may be the residents of the home. Crowley's report asserts that the 911 caller saw two black men when in fact she said that one of the men could have been Hispanic and the other one she did not see at all.

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