Are you a lawyer?
Can you give me unofficial legal advice?
Can you give me unofficial regular advice?
Unless you’re Stephen L. Carter, be nice to the cops anytime you interact with them.
But I am Stephen L. Carter.
*Blush* Will you sign my very dog-eared copy of “The Emperor of Ocean Park?” I love that book.
OK, moving on, what do you think happened between Gates and Officer Crowley?
I think Gates was rude to Officer Crowley, and that pissed Crowley off and Crowley arrested him illegally.
Let’s unpack that. Why do you think Gates was rude to Crowley?
Because even in Gates’ own account he sounds like he was at least snippy. Also because I think most people are pretty cranky after flights from China to Boston.
How long does it take to fly from China to Boston?
It averages 19 hours. Dude was probably exhausted and sore and jetlagged.
Do you think Gates’ perception of racism caused him to act in a more rude way?
I’m sure his knowledge about how black men are often treated by the police upset him even more, but I doubt that was the only factor.
Do you believe that Gates initially refused to show them ID?
Even the police report said that he showed it to them fairly quickly. So if he refused once and agreed a minute later, I don’t see how that should matter.
So you think that Crowley was annoyed because Gates was rude?
Do you think Crowley was a racist?
Officer Crowley once gave a black guy mouth-to-mouth. Though there is no definitive proof in this world that somebody ISN’T a racist, I’d say that’s about as close as one can get.
Can one be a non-racist, but still be an arrogant jerk?
Why did Gates come outside?
Because the officer asked him to.
Both before he knew Gates was a Harvard professor AND afterwards according to the police report.
Was it OK for the officer to ask him to come outside before he knew he was the legal resident of the house?
I guess so, though I don't see the point. But I don't have a problem with it.
But he also asked Gates to come outside after he knew he was the legal resident of the house, and when Gates had lost his temper?.
So the officer DID go outside and try to remove himself from the situation?
Sort of. He did go outside, but he doesn't mention having given Gates his Harvard ID back, and he does mention that Gates was still asking for his name and badge number and that he wasn't going to talk to Gates anymore unless Gates followed.
So the officer carried Gates' Harvard ID outside?
Crowley mentions taking it in the report, but not giving it back. I think he took it outside with him for the following reasons:
a. Crowley said he was transmitting information from the ID in his radio call and that he was unable to make his radio call in the house. Unless Crowley memorized the ID, he would still need that to transmit the information that by his own words he was trying to transmit. The simpler explanation is that he took the ID with him.
b. Crowley would likely have written that he handed the ID back to Gates in his report as he is trying to get across the idea that Gates was acting crazily and he was acting reasonably. Taking away a man's Harvard ID and not handing it back is the sort of behavior that provokes people. Crowley does everything he can in the entire rest of the report to emphasize that he wasn't provoking Gates. So the simplest explanation is that if he'd handed the ID back, he would have written it in the report.
Given that, I think what Gates did, follow him outside, is what just about anyone in the situation might have done.
If Crowley gave Gates the ID back and Gates followed him outside for some other reason, how would that change the situation?
Crowley probably would have written about that in his report. But it doesn't change anything legally, it just makes everyone's actions make slightly less sense.
Why did Crowley say that he wanted Gates to step outside the house?
He said that Gates was making so much noise that he couldn’t hear his radio.
How bad could the acoustics in Gates’ house possibly be?
If it is a fancy house with a lot of marble, pretty bad I guess, though the police report makes it sound like the kitchen is right off the front door, which is not typically the design of truly fancy houses.
Shouldn’t Crowley have gone ahead and stepped outside if he knew Gates was living in the house and Crowley wanted to hear his radio?
He sort of did, I just tend to think he just took Gates' ID with him. But his report says he knew other cops were around at that time so he could have turned around and told one of the cops standing in the doorway to radio in and focused on calming Mr. Gates down and apologizing.
Well, that would be the polite thing to do given the circumstances and how upset Gates was. If this wasn't a false accusation in words, it was one in deeds.
Did the officer have any good reason for wanting Gates to come outside after he knew Gates was the legal resident of the house?
Not that I’ve seen in any account of the incident.
But he told Professor Gates that he should come out on the porch if he wanted to continue the conversation anyway?
Why would Professor Gates want to continue the conversation?
Because he had asked the officer for his name and badge number and the officer said he wouldn't give them to Gates unless Gates came out on the porch. He claims that he had already given them to Gates twice, but that was still a strange thing to say if he didn't want Gates to come out on the porch.
If Gates was yelling, how was Crowley supposed to give him his name and badge number?
All Massachusetts police are required to carry cards with their names and badge number for just this situation. Crowley apparently chose not to use his.
So what was the effect of Mr. Gates going out on the porch?
It gave the officers a chance to decide he was making a ruckus in a public space and arrest him.
Is it legal to arrest a man for making a ruckus in his own house?
Not usually. If he’s threatening anyone, maybe. If it’s the middle of the night, that’s usually a ticket, not an arrest.
So if Gates had never left the house, they couldn’t have arrested him?
Certainly not legally, and I can’t even think of any trumped-up charges that would have sounded remotely plausible . The usual trumped-up charges for pissing off a police officer are either resisting arrest or disorderly conduct. Someone who isn’t getting arrested and is in his own house really obviously doesn’t qualify for either.
Can one get charged for disorderly conduct for something one does on one's own front porch?
There’s no case law that is perfectly on point. The closest I can find from Massachusetts is that you CAN get charged for it in a public street in the city and you CAN’T in your front yard if your front yard is hidden from the street by a fence. But the basic idea behind disorderly conduct is that it is the sort of behavior that is troublesome or disturbing to the general public.
Were there members of the general public around?
There were half a dozen people watching, including the lady who called in the burglary and the neighbor who gave/sold that photo of Gates to news organizations. My guess is that the folks there were effectively gawkers.
Can you give some more common examples of the sort of behavior that gets disorderly conduct charges?
Public drunkenness, soliciting prostitution, barfights where nobody gets hurt and there’s not much property damage, begging, busking, being a peeping tom. Some of those crimes have more serious versions. The disorderly conduct charge is what the serious charge gets knocked down to if the judge likes you. You know how if you’re speeding and you fight the ticket in court and the judge likes you, he knocks it down to “improper equipment” so the fine is less and you don’t get points on your license? It’s like that.
So basically the disorderly conduct charge is questionable at best?
Is it possible Gates did something else illegal?
If he did, it would be in the police report and he would have been charged with it. This was not a complicated incident. No real analysis or investigation is likely to have turned up any other charge.
Are people having a lot of trouble with this concept?
Yes, oddly enough. Let’s go through a few examples.
Are you sure Gates didn’t threaten the officer?
Yes. The officer would have mentioned it in a heartbeat and would have charged him for it.
Are you sure Gates didn’t seem like a threat to himself?
Yes. The officer would have mentioned it in the police report and charged him appropriately.
Didn't Gates disobey a police officer?
Disobeying a police officer isn't a crime everywhere, and most of the places it is, it's a crime to get in the way of an investigation or a crime to disobey during an emergency. The reports suggest that Gates did everything the officer asked him to do, albeit slowly and with protest, and things only really got heated after the officer knew Gates lived there and didn't immediately start apologizing and leaving. So the "investigation" part was over. There was no emergency going on, so that requirement doesn't apply either. And again, if the officers could have charged him with that, they likely would have.
Is it possible that the officer felt threatened by Gates?
Anything’s possible, but by the time of the arrest the officer knew Gates was a Harvard professor. And if you’ve seen the infamous photo, you know that Gates was like six inches shorter than the officers at least, much less muscular and much older.
This does not paint a threatening picture. And the officer's feelings aren't relevant to the law as long as he didn't make any threats.
Would a white guy in the same situation have gotten arrested?
Not in my experience. For example, no report I’ve seen suggests Gates cussed at the officer. My brothers (26, with at least a few inches and 75 pounds on Professor Gates) have cussed out police officers before, and the cops usually ignore it.
Speaking of your brothers, have either of them been arrested, and had the cops say something like “the fine will be $40 and we know you can pay for it because we went through your wallet?”
Not that they could recall and they’ve both been arrested many times. As far as I can tell, that was entirely to make Professor Gates feel more violated. But the only version we have of that event is Gates’ so it is possible the police would have an explanation or deny that happened. Also, it’s possible my brothers have never been arrested for a crime so piddling that the fine was only $40.
What’s the worst thing Gates is alleged to have said?
“"I'll speak with your mama outside,"
Does that sound like something a Harvard professor would say?
No, it sounds like a line of dialogue from a Pam Grier movie, which makes me think that it’s what a white guy thinks a black guy might say. I’m not inclined to believe that he really said it.
But what if he did?
Then I’m not signing up for any rhetoric classes he’s teaching, but arresting him was still illegal.
What if he called the cop a racist?
I suspect he probably did. But arresting him was still illegal.
Isn’t insulting a cop illegal?
NO! Tell your friends.
Is there anything he could have said to the cops that would have been illegal?
Physically threatening them. That aside, not that I can think of.
What about crying out that a representative of the government is doing wrong as he arrests you?
It’s pretty much exactly what the founding fathers had in mind with that whole free speech thing.
If Gates had been really sweet and polite, would this have ended easily?
If Crowley had started apologizing the moment he saw the Harvard ID, would this have ended easily?
At worst, there would have been a complaint to Crowley's department, which would have been "investigated" then ignored. Complaints about cops that don't involve violence are usually not taken particularly seriously.
Was it a good idea for Gates to be all Al-Sharptony with the police?
Well, first of all, that he was Al Sharptony is my assumption, not a known fact. But while it gave Gates an unpleasant afternoon, it has raised a lot of awareness and gotten people talking about the fact that this stuff can happen to people who really haven't done anything wrong. And hey, maybe the next time the police are thinking about hassling a black guy, they will wonder if he's Cornel West and decide it isn't worth the trouble.
Why do you mostly use the police report rather than mostly using Gates' version?
Because I ultimately come to the conclusion that Crowley was in the wrong and I can do so using his own account and the arrest he made and the relevant statutes and caselaw. Being able to say "Even using Crowley's version of what happened, he was still in the wrong makes a stronger argument.
If Gates was really rude and Crowley arrested him for a trumped-up charge, then why is Crowley in the wrong and Gates not?
Because "always be polite to the police" is not a requirement to be an American citizen. "Don't make illegal arrests" IS a requirement to be a police officer.
EDIT: Robin pointed out in the comments that Crowley had asked Gates to come outside BEFORE he knew he was the legal resident of the house as well. I added some clarifications on that point.
EDIT II: I've tweaked several sections about Gates coming outside and his potential reasons for doing so and I added two extra questions to the end, one that I was asked over email and one that clarifies another point.
EDIT III: PG mentioned in the comments that whether or not Crowley kept the Harvard ID, Gates still didn't have his name and badge number and Crowley made clear that he wasn't getting it again until Gates came out on the porch. I recalled that Fairfax County police are required to carry business cards with their name and badge number. I wondered if this was true of Massachusetts police. Yes, it is. So Crowley's explanation that he COULDN'T give Gates his name and badge number because Gates was yelling so loud is also bull.
Mostly The Police report Crowley wrote
The Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts though I mostly looked them up in Lexis-Nexis rather than using that source.
Orbitz.com for the time it takes to fly from China to Boston.
This New York Times Article and its interview with Crowley
I didn't really use Gates' version much for reasons I explain above. But it is here.