A Cautious Man
July 24, 2009
"If An Officer Stops You ...
... Promise you'll always be polite,
that you'll never ever run away
Promise Mama you'll keep your hands in sight."
- B. Springsteen, American Skin
The latest kerfuffle in the news involves comments made by President Obama when asked about the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates at his own home. Professor Gates needed help to push open his door, when he arrived home last week after a long flight; someone who saw two black men pushing open a door suspected a burglary, and called the police. As even the President said when asked about the incident: "But so far, so good. They're reporting -- the police are doing what they should. There's a call, they go investigate what happens." The President didn't make a negative comment about the response to the call, he made a negative comment about the decision to handcuff and arrest Professor Gates even after it was clear that he was who he said he was, and he was in his own home.
Was Professor Gates shouting angrily at the police? Yeah, he probably was. He was tired from a long flight, he had trouble getting back into his own house, and so was probably more than a little cranky already when a police officer came to the door and asked him to prove that this was his house.
Should he have been arrested? People are going to argue about that - I think not. Even in account from the official police report, the officer was out of the house, off the porch, and down the steps in front of the house, while Professor Gates was on his porch shouting. As reproduced at The Smoking Gun" website, this is what the officer wrote (click below to enlarge) -
The officer does not report that he felt threatened by Professor Gates, and as noted the officer was already out of the house, and with other officers. At the point where the officer is outside, in front of the house, and Professor Gates is on his own porch shouting - was that the time to take out the handcuffs, walk back up on to the porch, and cuff the Professor's hands behind his back. In my opinion, it was not.
[Edited 7/29/09 to add] Well, this is interesting. The Fox News legal expert, Judge Andrew Napolitano, concludes that Professor Gates shouldn't have been arrested for being disorderly if he was on his own porch - and adds that he thinks the officer shouldn't have even asked to come inside the house, based on the information he had at the time. (via ThinkProgress)