Monday, August 3, 2009

Cambridge Police Justified

by Stacy Dittrich

It seems it will never end…the topic of race relations in America. In the recent case of the Cambridge, MA arrest of Harvard Scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. the subject reignited the fact that tensions are as heated as ever. Why? Your guess is good as mine. Let me put myself in the shoes of Cambridge, MA Police Sgt. James Crowley (shoes I’ve worn many times over to the point the soles are worn!) I’m am both angry, and exhilarated, about this particular case.

Let’s pretend I’m dispatched to a report of a burglary in progress. The dispatcher tells me the 911 caller says there are 2 black males using forcible entry into a home. Whether or not the caller actually said that to the dispatcher, I have yet to hear the radio transmission of the call being dispatched. Okay. I do my job; I respond to the call and, lo and behold, I find two black males inside a home where forced entry is observed. The 911 caller, Lucia Whalen, 40, makes contact with me outside of the home and says, “Hey! I’m the one who made the 911 call!” According to Whalen, the conversation ended there. However, in all my years of law enforcement I’ve never spoken to an official “complainant” of a call and never asked her any questions. Crowley documented in his report that upon arrival Whalen told him that she was pretty sure it was two black males forcing entry into the house (ummm, well there actually were so why is this a problem?) Whalen (pictured right) maintains that all she said to Crowley is that she made the call. I don’t believe it for a minute. In policing, you try to get as much information from the original complainant as possible. A veteran like James Crowley is clearly not going to say, “Ok! Thanks for calling, lady!” without asking any questions. Whalen’s attorney, Wendy Murphy, refused to answer questions about the "on scene" conversation during a recent press release.

Silence speaks volumes.

Web sites like TMZ are trying to insinuate that Sgt. James Crowley lied on his police report.


It would be one thing if they were told “2 black males” and ended up arresting 2 Hispanic or Asian males, but the bottom line is this: 2 black males were seen forcibly entering a residence and 2 black males were found inside that particular residence. No matter how you put a spin on it, the fact remains is that whoever called clearly articulated what they saw. What the nation is failing to realize is that has absolutely nothing to do with the arrest. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and his clear disrespect for law enforcement or the laws of the state of Massachusetts is what caused the arrest. If one takes a good look at the details, it is crystal clear that Mr. Gates violated the rules of disorderly conduct. I saw a moronic defense attorney on a prominent network state that to be guilty of disorderly conduct, one has to pose a clear physical threat to another person. I don’t know where this man went to law school but I’m not sure the bar association would agree with his theory. Here’s what the misdemeanor law of Disorderly Conduct reads in Ohio (which is similar to most states):

(A)No person shall recklessly cause inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm to another by doing any of the following:

(1)Engaging in fighting, in threatening harm to persons or property, or in violent and turbulent behavior.

(2) Making unreasonable noise or an offensively coarse utterance, gesture, or display or communicating unwarranted and grossly abusive language to any person;

(3)Insulting, taunting, or challenging another, under circumstances in which that conduct is likely to provoke a violent response;

(4) Hindering or preventing the movement of persons on a public street, road, highway, or right-of-way, or to, from, within, or, upon public or private property, so as to interfere with the rights of others, and by any act that serves no lawful and reasonable purpose of the offender;

(5) Creating a condition that is physically offensive to persons or that presents a risk of physical harm to persons or property, by an act that serves no lawful and reasonable purpose to the offender.

To make a long story short, if a young suburban house wife is playing with her toddler at a public playground and a man enters screaming the F-bomb over and over, he is guilty of disorderly conduct. The young housewife is offended, it happened in front of a child, and that’s all it takes, folks. If a man is standing in his own front yard screaming obscenities (as in the case of Dr. Gates) and any neighbor in close proximity can hear it, and is annoyed by it—he’s as guilty as all get out. So says case law.

So, back to my “if I were in his shoes scenario,” here’s what happens:

I arrive at the home, speak to the complainant, make contact with the suspect and advise him of the complaint (Okay, so here I have to give uber credit to the Cambridge Police—Me? I’d have put the guy down at gun point. Period. How the heck do I know the guy’s not a burglar? (I’ve seen burglars that range from scummy white rednecks, Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians—to attractive young college girls! If I’m a racist for calling out “it is what it is” then you are the one with serious issues!)

After advising them of the complaint, one of the men say, “I live here, this is my house!” I ask that man for identification (standard procedure no matter what call an officer is on) so I can verify it is his house, and get the hell out of there to meet my buddies for our scheduled coffee break.

His response?

“Why do you want my ID? Because I’m a black man in America?” he screams in my face.

“Um, no, so I can verify that you actually live here, sir” (I’m improvising of course.)

After the man launches into a tirade of verbally abusive obscenities towards me, he eventually provides identification. I verify he is, in fact, the homeowner and I begin to leave. However, as myself and other officers are exiting the home, the man follows us and continues his obscenity-laced tirade. When I notice the large crowd outside, I turn to the man and say, “Okay, enough is enough! It’s time for you to go back inside and calm down.”

Well, that’s not good enough for Dr. Gates. The instruction to calm down merely incites him more. He starts yelling a louder tirade that could be heard several blocks away. So, I warn him again, “Go inside! Your last warning!”

You guessed it. He proceeds to follow the cops onto the front lawn acting like an imbecile. They arrested him. They do their job.

Quite frankly, I think they gave Dr. Gates a break in only charging him with disorderly conduct. Here, in Ohio, Obstructing Official Business would have been more applicable—a second degree misdemeanor:

(A) No person, without privilege to do so and with purpose to prevent, obstruct, or delay the performance by a public official of any authorized act within the public official’s official capacity, shall do any act that hampers or impedes a public official in the performance of the public official’s duties.

Translation: You screw around and waste a cops’ time who is just trying to do their job by failing to provide ID, acting like a complete ass, and causing a disturbance, you are GUILTY!

I’ve encountered many, many, situations similar to the Gates’ call. Upon my arrival, the homeowners start laughing, pat me on the back, and are more than happy to provide proof that they live there. They find it quite amusing and are eager to tell their friends and family the story.

In Gates’ situation, the problem isn’t about race, it’s about social classes.

These calls I’m referring to where the citizen’s are good-hearted and cooperate with the cops are low to middle-class; all races included. The problems I’ve encountered, similar to the Gates’ case, was all “well-to-do” upper class neighborhoods. Doctors, Lawyers, Business Owners, and Stock Brokers of all various races are the only ones that have given me a hard time when I’ve been dispatched to their homes when a neighbor got “paranoid,” (according to them). I have been called names by these people that would put sheep into shock and have arrested several. But, like Sgt. Crowley, was later called into the administration office where I was told, “Ya know, the prosecutor’s office called, Dr. Smith is really sorry for the way he treated you and swears he won’t ever act like that again. He knows you were only doing his job. Do you mind if we void the charges?”

What am I supposed to say? It’s politics. My boss wants the charges to go away and if I want any kind of career I’ll agree. The only problem in the Cambridge case I see is that the charges were dropped. Dr. Henry Louis Gates acted like a first-class ass, disrespected his local law enforcement officers and neighborhood, and should pay the consequences. Race is nothing but a smoke-screen.

When President Obama stated the Cambridge Police acted stupidly is an entirely different blog. I simply don’t have enough room here for that!

My “exhilaration” in this case is a result of the overwhelming support Sgt. James Crowley (pictured left) received from his own department, the Massachusetts police union, and from cops across the country. It is so refreshing to finally see a law enforcement agency that is standing behind one of its own, instead of throwing them under the bus—like we see day after day. In a typical scenario, especially one where an officer was called ‘stupid’ by the President of the United States, this officer’s career would be over before it began. Regardless, the men and women in blue all over the country and—most importantly, the officers of his own agency, rallied around him because they knew what he did was right. Sgt. James Crowley is an instructor in cultural sensitivity training. He was the one that taught other officers to be color blind. Calling him a racist is comical and it is finally time he was defended!—Kudos to those who support him. Hey! Colin Powell agrees...

I don’t agree with the “beer summit.” I firmly believe that Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. should be thoroughly embarrassed by his actions; he should apologize, and then go bury his head in the sand.


FleaStiff said...

The burglar often says he lives there but is often unable to face away from the house and state the house number and street name.

And 911 despatchers can get things really wrong such as broadcasting "sexual abuse of a child" and then changing to to "Adult in need of medical assistance" as the 911 operator finally realized the little kid was saying his father was drooling rather than drilling.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Stacy!!

Jan C, said...

Stacy, Well said. Race had no part in what happened, except for Gates' interjection of race as an issue. And as for the President's involvement in this; he should be ashamed of himself, too.

Anonymous said...

Oh please, did you see the speech that the president made that night? He was totally duped by the reporter. Why was the question even asked of him in the first place?

Anonymous said...

"If a man is standing in his own front yard screaming obscenities (as in the case of Dr. Gates)"

"After the man launches into a tirade of verbally abusive obscenities towards me"

"the man follows us and continues his obscenity-laced tirade"

Except that Gates was never accused of using any obscenity. And officer Crowley asked Gates to come outside. Yer smart, reel smart.

Pat Brown said...

Excellent post, Stacy! Acting like an jerk with a police officer is disrespectful of their service to the community and puts them in a stressful situation which is unnecessary and dangerous. Just like the idiots who get angry when a cop shoots a man who is reaching for his cell phone ...what part of reaching for a concealed object that could be a gun don't you get? And why are you doing anything not asked to do by the cop? Dealing with police sudden moves, ask first, do what you are told. Why? So no one gets hurt.

One other point...before someone throws down the race card they should consider that maybe the person they are dealing with is just an ass...and would be an ass to anyone regardless of their race. I have been mistreated by a variety of folks in my life and they came in all colors. No race is asshole free.

FleaStiff said...

Emily Post's rules of etiquette are not the law. It may be unwise to act like a jerk in the presence of someone who is armed, but it is not illegal.

Leah said...

There are many blacks who use the race card just because they can. Maybe it is just coincidence that they do it when they look like an ass and are hoping to save face. Part of the on going racial problem is just this.....some blacks [and other minorities] won't let it go. Until they do we will always have a racial issue. If they want the issue to go away then they need to kquit throwing it out there when it really isn't an issue at all.

Maryann Miller said...

Thanks for posting this. I hope a lot of people read it to get more insight from the side of the police officer. So many folks have been quick to take Gate's side and fail to even consider another side. And all these Monday morning quarterbacks talking about what Crowley should have done when they don't know the laws need to be enlightened.

A Voice of Sanity said...

Your post could hardly be more wrong. No police officer has the right to approach any house and interrogate the occupants. A police officer is not a complainant if he is not a witness. A phoned in report does not provide sufficient reason. If there was no sign of a break in there was nothing he could do. He can request ID but the occupants are under no obligation to offer it. Prof Gates may have seen this as racially motivated, and Cambridge cops are notorious for this, however this was a case of a cop deciding to punish a homeowner by arresting him - "contempt of cop". This is only a crime in the cop's mind. His city, his department and he himself are now open to civil action.

Stacy Dittrich said...

"Voice of Sanity"

I can only assume you do not live within the United States. I try my best to not respond with derogatory remarks but in this case, your statement is downright ignorant.

You wrote--"No police officer has the right to approach any house and interrogate the occupants. A police officer is not a complainant if he is not a witness. A phoned in report does not provide sufficient reason."

Ummmm, I can assure you, buddy, that any police officer that does NOT investigate a phoned in complaint, complete with interview, and ID, will be under investigation quickly!! Check the case law pertaining to such US cases involving police officers--it's their JOB!!!

So, a woman calls 911 and says "MY husband is holding a gun to my head!" and, according to you, we have NO RIGHT to go to the house, make contact, demand ID's, question the occupants, and investigate?????

Again, US Case Law and Criminal Law absolutely insists police officers investigate this or lose their jobs!!!

If we lived in your world, God forbid the amount of violent deaths would occur!

A police officer must witness? Are you insane???? Oh, that's right, every homicide, rape, assault, and robbery in the United States is actually WITNESSED by a police officer--WRONG!

No offense,sir, but I've watched your comments over the last several months and stayed quiet, but you clearly have no concept of case law, criminal law, or civil law. Until you brush yourself up on this, I suggest you refrain from the comment section...

Have a lovely day

A Voice of Sanity said...

I suggest you ask an actual lawyer for advice before inventing nonsense that doesn't exist in law.

"Amendment 4 - Search and Seizure.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

On what possible basis could this policeman have obtained a search warrant? How would he know that it wasn't a prank call, or that the address had not been mis-communicated, like the description of the two men? You simply don't know what you are talking about.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if you guys have been following up on the news since, but the lady who made the call to 911 has come forward to say that she actually never said the race of the two men except when explicitly asked by the dispatcher, and that when asked she said that one "vaguely looked Hispanic" and that she could not see the other man at all. Also, she emphasized over and over again that she was not sure at all if it was a burglary case, and that it was very likely that he was trying to enter his own house and trying to pry open the jammed door. The recording, which the NYTimes had access to when they wrote the story, backs up her account.

We may never fully know what happened on that day because it has turned into a he said, she said case. However, I can understand the viewpoints of both men. The police expect deference and obedience on the part of the citizens, with good reason, and it is no secret that racial profiling is still well and alive. President Obama erred and spoke rather stupidly in this case, but I don't think this incident can be pigeon-holed in such a way as to say that it's purely the fault of one of the men.

Anonymous said...

Also, I can't help but notice that all of your contributors seem to be Caucasian. As the voices on this issue tend to be divided along the race line, I would be interested in hearing from more than one view point, just to balance things out. The experience that African-American men have in being constantly profiled by the police is very real; even on prestigious college campuses, I have witnessed men of color being stopped quite frequently and asked for their student ID, just for walking through the campus. Nevermind that they are carrying text books and laptops, going to the library. Once again nobody knows what happened, and therefore assigning blame is premature and uninformed. However, I just think that when thinking about this issue insisting upon "color blindness" and calling it "paranoia" or "race card playing" on Dr. Gates' part is unfair. Do we know how he conducted himself? And why did the police account of what happened differ from the 911 call that was originally made? How can we know?

Pat Brown said...


I am white, but my ex is black, I have one black son, and two bi-racial children. They all agree with the cops. None of them has ever had a problem with the police because they know how to behave properly when dealing with a peace officer.

cheryl said...

"A police officer is not a complainant if he's not witness"


When I was domestically abused by my husband years ago, the police were the ones who pressed charges against him. The police did not witness my ex-husband's abuse. They pressed charges because they knew that most battered women, when left to their own choice, will drop the charges against their abuser.

A Voice of Sanity said...

They pressed charges because they knew that most battered women, when left to their own choice, will drop the charges against their abuser.

But let us not pretend that this is normal. In fact it often required changes in state laws, changes which were not quickly nor easily accomplished.