Gates’s Crime? Dissing the State Enforcers

henry_gates_porch_072109Here’s one you don’t hear about much these days — when we’re told Henry Louis Gates’ arrest for failing to show the proper obsequiousness to a Cambridge police officer warranted his arrest.

One has an undoubted right to resist an unlawful arrest, and courts will uphold the right of resistance in proper cases.”

-United States Supreme Court, United States v. Di Re, 1948.

Funny you don’t hear that much in this day and age when we’re expected to act like serfs if we’re stopped, questioned, or detained.

And you, if in asserting your constitutional right to be free from unlawful search and seizure fail to do as the officer asks, run the risk of having such holes placed in your own.

That quote’s from an LA police officer writing at National Review’s website in response to Gates Gate.

Tell me, are you comfortable with the idea of police thinking they’re justified in shooting you if you assert your constitutional rights?

(h/t ProLibertate)


  1. Dallasite says:

    His crime was that he was breaking into a house and then refused to show his ID when confronted by police. All he had to do was show that it was his house. He didn’t. In fact, instead of doing that very basic and reasonable thing, he became belligerent and insulting.

    So tell me, Trey, what was the appropriate action under those circumstances? Should the officer of said “oh, here’s a guy breaking into a house, but since he’s angry and accusing me of racism, I should just let him go…”

    I normally side with you on police abuse of power issues, but this time I think you are completely wrong. The officer was right, gates was wrong.

  2. I appreciate your candor, Dallasite, but I disagree with your, um, disagreementing.

    Gates wasn’t arrested for failure to show ID. He did show ID, albeit grudgingly. I don’t blame him. If I’m in my house and someone demands “Your papers!” then I’m going to be insulting.

    I just don’t believe anyone — cop or non-cop — has a right not to be insulted.

    Gates was arrested for the easily and often abused “disorderly conduct” which gives way too much leeway to state enforcers to bust you for just about anything.

    Talking loudly on his own porch? Are you kidding? That should be an arrestable offense?

    That’s my problem here.

    Just because a neighbor calls in a suspicious person report, you shouldn’t have people demanding entry to your own home and demanding you show your ID.

    And no one should be arrested for the act of being insulting to any government official while he’s standing on his own property.

  3. Matt says:

    Trey, the ID he showed was a Harvard ID — his name and picture, and no address. In other words, not an ID that would show any right to break into a house.

    The cop had at least reasonable suspicion to stop and identify him. With out identification showing that it was his house, then I think there’s even probable cause to arrest him for burglary. His belligerence and unwillingness to act reasonably got him arrested, and should have.

    For your strawman, a simple “suspicious person” report may not be enough to require you to identify yourself in your own house. A report that someone saw you breaking into the house, and the police find you in the house, is certainly enough to require you to show that you have a right to be there. The alternative is the ludicrous example that Dallasite implies — that anyone could simply claim “Oh, sorry you saw me break in — this is my house, so go away please” without any need to support it.

    I’ve been in Gates’ position a couple of times, once with about 6 cops with guns drawn on me. Many of my friends have been in that position. None of us ended up with any trouble, because we’re reasonable and cooperative in showing how the situation isn’t what it looks like. And not to say that you’ll bend a knee to the Man, but I’m willing to bet that you show ID under those circumstances rather than stand on your “right” to refuse to cooperate.

  4. keith johnson says:

    f Sergeant Crowley’s intent  was to arrest Gates for failure to show the proper “obsequiousness” to him he would have arrested him the moment the officer walked into the house and Gates refused to cooperate.
    This isn’t a case of a government agent bursting into a private dwelling and demanding “papers.”
    That call came out as a possible burglary in progress, and upon the officers arrival he saw someone in the house.  It was quite reasonable for the officer to approach the residence and contact Gates-in fact it would have been dereliction of duty if he hadn’t. There is no evidence that Crowley knew Gates was the resident of the home upon his initial approach.
    The ball was in Gates corner upon contact, and instead of simply cooperating with the officer he chose to show his racism and protest his treatment as a “black man in America” (how oppressive this country is that a black man can’t rise to the level of Harvard professor…oh wait).
    Police officers are and should be held to a higher standard that the average citizen in this country, as should a college professor of a major university tasked with the education and development of tomorrows leaders. After this episode I’m convinced Gates isn’t mentally qualified to teach craft at a Home Depot seminar.
    The fact that Gates was being disorderly on his front porch does not make the arrest illegal. One can be guilty of Disorderly Conduct on private property if within public view and earshot.
    The only fault I find with Crowley is that he drank a beer with this left wing white hating radical loon.

  5. keith johnson says:

    Trey I don’t get from the article you referenced that the author is saying you deserve to get shot for asserting your constitutional rights.

    From the article-”And you, if in asserting your constitutional right to be free from unlawful search and seizure fail to do as the officer asks, run the risk of having such holes placed in your own.”

    What I get from that statement is, that cops are human, and in the course of trying to sort out the facts in the aftermath of a horrific crime you’re better served not acting like the suspect lest the officer make a mistake due to the totality of information he has at the time.

    I’m all for police accountability, as several 2nd string and gypsy cops can attest to; I do not however, subscribe to the notion that the police are always wrong.

  6. Nathan says:

    Was Crowely justified in investigating a possible buglary? Yes.

    Did Gates “act stupidly” in now cooperating with an investigation that sought to prevent the burglary of his own house? Yes.

    Did Crowely know that Gates was the homeowner at the time he placed handcuffs on him for the offense of disorderly conduct? Who knows?

    If the burglary investigation had run its course and disorderly conduct was the only reason for the arrest, then Crowely abused his authority. Disorderly conduct should only be used in three instances: a) when an officer lacks probable cause to arrest a suspect for a real crime but there is a sense of urgency to pull the suspect off the street and hold him while additional evidence is gathered, b) when there is a genuine fear that the suspect may become violent if left at the scene, i.e. a domestic violence case, or c) if the prosecutor can’t make a case stick and needs a measure of last resort to get a conviction via plea bargain on an otherwise violent offender, i.e. when a complaining witness decides not to cooperate.

    It appears that Gates was arrested for POP (pissing off the police) on his own property. While this is technically within the officer’s discretion (disorderly is about as vague a statute as you will find) it is an abuse of the public’s trust.

    Trey is right to suggest that this dialogue should have been about disorderly conduct, rather than racism.

  7. Matt says:

    Here’s what looks like, at first glance, a better example of an arrest for “contempt of cop”.

  8. Rawlins Gilliland says:

    This has been discussed to death but that said….. I promise you….and this is coming from someone (that would be me) who took the city of Dallas police to a jury trial and WON in a 15 minute deliberation…. over a harrassment profiling false arrest. If anyone who seems to have contempt for the police…. finds themselves experiencing a home invasion or personal attack ot whatever the hell can happen on planet Earth…….. I can guarantee they’d call 911 to get the police there. It’s like I use to say on the communes back in the day; when they called all cops ‘pigs’. You find yourself threatened, being harmed, in genuine danger…….. you gonna call the police or that stoned hippie over there that’s mouthing off…the one that’s strung out on meth and qualudes?