Even if Henry Louis Gates' Arresting Officer Is Right, He Was Wrong

If the arresting officer's account is true and Gates' is false ... the arrest was still wrong.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Assume for a moment that Cambridge Police Officer James Crowley is telling the absolute truth in his incident report and subsequent press appearances and that Henry Louis Gates is lying about the events that led to the Harvard professor's arrest. Assume for a moment that when Crowley showed up at Gates' home, Gates was belligerent, angry, immediately started in on race and racism and made a "your mama" comment. Assume that he spouted inanities to the effect that Crowley didn't know who he was "messing" with. Assume that when Crowley, satisfied that Gates did in fact live in the home and so was in fact not burglarizing it, started to leave Gates kept yelling at him.

Even if all of that is true ... Crowley was still wrong arresting Gates. "The professor at any time could have resolved the issue by quieting down and/or going back inside the house," Crowley said in a radio interview. Maybe so. But Crowley could also have resolved by rolling his eyes at the cranky--but not criminal--professor, getting back in his car and driving away.

There are undoubtedly times when a police officer needs to restrain someone who is genuinely being disorderly in a way that could pose a threat to himself, the officer or the community. But no one can plausibly argue that this was such an instance. And neither disliking someone's attitude nor their tone of voice is good reason to cuff them and take them downtown.

And that's all assuming that this Cambridge Community Theatre version of Rashomon is one-sided (Crowley is completely right, Gates is completely wrong), which strains credulity.

Police officers do a tough and important job. But part of that job includes knowing when to be the grownup and walk away.

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  • Who is right--Gates or the arresting officer?