City Desk

Our Morning Roundup: Do You Feel Safer?

Good morning, City Desk readers (both insured and uninsured), and welcome to our muggiest Freedom Friday yet! Bad ideas thrive on attention, and the Henry Louis Gates Jr. story is getting a ton of it. According to the arrest report, which Gates has said contains "fabrications," the arresting officer asked Gates to come outside and for his ID and Gates initially refused to cooperate. He was then able to prove himself the resident of the home and was instead arrested for being belligerent.

In essence, Gates was arrested for saying that he felt violated and oppressed on his own property. And President Barack Obama was right: The Cambridge police did "act stupidly." The arresting officer, Sergeant Jim Crowley, claims “there was a lot of yelling, there was references to my mother,” and yet neither charge would hold up even as a ticketable offense.

But for the record, finding yourself in handcuffs after arguing with a police officer isn't something that just happens to blacks and Latinos. Cops everywhere are always on the lookout for opportunities to assert their authority, and, as in Gates' case, they'll gladly misinterpret public safety laws in order to show a civilian who's the boss.

Need another example of the universality of angry cops asserting their authority for no good reason? Last night, libertarian activistis J.D. Talley and Pete Eyre were turned away at the Canadian border after being detained for over four hours. The two are touring the U.S. and Canada as part of the Motorhome Diaries; basically, happy hours, talks, and meet-ups with other libertarians. Pretty harmless, right?

"[The mobile home was] searched by both state agents and the K-9 patrol. The MHD Guys were filming as the neared the check point, but the video was deleted and they were informed if they continued to film, record, or take pictures they would be arrested. A box of literature from the Alliance of the Libertarian Left was taken, and a copy of Crispin Sartwell’s “Against the State” was left out on the counter....

Their laptops are now in the possession of the state agents...

One agent has accused them of ’spreading misinformation.’

The guys have been told that the state agents are looking for “Pornography or Heinous Propaganda.” When asked for a definition of “Heinous Propaganda” or the applicable statute they were told it was available online, but they don’t have computers or Internet access.

Update 3: Computers returned, State Agents still in possession of box of ALL Literature.

The Canadian border patrol cited an incident in Jones County, Mississippi as the reason for denying Eyre and Talley entrance. We wrote about the same incident many Freedom Fridays back. To refresh your memory: Talley, Eyre, and an additional friend–all of them white–were pulled over by a Mississippi law enforcement officer. When the Motorhome Diaries crew asked why they had been pulled over and then refused to identify themselves until the officer answered them, the officer placed all three men under arrest, charged them with violating bogus public safety laws, and impounded their vehicle. They were held overnight and lost a lot of money in incarceration fees to the Jones County Sheriff's Office.

In short, the color problem–which is real–is subsumed by the much, much larger cop problem, which affects everyone, even if it affects minorities disproportionately more so. We shouldn't turn a blind eye to the petty cases and we shouldn't lose sight of this once Gates has won his lawsuit.

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  • http://intangiblearts.blogspot.com/ IntangibleArts

    Thank you. Amen. Etc.
    Absolutely the problem isn't exclusively one of race (though it's certainly in there), it's this rancid arrogance on the part of coppers everywhere. I'm sure there are a few decent police, but they're far outnumbered by the thuggish pigs that doubtless pursued a career in "law enforcement" as a means to legitimize some hostility issues. Seems like most of 'em were pissed on in the 3rd grade playground and now they're out to punish the world. Bastards.

  • Angry Al Gonzales

    Perfectly put, Riggs. Cops look for opportunities to assert their will. It's all about power. I've seen white lawyers, dentists, doctors, & rich people slammed to the ground & cuffed, once for asking "why" when told to move along.

    Cops are trained to arrest anyone who objects to or says anything about their actions. Add to that the fact that weak, insecure people have a psychological need to obtain power & so often become cops, it's a dangerous mix.

    Cops are just power mad & power hungry. Cops are pigs.

  • MN

    Mike, while I've certainly observed things that I find excessive (seeing two or three cop cars used for a routine traffic stop is a favorite, becuase y'know two officers just isn't enough to write a traffic ticket), you ain't oppressed.

    People in Burma are opressed, people in Tiawan are opressed. You are doing fine. Put down the books by that Texas ob/gyn and read a Nick Kristof column or two.

  • http://washingtoncitypaper.com Mike Riggs

    @MN Are you saying that because Police abuse in the U.S. isn't as bad as police abuse in Burma, we shouldn't talk about it?

    What else would you apply that standard to? Would you apply it to the word "poor"? The poorest Americans are much, much better off than 99% of Haitians. Would you apply it to health care? Congolese parents can't walk into an emergency room when their kid comes down with food poisoning, so the American uninsured don't actually have a problem?

    Everything happens on a scale, MN.

    And for the record, I never claimed to be oppressed. But the millions of Americans who will spend decades of their lives in jail for nonviolent crimes--many of those sentences longer based on the color of the offender's skin--those people are oppressed.

    Put down the Kristof column and look out your fucking window.

  • http://twitter.com/hfromspace H in Africa

    TOUCHE SALESMAN! srsly MN, that kind of comment I would expect at a JCrew wearing middle class yuppie site like Harpers. But dubCP? Come on man.

  • Q™

    Thanks Mike. Unfortunately, Race is important in this instance but it masks the bigger issue of overzealous cops and potential Police Brutality. Cops are human, have emotions, and have the ability to make good and bad judgments. Still, we hold them to a higher ethical standard because of the oath they take to "protect and serve." Likewise we hold judges, doctors, ministers, and lawyers to a higher standard because we think that their mythical role/title garners them some transcendental ability to ALWAYS make the best ethical and moral decisions, as opposed to us commoners. Wrong is still wrong and we people need to be aware that wrongdoing DOES occur and not be so sensitive about it. Yesterday every conservative pundit and news organization was blasting Obama for his comments. Is not Obama entitled to his own opinion, right, wrong, or neither? According to them, NO...because Obama is the President and speaks with the highest of Executive Authority. According to them, he is seen as a traitor to law enforcement all across the country, not to exclude the very ones that protect him...Secret Service, Metropolitan Police, etc.

    Switching gears a bit, the overzealousness of Police is almost a double standard though. If someone was breaking into my house, I would probably want the Cop to execute all force necessary to capture the suspect. However, if said suspect was unjustly brutalized or even killed, I don't know if that would sit as well with me. There must be balance.

    Dr. Gates is unequivocally African-American. Dr. Gates was entering his house in an unorthodox manner “wedging his shoulders in the front door” which tipped off a neighbor that something was awry. The neighbor’s involvement begins and ends when she calls the Police. Now I would imagine that even before the Police were called, the neighbor would take some time to identify the “suspect” i.e., older African-American man or even call out saying, “Hey Skip is that you?” Unfortunately Cambridge, MA much like other cities are becoming less neighborly.

    Once Sgt. Crowley arrived, both he and Dr. Gates overreacted and escalated this incident. Dr. Gates pulling from his historical context of Police Brutality against African Americans, may have been justifiably angry, but was his conduct enough to warrant Disorderly Conduct? As Disorderly Conduct is enforced, oftentimes it is at the officer’s discretion to make an arrest. What Dr. Gates did via inciting remarks demonstrates a sincere bit of anger, hyperbole, and to some point privilege, but was it worthy of arrest? That I don’t know. It depends on the temperament of the officer. Some can take it, some can’t. My own personal experience with being pulled over or accosted has LESS to do with the offense, but moreso their temperament. Since you can’t determine what side of the bed they woke up on, it is best to keep outrage to a minimum and when they react unjustly, file a complaint.

  • MN

    Clothes based insults, lovely! I am a pants-wearing liberal, judge as you will. And Mike, I know you will tirelessly fight the scourage that is "Driving While Libertarian." It has plagued this nation for far too long.

  • http://www.motorhomediaries.com Pete Eyre

    Mike, thanks for the MHD mention. As you noted, we were headed into Canada for peaceful reasons (meetups in Montreal, Toronto and Windsor and to attend the Liberty Summer Seminar in Orono) but were denied entry. We posted a pretty thorough overview of what happened earlier today on our homepage if you or your readers are curious:

    http://motorhomediaries.com/ohhhhh-canada/

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  • hey

    Crowley lied on the 911 caller.

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