The main question in the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates is not, as some suggest, whether he was insufficiently deferential to the police officer who slapped the cuffs on him.
The question is, why should he have had to be?
Even by the account of the Cambridge Police Department, Gates was arrested for nothing more than being loud.
The police report said that Gates was "exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior" and that the officer, Sgt. James Crowley, identified himself. "We stand by whatever the officer said in his report," said Sgt. James DeFrancesco, a spokesman for the Cambridge Police Department. He would not comment on Gates's version of his arrest.Somebody call the Gang Task Force! Professor Henry Louis Gates is speaking loudly and causing people to "stop and take notice"! A cop's gotta do what a cop's gotta do! WHERE'S THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE!!!11!!!1!
The department said that Crowley tried to calm Gates, but that the professor would not cooperate and said, "You don't know who you're messing with."
"These actions on behalf of Gates served no legitimate purpose and caused citizens passing by this location to stop and take notice while appearing surprised and alarmed," the report said.
I guess Gates should count himself lucky that the cops didn't put a beatdown on him. Or, zap him with a Taser. Or, pop a cap in him.
But to WSJ columnist James Taranto, the real problem was that Gates didn't have the sense to keep his mouth shut.
Becoming belligerent with a police officer is almost never a good idea. Not only can it get you arrested, but it can cause a merely uncomfortable situation to escalate into a deadly one. If Gates thought the officer behaved improperly, he should have held his peace, defused the situation, and later taken the matter up with local officials. In addition, if Gates did tell the officer he had “no idea who he was messing with,” he showed a distinct lack of grace.Excuse me, but since when is it a crime to mouth off to a cop? Yeah, Gates could have held his peace, but he didn't. He felt that he had been treated as a burglary suspect in his own home. He felt that he had been the subject of racist assumptions by a police officer. Those are powerful emotions, and all he did was express them verbally. If Gates had hit the cop, his arrest would have been justified. If he had hurled a clay flower pot at the cop's car, his arrest would have been justified. But becoming beligerent? Being "loud and tumultuous"? What about that justifies being cuffed, hauled away in a cruiser, and detained for four hours?
Here's a thought: if the cop didn't like Gates yelling at him, why didn't he just leave? It's not like the professor was waiving a gun around, or setting fire to the neighborhood. He wasn't drunk. He wasn't slapping his old lady around. He was standing on his own porch demanding to know why he had been subjected to what he felt was racist treatment by the police. If you don't wish to engage the question, and your business is concluded, why not just get back into your car and drive away?
Even prior to that, why didn't the cop simply identify himself when Gates asked him to? Why did he turn and walk away without answering the question? Why not give the man his name, explain that he was only there to make sure everything was okay, hand him his card, and then leave? Did he not feel that this taxpaying citizen of Cambridge was due even the most basic courtesy?
It was not Gates who caused the situation to "escalate" by failing to hold his peace. It was the police who failed to engage in the most basic level of conflict resolution and who chose instead to arrest a man for talking.