Tumultuous Behavior Crime Wave in Cambridge

Tumultuous Behaviour Crime Wave in Cambridge

“Cambridge is the spirited, slightly mischievous side of Boston, located just across the bridge,” says the New England town’s tourism office, but don’t commit any “tumultuous behavior” there. Even in your own house.

Just ask Henry Louis Gates, Jr., PhD, Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Studies at Harvard University.  Returning from Logan Airport to his Cambridge home after a week in China filming a PBS documentary, Dr. Gates found his front door damaged. He entered by the rear door, turned off his alarm, and opened the damaged front door with help from the car service driver, who then carried in the luggage (Dr. Gates walks with a cane).

Professor Gates called the Harvard Real Estate Office to report the damage and request repairs when a uniformed Cambridge Police officer appeared. Professor Gates produced his University identification and driver’s license, both with his home address, and asked for the officer’s name and badge number. The officer did not respond, whereupon Dr. Gates asked other officers on his porch for that information. He was handcuffed and brought to the police station, where he was detained for four hours.

According to public documents, Dr. Gates “was arrested for Disorderly conduct after exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior.”

The accounts of Dr. Gates’ attorney, Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree, and that of arresting officer James Crowley differ in some details.

Harvard sociologist Lawrence Bobo drove Dr. Gates home from the police station Thursday night and told the Boston Globe: “I felt as if I were in some kind of surreal moment, like ‘The Twilight Zone.’ I was mortified. . . . This is a humiliating thing and a pretty profound violation of the kind of trust we all take for granted.’’  After Dr. Gates presented his identification, “The whole interaction should have ended right there, but I guess that wasn’t enough. The officer felt he hadn’t been deferred to sufficiently.’’

Dr. Gates is African American; the arresting officer is not. The incident, not the first of its kind involving Black faculty in Cambridge, raises issues of racial profiling and “town” vs. “gown.”

An award-winning scholar, Henry Louis Gates has been named one of the 25 most influential Americans by Time magazine. He is not without honor in the Cambridge community: the menu at Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage features a “Professor Skip Gates” burger (teriyaki burger with grilled pineapple and onion rings).

UPDATE: Cambridge Police dropped the charges against Dr. Gates. Now the real tumult begins.

 

Image by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Comments are welcome if they are on-topic, substantive, concise, and not obscene. Comments may be edited for clarity and length.

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20 Responses to “Tumultuous Behavior Crime Wave in Cambridge”

  1. WIDTAP Says:

    Tumultuous Behavior: it’s the new “uppity”.

  2. Anna Says:

    What you’ve failed to acknowledge here is that the cop was obligated to respond to that call. Some key points from the Globe’s story:

    A visibly upset Gates responded to the officer’s assertion that he was responding to a report of a break-in with, “Why, because I’m a black man in America?’’
    [take this up with your neighbor, not the cops who responded to the call. you should be grateful they are rushing to protect YOUR home.]

    “Gates then turned to me and told me that I had no idea who I was ‘messing’ with and that I had not heard the last of it,’’ the report said. “While I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence, I was quite surprised and confused with the behavior he exhibited toward me.’’
    [how civilized, just what I'd expect of a Harvard professor.]

    When the officer repeatedly told Gates he would speak with him outside, the normally mild-mannered professor shouted, “Ya, I’ll speak with your mama outside,’’ according to the report.
    [classy]

    Sorry, but if a white person acted like this to a cop, he’d get arrested too! Don’t talk back to cops DUH!

  3. Kathleen Ebanda Says:

    It is offiensive to me as a white person that the press is spending so much effort reporting a full page story on racism and profiling of Blacks, especially Prof. Gates, who has made huge contributions to our society. It is completely embarrassing and insulting that this man, who has done so many great works compiled from his travels to Africa, works conducts at Harvard, etc. has been a target of these unscrupulous acts and arrest. I furiously defend him.

  4. Rasborne Says:

    Seems like refusing to identify yourself was a fool thing

    some scholar

    Way to sock it to te man!

  5. Mike Licht Says:

    Rasborne wrote: Seems like refusing to identify yourself was a fool thing. Some scholar

    You have it backwards. ID was provided by Dr. Gates. It was the officer who refused to identify himself.

  6. Black on Campus Says:

    I am confused about the law. Is the lawful resident of a home required to identify himself to police who do not have a warrant?

    I mean, wasn’t one of the big issues with South African apartheid that non-whites were forced to carry around I.D. cards and to produce them on command? I didn’t think such was the case here in the U.S.

    Mike Licht is correct. Professor Gates did show I.D., though at first he refused. They did not arrest him for initially refusing to show I.D. They arrested him for hurling accusations at them (which seem very likely to be true) about racial profiling and the like.

  7. John P Says:

    I’m white. The officer was way outta line. He had no right to enter Dr. Gates’ residence. I hope officer Crowley loses his badge and his job. I’m tired of reading about policemen stomping on our civil rights, whether we be black, white, or any other color.

    Does anyone think this could have happened to a white man in Cambridge who was lawfully entering his own place of residence? Get real. Racism is an ugly stain on our society and our legal system.

  8. Mike Licht Says:

    Anna wrote: What you’ve failed to acknowledge here is that the cop was obligated to respond to that call.

    No one denies that.

    “Gates then turned to me and told me that I had no idea who I was ‘messing’ with and that I had not heard the last of it,’’ the report said. “

    I’d say Dr. Gates was 100 percent correct in that assertion.

    “While I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence, I was quite surprised and confused with the behavior he exhibited toward me.’’

    Confused that a crime victim is upset about being treated like a suspect? You’d be upset, too.

    how civilized, just what I’d expect of a Harvard professor.

    Do Cambridge Police work for Miss Manners these days? If not, enforcing etiquette is not part of their job description.

    Sorry, but if a white person acted like this to a cop, he’d get arrested too! Don’t talk back to cops DUH!

    A NYPD veteran told me the most dangerous thing you can say to a police officer is “You can’t do that to me!” The result is often a quick course in police discretionary powers.

    That said, crime victims are often upset. Professional police officers recognize this and do not exacerbate the situation. And they don’t arrest citizens without cause.

  9. thetruthurts Says:

    It doesn’t take a bright person to know that they can’t argue with the police.
    The police just enforce the laws not make them.

  10. Mike Licht Says:

    thetruthurts wrote: The police just enforce the laws not make them.

    That is an overly-naive view of street-level law enforcement and police discretionary powers.

  11. Yo mamma Says:

    what an idiotic response! it’s clear that you’d much rather rationalize away the mere notion that profiling exists for the idea that “if only Gate’s would have properly kissed the police officer’s ass (in his own home) they might not have dragged him away in cuffs”. Sad!

  12. Mike Licht Says:

    Yo mama wrote: it’s clear that you’d much rather rationalize away the mere notion that profiling exists ….

    I’m not clear who you are responding to, but no one seems to be disputing the existence of racial profiling. Several commenters have said “don’t talk back to cops,” which does not seem bad advice for people of any origin.

  13. Top Posts « WordPress.com Says:

    [...] Tumultuous Behavior Crime Wave in Cambridge “Cambridge is the spirited, slightly mischievous side of Boston, located just across the bridge,” says the [...] [...]

  14. bernie Says:

    Mike, you seem to have prejudged the situation. The good Professor refused to initially give ID – then according to many witnesses he was in the officer’s face. You are wrong on this issue. Cops do not go to the trouble of arresting people just because they are black. I have seen whites arrested for getting uppity so it has nothing to do with color.

  15. Mike Licht Says:

    Bernie wrote: The good Professor refused to initially give ID

    Not part of the charge — see the link above.

    according to many witnesses he was in the officer’s face.

    Treating a possible crime victim as a suspect is not good police work. I would resent it, too.

    Cops do not go to the trouble of arresting people just because they are black.

    Several court cases for racial profiling — including one in Maryland – say they have, and systematically.

    I have seen whites arrested for getting uppity

    I guess commenter WIDTAP above is right: “tumultuous behavior” is the new “upppity.” “Uppity” is not against the law.

    If an officer loses control of a situation, punishing citizens with phony “Distrurbing the Peace” charges simply puts him and his department at risk in civil court. And you can expect civil court cases in the Gates case.

  16. Mark Says:

    For those who are attacking Gates, it seems you might be missing the essential point that, however angry he got (and just how angry, and precisely what he said, is in dispute), he did nothing illegal. It’s not illegal to yell at a cop. It just isn’t. True, it may not be smart — because, of course, cops have guns and handcuffs. But it’s not illegal.
    Yes, of course, the officer had the right to respond to the report of the possible break in. But, after discerning that there was, in fact, no break in, there was nothing to arrest him for.
    “Disorderly conduct”? In his own home? Please. The cop didn’t like that Gates got pissed. That’s why he arrested him.
    Also, note — we have no information about the demeanor of the cop. The report makes him seem completely courteous and respectful — but it’s in his own self-interest to write it that way.

  17. Sir Gnome Says:

    “It’s not illegal to yell at a cop. It just isn’t. True, it may not be smart…. But it’s not illegal.”

    …thus begging the assertion that one *should* be disorderly toward police officers, in full view of the fact that the safe decorum for doing so is secured by the very person you’re yelling at?

    The worst part of this whole incident is 1) the inevitable snowball effect of an incident for which there is incredibly limited circumstantial evidence, and yet for which all seem perfectly willing to assert a priori conditions of racial inequality 2) the ineptness of the “gown” class in interpreting and dealing with heated situations without the egomaniacal inclination toward enlarging said situations into grand-scheme historical narratives.

    The facts are, a hapless police officer responded to a call in a manner befitting the rote protocols of his/her duties. However wrongly or not in hindsight, he was leaning on the rote schemas of law enforcement, and Gates knew this. And any person with a scintilla of experience in the material social conditions that the rest of us face knows that disorderly conduct charges are a frequent hazard, highly subjective by definition, and thus a common tool used by police officers to remove recalcitrant actors from excited situations.

    As a professional, Gates absolutely failed in his professional obligation to account for the officers understanding of such a situation, and to communicate a resolution. All of the commentary out there tends to imply that there were no such alternatives, but instead that such an isolated an easily-averted incident are the tentacles of institutional racism, the Milgram-effect of preening “cops” with too much power who will take away your skateboards and spray cans and poison your kittens and cancel recess. It’s the excluded middle sandwich: all bread and impossible to swallow.

    I just can’t believe how aptly we impose this cultural logic of race, inequality, and pop-liberalism on such particular incidents, which began when everyone fecklessly presumed the officer was white, seemingly because it fit the narrative symmetry of the cultural logic at hand. Friggin embarrassing. It’s the B-level stuff of the Scary Movie comedies.

  18. gazetna Says:

    in, there was nothing to arrest him for.
    “Disorderly conduct”? In his own home? Please. The cop didn’t like that Gates got pissed. That’s why he arrested him.

  19. Mike Licht Says:

    Sir Gnome wrote: As a professional, Gates absolutely failed in his professional obligation to account for the officers understanding of such a situation, and to communicate a resolution.

    Dr. Gates was not in the lecture hall, he was in his own home. It is the police officer who was acting in a professional capacity and he did it badly, unprofessionally. Covering up with a phony “Tumultuous Behavior” charge won’t help. There seem to have been a number of witnesses other than the police and I assume we will hear from them in the inevitable civil trial.

    that the rest of us face knows that disorderly conduct charges are a frequent hazard, highly subjective by definition, and thus a common tool used by police officers to remove recalcitrant actors from excited situations.

    What “anybody knows” and what the facts show is that black citizens are victimized by these “contempt of cop” charges much too frequently for this to be chance. The Seattle experience shows that.

    Comments are now closed to allow events to catch up with opinions. Thank you all for participating.

  20. A Teachable Moment and a Beer « NotionsCapital Says:

    [...] heard some version of the precipitating incident by now, the outraged assertions of distinguished scholar Gates, perhaps through his distinguished [...]

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