The Common Good

Gates Arrest Analysis Cliff Notes

Audio of the 911 call that brought Sgt. James Crowley to the home of Henry Louis Gates Jr. has now been released--and added little clarity to the case. Both Officer Crowley and Professor Gates are scheduled for a beer with President Obama later this week. Let's hope their conversation is a model for reconciliation--and not a reflection of the media hype that has provided much heat and little light.

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I had started writing my own post about the case last week, but my draft was soon overtaken with posts by other contributors who said it better than I could. Thank you Allison, Ed, Melvin, Brian, Alan, and Valerie. Because of the volume of posts on this topic, and my assumption that those readers who are not blog editors may not have actually read all of them, I thought I'd offer the Cliff Notes version of our coverage so far, plus add a few more that some of these authors have written on their own blogs and send some blog love and Web traffic their way.

Lest anyone consider racial profiling to be a black-and-white issue, Allison Johnson pointed out that while President Obama included Latinos in his comments about racial profiling last week, his own administration's immigration policies exacerbate this problem:

I was surprised when Obama expanded his remarks on racial profiling to include Latinos, because profiling is perpetuated under an enforcement program of his own administration, known as 287g. This federal program under the Department of Homeland Security deputizes local police to enforce immigration law. While intended to remove hardened undocumented criminals from the streets and process them for deportation, in practice it takes the form of stopping people with brown skin for routine traffic violations, such as a broken taillight or a forgotten turn signal, and processing them for deportation on the spot.

Ed Gilbreath added the Gates incident to the Sotomayor hearings and the death of Michael Jackson as another potential opportunity for meaningful discussion of race:

Add to that this week's broadcast premiere of CNN's Black in America 2, and you've got a lively (and potentially volatile) mix of racial topics that can either bring us together, as we wrestle with tough issues across racial lines, or further divide us.

A few days later, on his Reconciliation Blog, Ed vents his frustration:

For me, the saddest thing about the Henry Louis Gates incident is that we're no better off now as a nation than before it happened. Like President Obama, I'd hoped it would become a "teachable moment," a chance to learn from each other's experiences and understand both the pressures felt by well-meaning police officers and the pain and indignity felt by African American men in these types of encounters. But even Obama hasn't been able to finesse the national conversation in a way to get us all on the same page-or least in the same ream of paper.

Brian McLaren and Valerie Elverton Dixon have both offered their appraisals of Obama's choice of the word "stupid," with Brian lifting up a post by Pastor Efrem Smith (whose sermon audio clips we've posted from time to time):

It's important that my white evangelical brothers and sisters not let Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh give the proper perspective on seeing this issue. Jesus had the ability in scripture of seeing the world from the vantage point of the child, the woman, the Samaritan, and the poor. Why are some evangelical conservatives only willing to see this from the vantage point of the police officer? I know that Dr. Gates isn't poor, but he does represent the historically marginalized in our nation.

I highly recommend that you read Pastor Efrem's full post, which includes his own compelling and exasperating addition to the litany of incidents of racial injustice that our brothers and sisters of color experience on a consistent basis in this country.

And last but certainly not least, I'm increasingly indebted to the consistent and thorough legal analysis of Alan Bean of Friends of Justice, who wrote our first post on the story (which has generated a lot of comments), as well as a follow-up post that gets to one of the key elements in this controversy--the debate among law enforcement officers about how police training and culture exacerbated the situation:

Not surprisingly, there is little consensus among police officers on the thick-skin vs. zero tolerance question.

An LAPD officer is unimpressed with Crowley's approach: "Whether we're giving them a ticket or responding to some conflict between a husband and wife, we're not dealing with people at their best, and if you don't have a tough skin, then you shouldn't be a cop."

A New York detective disagrees: "We pay these officers to risk their lives every day. We're taught that officers should have a thicker skin and be a little immune to some comments. But not to the point where you are abused in public. You don't get paid to be publicly abused. There are laws that protect against that."

Bean's own blog includes testimony by Reginal Lyles, a 30-year veteran African-American police captain, offering his take as an officer of the law:

Dr. Gates, while attempting to get the name of the investigating officer, was baited to come onto his own porch. Ah ha! Once Dr. Gates was on his porch he was not in his home but, in theory, in a public area where he could be arrested for disorderly conduct.

You see how totally disengenous the police officers were acting? How do you act disorderly in your own home? How do you disturb the peace in the middle of the day? According to the police officer, Dr. Gates was not disturbing the peace of the community, he disturbed the peace of that particular police officer. Who in the neighborhood complained of disorderly conduct or of their peace being disturbed? No one!

Fortunately, the law doesn't have a statute on insulting a police officer. A police officer's peace cannot be disturbed. That is why the case was immediately dropped.

In addition to writing his own blog, Ed Gilbreath is the Editorial Director for UrbanFaith.com that yesterday posted a piece where Jimmy McGee cites how Gates ignored the sad-but-true home training I've heard about from black friends since high school:

The truth is, no black man I know would risk engaging the police, in their home or any place else, to the level Prof. Gates did for fear of the possible outcome. I have taught my sons, and they have seen, how a black man should relate to the police nonverbally and verbally, so as to avoid the results Prof. Gates got or an even worse consequence.

And finally (for today at least), UrbanFaith.com also linked to an AP story that creatively synthesizes Gates' account of what took place and the conflicting police report by Officer Crowley. That article is worth reading, but if you haven't read each man's account in their entirety side-by-side, I encourage you to do so. And once you've read each man's version of "the facts," should you find yourself discussing this case with friends, learn from Gates' and Crowley's cautionary example: Do your best to listen, and take Pastor Efrem's challenge to listen as Jesus would.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler is the Web Editor for Sojourners.

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