Saturday, July 25, 2009

Will we ever hear the tapes?

911, police tapes key in Gates case - "Mounting pressure to get to the bottom of the controversial arrest of black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. is centering on recorded police tapes that may offer a dose of reality amid all the media and political noise.

Cambridge police brass and lawyers are weighing making the tapes public, which could include the 911 call reporting a break-in at Gates’ home and radio transmissions by the cop who busted him July 16 for disorderly conduct."

But will we ever hear these tapes?

Obviously I don't know what they contain. But let's assume hypothetically that they show Prof. Gates to be a) behaving like an ass, and b) therefore a liar as well, and c) the officer in question behaving professionally. Given that the police commissioner immediately went to the officer's defense--which he never would have done without hearing the tapes and talking to the other officers who were there--I think that may be the case.

Those tapes could prove a huge embarrassment to Gates, and also to our meddlesome President, who just had to plunge into this situation without knowing the whole story, and then proceed to thrash around like a cod in a gill net trying to get himself out.

And with his health care legislation teetering on the brink, and his approval rating hovering around the 50 point level, can another embarrassment be allowed? I could envision the White House bringing pressure to bear on the Cambridge government to prevent release of the tapes. But that is all just a big paranoid fantasy, isn't it?


Beth said...

I think it's entirely likely that Gates was acting like an ass, and it's entirely likely that the officer is not a racist. But clearly there was no basis for a "disorderly conduct" arrest, because if there were a basis for it, the charges would not have been dropped. Ergo, the officer was in error. Someone's acting like an ass is not sufficient reason to arrest him.

I don't think Obama should have weighed in on this situation, because both he and the country should be focused on other things than this silliness.

Still, I'm getting awfully tired of hearing about the hurt feelings of the police. The officer got tired of being hassled and instead of walking away, he made an unwarranted arrest. Then the president pointed out that this was a stupid decision. Boo hoo. It *was* a stupid decision. Maybe an understandable decision (because no one likes getting hassled and it's hard to think clearly when one is annoyed and frustrated), maybe a thoroughly non-racist decision (I believe a white person could face the same consequences for that behavior), but still a stupid decision.

Were it a smart decision, we'd be hearing about the upcoming court date in the Gates disorderly conduct trial.

Anonymous said...

President Obama, not present at the arrest or having not seen all the facts, made the following comments re that which has become known as “Gates’ gate” during his July 22, 2009 health care reform press conference. Comments and consequences that should favor answering the question, “Will we ever hear the tapes?”

“I should say at the outset that Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here. I don't know all the facts. What's been reported though, is that the guy forgot his keys, jimmied his way to get into the house. There was a report called into the police station that there might be burglary taking place. So far so good. I mean if I was trying to jigger, well I guess this is my house now, it probably wouldn't happen. But let's say my old house in Chicago, ah, here I'd get shot.

But so far so good, they're reporting, the police are doing what they should, there's a call, they go investigate what happens. My understanding is at that point Professor Gates is already in his house. The police officer comes in. I'm sure there's some exchange of words, but, my understanding is that Professor Gates shows his ID to show that this is his house. At that point he gets arrested for disorderly conduct, charges which are later dropped.

I don't know, not having been there and not having seen all the facts, what role race played in that. But, I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry. Number two, the Cambridge police acted stupidly, in arresting somebody when there's already proof that they're in their own home. And number three, what we know, separate and apart from this incident, is that there is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.”

Notwithstanding the police reports’ recitations, “Gates followed officer Crowley outside and continued to accuse him of racial bias and Crowley’s warning Gates twice that he was becoming disorderly and Crowley would (and did) arrest Gates for ‘loud and tumultuous behavior in a public space (outside Gates’ home), the Cambridge police department’s recommendation that the Middlesex County district attorney enter a nolle prosequi application, there is simply no foundation for the observation, “…clearly there was no basis for a ‘disorderly conduct (sic)’ arrest, because it there were a basis for it, the charges would not have been dropped. Ergo, the officer was in error.”

Absent being present at the arrest (Obama, Beth and others), not knowing all the facts and having not heard the tapes (may we trust they will be released), the police reports (see link to Incident Report #9005127 and Incident Supplement #9005127-1) filed in this matter represent the only record of the facts to date.

Absent Gates’ filing a claim in civil court, we will not learn any substantive additional facts from his arrest pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws, “disorderly person.”

Beth said...

We don't need to know all the facts. We know that the Cambridge prosecutors know all the facts, and they dropped the charges.

Or are you assuming that somehow the Cambridge prosecutors dropped the charges because they are Obama-loving reverse racists? IMO, such an assumption would say more about your biases than anything else.

I'm not a fan of Gates behavior in this either. I think everyone involved needs to act more like a grown up, quite honestly.

Evan McKenzie said...

The decision not to prosecute is irrelevant to the question of who is telling the truth. And that is important, because Prof. Gates made this a public issue from the moment he started screaming on his front porch. He continues to insist that this is not about him but about all the black men in America. So now we have a perfect right to hear the tapes so we can determine whether he is telling the truth. As for whether the tapes may be suppressed if they might prove embarrassing to Gates and by inference the President, good grief--that sort of thing happens all the time with routine FOIA requests.

Anonymous said...

“We don't need to know all the facts. We know that the Cambridge prosecutors know all the facts, and they dropped the charges.”

A fair question, given the apparent societal significance of the Gates arrest, would be why did the prosecutors “drop (sic) the charges?”

Sol Wachtler, the former New York State chief judge, is well-known for his famous observation that prosecutors have nearly absolute and unreviewable power to choose (prosecutorial discretion) whether or not to bring a criminal charge that they could “indict a ham sandwich.”

Criminal cases are disputes between the government and individuals accused of crime (Gates). Just as a plaintiff in a civil suit has the option of withdrawing his/her claim (in which a court would have no further role), so in a criminal case, the prosecutor, as representative of the government, can decide that the interests of his client are best served by not taking any legal action at all.

The Middlesex County district attorney is the lawyer (prosecutor) for the state (society itself). The prosecutor is not merely the lawyer who represents society’s interest in court, but is also the public official whose job it is to decide, as a substantive matter, the extent of society’s interest in seeking punishment. Thus the prosecutor is not merely exercising his/her technical skill to advocate positions decided by someone else (Sgt. James Crowley and the Cambridge PD), but is a significant public official exercising authority on behalf of the sate to determine the state’s substantive position and, as such, is normally a politically responsible actor.

As a practical matter, in both state and federal systems, the locally elected district attorney (Middlesex County District Attorney) or local U.S. Attorney is usually the final authority on prosecutorial decisions in individual cases (Gates). While the Gates decision was made by the district attorney, the recommendation in furtherance of a nolle prosequi application came from the Cambridge PD.

Absent a Carnac-esque ability to divine that which is in another mind, it would be charitable not to comment on, “Or are you assuming that somehow the Cambridge prosecutors dropped the charges because they are Obama-loving reverse racists? IMO, such an assumption would say more about your biases than anything else.”

Why did the prosecutors “drop (sic) the charges” seems a fair question given the apparent societal significance of Gates’ arrest (“He continues to insist that this is not about him but about all the black men in America”) and, further, Privatopia’s question, “Will we ever hear the tapes,” the answers to which might likely illuminate both questions, prosecutorial and societal (“…a public issue from the moment he (Gates) started screaming on his front porch”).

Beth said...

Ooh, "Anonymous" starts wielding the "sic"--you must be worried about the strength of your argument if you are nitpicking grammar. I will cede the evening's award for careful editing to you. :)

Sure, the tapes might help us determine whether the officer was a racist and whether Gates' account is accurate. I personally doubt that the officer is a racist. As I said, it wouldn't be smart for a white person to hassle a LEO either. Gates' behavior post-arrest leads me to believe he was aggressive during the encounter. It's too bad that cooler heads didn't prevail.

But we do know that the arrest had little to no basis, because otherwise, we'd be seeing the case move forward. And it's not.

Evan McKenzie said...

By the way, Gates wasn't arrested for disorderly conduct. For that charge, I think he would have to be in a public place. He was arrested for disturbing the peace, which includes just being really noisy and disturbing the (public) peace, even on your own (private) property. When the police can't stop a loud party, that's the charge they use. And based on my experience as a prosecutor I'd say it is common for police or prosecutors to drop these charges after the arrest, even if it would be easy to prove. They figure a conviction wouldn't add to the lesson the accused has presumably learned, there won't be a significant penalty anyway because it's so trivial, and it costs too much in time, energy, and money to prosecute.
One interesting wrinkle here is whether there will be a civil suit by either party. If Gates doesn't file a false arrest suit, does that mean that his claim is not well-founded? And what about the officer, who made noise early on about filing a civil suit?

Beth said...

The arrest report says "disorderly conduct."

If the charge really were/was disturbing the peace, your suggestion for why it was dropped sounds plausible to me.

However, I still think that all parties behaved stupidly, Gates and Crowley both. I believe the uniformed police officer has a higher responsibility to act like a grown-up, but that doesn't excuse Gates. Either man could have stopped this situation from escalating by walking away.

A lawsuit by either party would just be more childishness. We all have our stupid moments; the thing to do is try learn from them and move on.