A Minneapolis attorney writes to add a note in the matter of Harvard Professor Henry Gates. When asked to come out of his house to talk to the police in connection with the report of a possible break-in, Gates exclaimed: “Why, because I’m a black man in America?” Our correspondent suggests otherwise. He writes:
I know that this Gates incident is getting plenty of play in all quarters right now, but I have yet to see the proper context set out for the police response. In a past life (both before and during law school), I was a Minneapolis cop for eight years. I left in 2002 as a Sergeant supervising a dogwatch shift (9:00 pm -7:00 am), to take my first legal job at a Minneapolis firm.
In the Gates incident, the police were not dispatched to simply “check on a couple of guys acting suspiciously around a home.” They were almost certainly responding to a report of a “burglary of dwelling in progress.” This is typically one of the highest-priority calls that an officer will encounter during a shift.
Let me explain, and I know this will require a huge leap of faith for certain segments of the population. The vast majority of police officers are deeply, deeply committed to protecting the public from the type of criminal that would force their way into someone else’s home. When a “burglary of dwelling in progress” call comes over the radio, officers literally drop everything (yes friends, even doughnuts . . .) and risk life-and-limb driving as fast as possible to get to the scene as quickly as possible.
Cops don’t do this simply out of desire to catch “bad-guys.” They do it because — due to prior experience — they assume that the “dwelling” in issue is occupied, and they have seen first-hand the devastation left behind when an innocent family is confronted with a violent home-invasion, burglary/rape scenario, or something similar.
Sergeant Crowley responded out a desire to ensure the safety of Gates’s home and its inhabitants without regard to the race of the homeowner. Period. In return, he was subjected to abusive race-baiting from a purported “scholar” that apparently didn’t rise above the intellectual level of a playground taunt. Gates is, quite simply, a jerk.
As our correspondent suggests, Sergeant Crowley’s report on the arrest indicates that Crowley was responding to an ECC broadcast for a possible break-in in progress at Professor Gates’s address. But why did Sergeant Crowley ask Professor Gates to come out of his house and speak with him? A reserve police officer from Texas writes:
It’s done so that the officer can be more certain that the person being interviewed is not being coerced to say that everything is alright. Last year in Hewitt, Texas, we went to a hostage situation. Lady would not come out of the house but kept telling us all was OK. After a couple of hours, we said if she came to the door to tell us all was OK, we would pack up and leave. She came to the door, we pulled her out, and found the hostage taker hiding in a closet with a hunting knife. Another renter had called this in, by the way.
On other occasions on domestic disturbance calls, the wife tells us she’s OK and wants to stay home. We ask her to step out of the house to talk, she gets outside and asks us not to force her to go back in.
All we want to do is make sure the person being interviewed is in a safe place to tell us whether he or she really is OK or not.
UPDATE: Mark Steyn devotes his weekly column to Professor Gates’s arrest. He is relatively charitable to Professor Gates, though he notes:
I confess I’ve been wary of taking Henry Louis Gates at his word ever since, almost two decades back, the literary scholar compared the lyrics of the rap group 2 Live Crew to those of the Bard of Avon. “It’s like Shakespeare’s ‘My love is like a red, red rose,'” he declared, authoritatively, to a court in Fort Lauderdale.
As it happens, “My luv’s like a red, red rose” was written by Robbie Burns, a couple of centuries after Shakespeare. Oh, well. 16th century English playwright, 18th century Scottish poet: What’s the diff? Evidently being within the same quarter-millennium and right general patch of the North-East Atlantic is close enough for a professor of English and Afro-American Studies appearing as an expert witness in a court case.