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L’Affaire Gates


After spending untold millions of dollars in its implementation, the Los Angeles Police Department has at long last been freed from the federal consent decree under which it has been operating for the past eight years. The decision to terminate the consent decree came from U.S. District Court Judge Gary Feess on July 17, and the timing could not have been more propitious. Feess handed down his decision just a day after the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., but before the resultant brouhaha, nudged up the media’s Richter scale by President Obama’s appallingly ill-informed remarks on Wednesday, came to eclipse all other news stories. Perhaps if Michael Jackson were to rise from the dead this may yet be averted, but otherwise it seems we can look forward to, as we experienced during the Duke non-rape case, one of those prolonged periods of “dialogue on race,” to be accompanied by all the usual navel-gazing and hand-wringing. After all of which nothing much will have changed.

Had l’affaire Gates already spun up to its current level of hysteria, I suspect Judge Feess might have kept the LAPD under the federal lash a bit longer, since one of the issues addressed in the consent decree was that of racial profiling. When the president of the United States goes on national television to make the bold assertion that “blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently and oftentime for no cause,” a prudent judge pauses to consider before loosening the reins on the cops.

But let us examine the issue of racial profiling as it pertains — or doesn’t — to Mr. Gates’s arrest. As I wrote on Wednesday, the suggestion that Gates was “profiled” is ludicrous. Gates was not simply driving or walking along and into the awareness of some racist cop looking to exert authority over him. Far from it. Rather, a woman had phoned the Cambridge police to report she had seen two black men attempting to force entry into a home.  Sergeant James Crowley was in the area and was the first officer to respond to the call. After the witness informed him of her observations, Crowley saw a black man inside the home. No reasonable person would deny that at that moment, Sgt. Crowley had more than the sufficient amount of “reasonable suspicion,” as we say in the trade, required to investigate and even detain the man for the length of time necessary to determine if he was in fact a burglar. And yes, Sgt. Crowley was fully justified in making a warrantless entry into the home if necessary.

A man of ordinary sensibilities, having forced his way into his own home in broad daylight, might consider the possibility that he was seen doing so by someone who would misinterpret his actions and summon the police. Mr. Gates apparently failed to foresee such a contingency and instead assumed dark motives on the part of Sgt. Crowley. In fact, if Crowley’s account is accurate, it was Gates who profiled him, imputing racial animus as the reason for the sergeant’s presence on the front porch. When Crowley made the reasonable and tactically sound request for Gates to step out onto the porch, Gates, by his own account, refused to do so. “I knew he wasn’t canvassing for the police benevolent association,” Gates told a reporter from The Root. “All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I realized that I was in danger. And I said to him no, out of instinct. I said, ‘No, I will not.’” Thus the stage was set for a test of wills, one that ultimately saw Gates arrested and carted off to the jug for a few hours.

The real tragedy of this episode is that the genuine danger faced by blacks in America is not posed by racist police officers but rather by other blacks, particularly blacks armed with guns and lacking any moral constraints on using them. Black men make up only about 4 percent of the nation’s population, but in 2004 they accounted for 35 percent of its homicide victims, a figure I suspect has changed little since then. And the great majority of these black victims, as Mr. Gates surely knows, are killed by other black men.

But such facts just aren’t “box office” for Mr. Gates, who feigns indignation at his arrest but must be inwardly gleeful that his victim ticket has now been punched, courtesy of the Cambridge Police Department. He says he is considering a lawsuit against the police but I doubt he’ll follow through, for he surely knows that everyone gathered on the street outside his home when he was arrested would testify that he behaved exactly as Sgt. Crowley said he did. Better to be hailed as a martyr in his little corner of the academy than to withstand the scrutiny a lawsuit would require and be exposed as a fraud. Gates may cry foul, but he’ll be dining out on this incident for months if not years to come.

Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.


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