Friday, July 31, 2009

Acting White: White Cop Speaks Out On Gates

Note to Readers: I received the following comment yesterday and thought it was worthy of its own post. Many thanks to “White Cop”.

Honestly, can't believe I am going to post a comment here, but for the first time I feel I might have something to contribute. Before I comment, here's some background on me. I am a police officer in a major urban city in the South, and I am white. I was born in an all white family, raised in a pre-dominantly white neighborhood, and grew up with almost all white friends through high school and college. I am fairly well-educated, and considered pursuing post-graduate studies, but found myself drawn to police work, in particular, criminal investigation. Throughout my life, I never once considered I might have any underlying racial biases. However, it wasn't until I became a cop that I found my own cultural biases tested. It was then that I realized, like every other flawed human being on this earth, I, because of my cultural upbringing, have prejudices. I was always taught that racism is bad, but I also never had any real, meaningful exposure to cultures outside my own. Working alongside white, black, Hispanic, and Vietnamese cops, in a profoundly multi-cultural city, I quickly realized I knew next to nothing about the daily lives and struggles of other ethnic communities. Disturbed by this, I started seeking out forums where these topics are discussed. One day I heard a round-table discussion on National Public Radio featuring several African American bloggers, one of whom was Mr. Collier. I was intrigued by his perspective, since the mainstream media prefers to feature the rhetoric of screaming protesters instead of thoughtful, honest discussion. I began following this blog, "Acting White," to hear Mr. Collier's opinion on racial news topics. I have found Mr. Collier to be exceptionally even-handed and honest on topics of racial discrimination in America. I don't want to sound like a kiss-up here... it's simply true, that when the mainstream media is your only source for commentary on racial issues in America, one typically hears only extremist opinions.

That's enough about me though. I'm not perfect by any stretch, but I try to be honest and just in my life and law enforcement career.

I have read the on-line version of Crowley's arrest narrative of Gates; however, I wasn't there, so I know about as much as anyone else. Speaking as a cop, I can say that Crowley is completely justified in his actions, up until the moment he chose to make the arrest. When dispatched to a possible burglary at a habitation, the first thing you do is read the notes given to you by dispatch. You don't know who has called 9-1-1 and you don't have time to question the caller about the details. You have to move fast to try and catch a burglar, if in fact there is an actual burglary taking place. As soon as you arrive, you start looking for suspects as described by the caller who might be leaving the area already. If no one is located outside, you then go to the residence to look for signs of a burglary. It is my understanding that Crowley arrived and saw an open front door. If that is the case, you then approach and look to see if there is anyone inside. Upon seeing someone inside, you contact them, and, depending on the situation, detain them either verbally or physically. You then request identification to determine who the person is. You have no way of knowing if that person is the homeowner until you have somehow verified their identification. Once you verify that the person is the homeowner, and that there appears to be no offense, you explain the 9-1-1 call, leave, and clear out the call. It's a pretty simple formula, and I have conducted such cursory investigations numerous times. 99 times out of 100, the home owner is completely cooperative of the investigation, regardless of their race. Usually, on the way out the door, they thank you for doing your job and for trying to catch a possible burglar at their residence.

However, there is the odd case where the person you encounter, the homeowner, for whatever reason, is completely unreasonable. From the moment of first contact, the person simply flies off the handle. In cases of inter-racial contacts, it is not uncommon for the word "racist" to be thrown around. I can personally attest that for a white cop who is simply trying to do a good job, there is nothing more insulting and aggravating, than to be suddenly and publicly accused of racism where clearly none is present. In the past, I have been able to diffuse these situations by stopping and explaining the details of the 9-1-1 call (in cases where I believed this was an appropriate step). However, believe it or not, there are people out there who don't care what your reasons may be. Possibly because of some past mistreatment by someone else, or because of unexplained paranoia, they don't let you explain, they simply yell in anger.

Now, I don't know Mr. Gates personally, so I cannot speak for his character. But I can sympathize with Crowley's indignation at Mr. Gates' public humiliation of him. It is absolutely humiliating as a police officer to be openly disrespected in front of other citizens, especially when the accusations are of racism.
However, you can't make an arrest if you don't have a valid charge. And this is the crux of the whole incident. If Crowley had sucked it up and walked away, not only would the President not have commented on this, but it would be hard for Gates to make any sort of valid claim of mistreatment. In my state, the charge of disorderly conduct simply isn't applicable here. I have spoken with some of my lawyer friends about the Mass. version of the Disorderly Conduct law, and this arrest is very much on the fringe. Disorderly Conduct laws are open to wide interpretation, but in Mr. Gates' case, interpreting his conduct as "tumultuous" on his front porch is a pretty wide stretch of the law. I assume that this is why the charge was summarily dropped. Gates' behavior, no matter how inappropriate it may have appeared, does not qualify as Disorderly Conduct.

I don't mean to throw a fellow police officer under the bus, especially when I wasn't actually there to witness the incident, but I just can't see myself arresting an old man with a cane. As I have done before in the past, I would have just told him he was "out of his mind," driven away, and laughed about his outrageous behavior in the locker room later.

I have to agree with Mr. Collier's first post on this subject. This really seems to me to be about ego's, not racial profiling. This isn't about race at all, this is about "P.O.P." (Pissing Off Police). A person's demeanor goes a long way in swaying the outcome of an encounter with police. I myself have never made an unlawful arrest. But, in those cases where I do have a valid arrestable [sic] charge, I am more than happy to slap cuffs on anyone who shows blatant contempt for the law. But this just doesn't look like the case with Gates... and sometimes you just have to shrug off some undeserved disrespect.

James C. Collier


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Diogenes said...

Again, very well said, Officer. And you didn't throw anybody under the bus. You told the truth as you know it. If anybody winds up under any bus (ad I don't think they have or should in this case) they're there by their own actions.

Thanks for doing a dangerous and thankless job for us all.

Unknown said...

This site has some of the best comments anywhere

uptownsteve said...

Fact #1.

Gates was in his own home.

Fact # 2

Gates proved he was in his home.

Fact #3

Cambridge Police Department dropped charges against Gates.


Why does Crowley still have a job as a cop?

Anonymous said...

About 20 years ago, I read most of Joseph Wambaugh's novels. Great reads.

The one take away was that most people should be allowed to be street/beat cops for only 5-10 years and then moved off the street. Some experience is needed, but too much cynicism and even racism and sexism are bred on the job and just destroys the souls and characters of otherwise good humans.