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Latina Lista: News from the Latinx perspective > Media > Social Media > Cambridge officer’s treatment of Harvard professor highlights growing problem among police force

Cambridge officer’s treatment of Harvard professor highlights growing problem among police force

LatinaLista — Unlike past presidents who have lived sheltered and privileged lives, it’s not a stretch to see why it’s natural that President Obama would dive head first into the escalating race debate over the initial arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. by Cambridge officer Sgt. James Crowley.

Cambridge officer Sgt. James Crowley says he has no intention of apologizing to Harvard Professor Gates.
Being black and having worked in Chicago as a community organizer, there’s no doubt that Obama, if not experiencing it firsthand, certainly heard from people who suffered racial discrimination at the hands of their local law enforcement.
Yet determining discrimination always depends on which shoes you stand in.
If Sgt. Crowley had a dashboard camera rolling pointed to the professor’s front porch then we would have a better idea of what went down. Did Professor Gates let his irritation at being asked to provide ID in his own home get the better of him? Or was Sgt. Crowley irritated that Professor Gates talked back to him, as was reported.
For sure, discrimination is much easier to view objectively when seen through the impartial lens of a camera.
It was certainly true in two other cases: In the case of Dallas police officer Robert Powell who ignored pleas from Ryan Moats, an NFL running back for the Houston Texans, who was rushing his family to the hospital bedside of his dying mother-in-law.

Family members, a hospital nurse and a Plano police officer all made a plea for Moats to be allowed to enter the hospital. Unphased, the Dallas officer made Moats remain at the scene while he lectured him and wrote out a ticket. By the time he entered the hospital, his mother-in-law Jonetta Collingsworth had died.

And in another case of when an Oklahoma State Trooper pulled over an ambulance on its way to the hospital and got into an altercation with a (black) paramedic while a heart patient waited inside the ambulance.
While both of these cases, just as the Cambridge incident, are white on black altercations, the case for discrimination is a harder claim to make in these cases but one thing is obviously clear.
All three incidents illustrate a very troubling attitude that exists with some police officers, and is obvious in both video footage — some police officers don’t like being challenged — meaning their authority is verbally being questioned.
When that happens, they literally lose it.


Respect means a lot to everyone. It’s because of respect that we are able to have a civil society. Respect is an equalizer for people of different ethnicities.
In this country, we are taught to respect the law. Police officers are seen as representatives and enforcers of the law. So, what happens when someone doesn’t show the proper respect for the enforcer?
If the enforcer is not an ego maniac, that officer can deal in a rational way with whatever challenge is thrown his/her way. But if that officer is insecure, has a propensity to show the world he’s the boss and perceives himself to not be the law but above the law, then we have officers who need serious counseling and reviews.
Now that the altercation between the Cambridge officer and the Harvard professor has died down, and Sgt. Crowley said he has no intention of apologizing to the professor, should all be forgotten?
No. Questions still need to be answered:
If the officer saw that the professor was irritated, what did he do to try and calm him down?
It’s reported that the officer asked the professor if there was anyone else in the house with him. Why didn’t he ask if the professor lived there?
Why after establishing the fact that it was the professor’s house did the police officer feel the need to make an arrest for disorderly conduct?
Would not the better solution by the officer have been to apologize for the initial misunderstanding and move on?
Yet, something kept Crowley there, egging the professor on to the point that I’m sure he shared some choice words with Crowley. And why couldn’t Crowley just walk away from it?
Because he wasn’t getting respect.
Would Crowley have played out the same scenario had the professor been white? Would he have taken the professor at his word that he lived there and just walked away from the situation?
We’ll never know but what we do know is that the ending to the situation was unacceptable and, yes, stupid.
Being a police officer can be a thankless job and low-paying and so it’s not hard to see why a perk of the job for some officers is the idea that everyone has to respect them.
And it’s something that should be done but when an officer holds to the notion that respect for them outweighs the safety and rights of the people, then there’s something wrong — because it impacts the way they enforce the law.
And that’s a bad situation for all of us.

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Comment(12)

  • Avatar
    laura
    July 23, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Exactly right Marisa. Thank you.

  • Avatar
    Jose
    July 23, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    How does this “highlight” a growing problem with the police if the professor turns out to be wrong? You’re making an unfair rush to judgment.

  • Avatar
    irma
    July 24, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Here, I think that Gates was wrong.
    The police officer was doing his job- responding to a report of breaking and entering. The NYT reports that Gates
    presented only a University ID which has only his name on it. I would suggest that it was Gates who was racist. He assumed that a white police officer was
    questioning him BECAUSE he was a black man. The same officer would have asked the SAME questions to a white, yellow or green person who appeared to be breaking and entering a home.
    I spent one summer in Cambridge and happened to witness the Cambridge police in action one evening. White
    college students who were residents of a home were making a ruckus about 3am. We called the police to ask the
    the students to quiet down. The police informed the students that as it was 3 am, failure to quiet down would entail
    a public disturbance and might result in
    a trip to the police station. The students turned off the music and went to bed. The students in question lived in the house were asked to provide proof of their residency in the home.
    They were white. Is it only racism if a
    person of color is questioned?
    Gates was wrong. The police did their job in this case. This WAS a case of racism – only it was Gates who was the racist.

  • Avatar
    Karen
    July 24, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    How could the Professor be wrong if he was in his own home?
    I think the real problem is that the Professor mouthed off to the police officer, saying “your momma,” and to save face the officer arrested him. Obviously, they both overreacted.
    If Gates had just stayed calm, I don’t think he would have been arrested. Like it or not, the officer has the power, even if he’s wrong.

  • Avatar
    T. J. Delgado
    July 24, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Unbelieveable! Try putting yourself in the Officer’s shoes! I proudly wear those same shoes everyday, only I’m a hispanic Deputy. Try doing the job and have to deal with the racism that comes from the citizens of the City/County that you protect. You list three situations in your artical, but there are thousands and thousands of departments that employ 100’s of thousands officer’s. Seems a little tilted to label all Law Enforcement. Rest easy at night, because no matter what kind of names you call us or how you treat us, when you call us and your scared, we still keep coming to your rescue! The cops!

  • Avatar
    Plato
    July 24, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Jose is right. It seems that you were wrong about this Marisa. This case is not, as you assert, a legitimate example of racial profiling.
    The president, as quoted by today’s NY Times http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/25/us/politics/25gates.html?_r=1&hp:
    “WASHINGTON — President Obama said Friday that he “could have calibrated” his words more carefully in the controversy over the arrest of a black Harvard professor by a white police officer, but added that there had been an “overreaction” by both sides in a case that touched off an intense discussion about race in America.”
    The president had no facts, yet he blamed the police and made a federal case of it by mentioning it on national TV. As a matter of fact, a black policeman backs up Crowley’s side. This is a disgrace for a president who claims to be president of all Americans, not just minorities.
    You didn’t have all the facts either,yet you implied that the police were at fault just because other policemen have profiled. This is called stereotyping, something you have objected to in the past. This proves that you are unable to be objective on such issues.
    You’re cheap attempt to light a fuse of outrage in the Latino community has failed.

  • Avatar
    Marisa Treviño
    July 24, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    TJ, I have many family members who are in law enforcement as well. If you reread the post, you will see that I laid the blame at both of their feet. Yet, I’ve witnessed police officers able to calm down irate people, apologize and walk away. I ask why couldn’t Crowley do this as well? What compelled him to stay and make matters worse after ascertaining that Gates lived there? I certainly am not saying that all police officers are so power-manic that they all behave this way but to say that none of them do is also erroneous.

  • Avatar
    Traci
    July 25, 2009 at 8:11 am

    Plato how does…”….. could have calibrated my words more carefully…..” constitute an apology? I’ll try that with my English professor. “Sir, My essay isn’t horrible, I just calibrated my words incorrectly.” What a laugh! He spoke without having a grasp of the facts and instinctively sided with his black friend against the police and that can be described as mis-calibration? The man can’t even straightforwardly admit he’s wrong.

  • Avatar
    Marisa Treviño
    July 25, 2009 at 9:54 am

    Traci, No one still knows who is telling the complete truth. Just because the police officer says it happened one way, doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the case. I think it’s telling that everyone is quick to condemn Gates and place the blame entirely on him and so quick to believe Crowley. I realize that a black colleague corroborated Crowley’s story but given the “brotherhood” that exists among police officers, I would think the better person to ask would be the driver who witnessed the incident. I have a feeling that both are to blame but we’ll see if Crowley accepts the White House invitation to sit down with Gates. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t.

  • Avatar
    Traci
    July 26, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    “I realize that a black colleague corroborated Crowley’s story but given the “brotherhood” that exists among police officers,..”
    So, no amount of corroborating evidence, not even from a black person could ever exhonerate the white cop. It’s funny that Gate’s who is so quick to defend himself, can’t present corroborating testimony from his friend. Thus far your guilty before proven innocent position falls short of evidence. And why should I believe Gates or his friend, they could easily be using this incident as material for a law suit or a book? The benefit of the doubt goes to the cop, the guy who caught two people reportedly using burglar tools to break into a house.

  • Avatar
    arturo fernandez
    July 28, 2009 at 2:24 am

    Here’s very good commentary. Conclusion: the police officer acted stupidly.
    http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/gatesgate-by-digby-i-have-been.html

  • Avatar
    Che
    August 2, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    Spot on Traci. People see what they want to see. Sad that so many can’t see past identity politics and think logically.

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