Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, Jr.

Unlike President Obama, I will not comment (or attempt to qualify or retract a comment) regarding a situation about which I only know what I’ve read or heard.

Generally speaking, however, it is folly to express anger at a police officer when he is in the process of doing his duty as he sees it. He (or she) is probably going to arrest you. If the situation calls for indignation, better to have a lawyer express it by filing a lawsuit after the fact. You’d think that prominent Harvard professors and public intellectuals would know that.

A quick anecdote to illustrate my meaning: About a year ago, we were stuck in Atlanta rush hour traffic on our way to a friend’s house for dinner. As we were crawling past a state trooper who had just pulled over an SUV, the driver of the SUV did someting incredibly stupid: instead of waiting for the trooper to walk up to his car to ask for his license and registration, the driver got out of his car and strode purposefully toward the trooper while reaching into his pocket for his wallet. Of course the trooper immediately pulled his gun and got behind his cruiser. He didn’t know what this guy was going to do and did what he had to to protect himself and gain contol of the situation. The stupid driver of the car--as an eyewitness, I can use the adjective quite confidently--ended up spread-eagled on his car being frisked and receiving a very pointed lecture from the trooper about how he’s supposed to behave when pulled over. (Yes, traffic was that slow; I saw it all.)

The bottom line: police officers have a life-or-death interest in being in control of the situations they face. Those who are in those situations have a life-or-death interest in being cooperative. I know that, but, then again, I’m not an intellectual "Master of the Universe" (apologies to Tom Wolfe).

Discussions - 9 Comments

Sorry but I do not agree. Once the officer knew that Dr. Gates was in fact in his own home and that there was no burglary taking place he had no further legal reason to be there. Being arrested for annoying a policeman (even for calling him a racist) is an outright violation of Dr. Gates' basic rights, as I am sure the taxpayers of Cambridge will soon find out. President Obama was correct in saying that the police acted stupidly. I would go one further: their actions were an affront to all of our most basic liberties (sanctity of my home, free speech at a minimum, freedom from false arrest). Justifying the constabulary's actions is a losing proposition.

There is a problem, though, when someone starts disturbing the peace. Keeping the peace is the fundamental job of any police officer in the United States. While police officers can't act on being offended by utterances, when such statements cause a disturbance of the peace, such as the very public ones by Gates, the officer can lawfully (ie Constitutionally) arrest.

Would I have arrested? Probably not, but the escalation of the incident was not continued by the police officer, but clearly by Mr. Gates.

I think I need to read up on the fighting words doctrine.

Once the officer knew that Dr. Gates was in fact in his own home and that there was no burglary taking place he had no further legal reason to be there.

The internet is rife with ignorant and arrogant idiots who love to spout on topics they know nothing about.

Four paragraphs now qualifies as "not comment(ing)"?

It's hilarious to watch conservatives, the traditional defenders of the notion that a man's own home is truly his castle, and haters of Big Government intrusion into our day-to-day lives come out in knee-jerk defense of this ridiculous arrest. The charges were dropped and the officer's actions only served to waste taxpayer money.

He had committed no crime, he was at home, on his own property and after demonstrating as much he was still arrested and led away in handcuffs.

Here's hoping your local police bless you with a similar version of "to protect and to serve" - maybe 2 or 3 times.

It's hilarious to watch conservatives, the traditional defenders of the notion that a man's own home is truly his castle

Wow, the JournoList is in full swing. I'm seeing this same idiotic talking point being attempted by moonbats all acrosss the web.

It's not in the least bit hilarious to watch the scum on the left practicing their ingrained hatred of the police and white people.

Gates was NOT arrested in his home. Two cops and witnesses on the street attest to that.

People like him who are too arrogant to cooperate with police trying to help them are fools headed for their own personal destruction.

Sorry Dick Stanley, but Dr. Gates was under no legal duty to cooperate with the police. The police however have a legal duty to only arrest on probable cause to believe a crime occurred and that the person being arrested is the criminal. They had no probable cause to arrest a man for being loud and profane (whether in his house or yard is irrelevant). Disturbing the peace statutes, to pass muster under the First Amendment, may only apply to imminent calls to riot, which does not include saying "Yo Mamma" to the police.

BTW, I am a conservative too (voted for Reagan, Bush I, Dole and Bush). I believe in freedom from government, but that includes freedom from arbitrary police arrest which is what Dr. Gates suffered for his ill tempered pique.

John M, gratuitous ad hominem attack with no factual or other analysis: I cannot believe this is what Dr. Schramm, Moser or any of the others responsible for the Ashbrook Center now stand for in discussion of public issues because it most certainly was not what they emphasized when my son attended Ashland. Same applies to you Independent: wishing problems visited on anyone in this veil of tears is just wrong headed. As Cassiodorus established for the Western Roman Empire, the theme on these boards should be "civilitas".

Gates is a "doosh" as my son would say. Instead of being grateful that the police force responded to protect his property, he chose to insult his protectors, following them out to the street to do it. Cops are human beings, and they were within their legal rights to arrest him. Hear hear! "Big brother" don't enter into it; even the most libertarian pro-rights crazy understands the need for public order and courtesy.

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