Gates Arrest Updates

Sgt. Crowley refuses to apologize to Gates:

Dr. Boyce Watkins: “Consider this before crying ‘racial profiling.’

Sgt. Crowley taught courses on how to prevent racial profiling:

A less than scholarly comment:

I am very disappointed  by President Obama’s claim that the Cambridge PD’s actions were “stupid.”. Obama, himself, said that he was unaware of all the facts of the case. The bottom line is that Sgt. Crowley is getting publicly hung out to dry for doing his job. There is no evidence that he is “stupid.” Gates is able to leverage his status and reputation  in a way that is preventing any real debate about what happened or any logical or sensible discussion of racial profiling. This is one of the most inane debates about race and police that I have seen in years. People with power will listen to Gates, who will listen to Sgt. Crowley?  Will Crowley be judged only in the court of public opinion or will any real investigation be conducted to determine if his actions were inappropriate?

I disagree with how he handled his call, but hindsight is alway 20/20. Hindsight, as anyone who has actually had to testify in court knows, is not the standard by which a persons actions are judged. No one has asked Crowley why he did what he did at the time. Further, Crowley’s own past actions seem to indicate that he is not a racist. He has taught courses at the police academy for approximately five years on how to prevent racial profiling. He has rendered first aid to save the life of an African American in 1993 (albeit a famous athlete). The fact that I would not have handled Gates’ outbursts the way Crowley did does not mean that he did anything outside the bounds of the law.

Being an officer is tough emotional work. Day in and day it is spent with people who lie to you, disrespect you, call you names, and frequently try to hurt you. Through it all, officers are expected to take their ego bruising and be the bigger man. But officers are human beings too and sometimes a citizen or suspect crosses the line and an officer reacts in a way that is less than ideal. It happens but does not equate to racial profiling.

What saddens me the most is that Gates is using the term “rogue policeman” for Crowley. I have seen rogue cops in action, and reported them. They don’t act like Crowley. Rogue cops engage in a systematic pattern of misconduct in which illegal searches and seizures are conducted, state laws and departmental policies are regularly violated, and other officers and the public are put in harms way. Thus far there is no evidence that Sgt. Crowley is that kind of officer.


2 thoughts on “Gates Arrest Updates

  1. Brian–

    I think there are two things going on in you reaction

    First, i don’t think that the response to the incident has been at all on-sided in gates’ favor: you yourself have provided plenty of evidence that the responses have been varied and anything other than unilateral. I have yet to hear–although granted, you’ve been following this more closely– anyone come down on either “side” . The closest thing has been Obama;s suggestion that Crowley acted “stupidly”–which, to me, sounds exactly like what you say here.

    The second issue is whether or not this was about race. And i think that’s a complicated issue, to which I for one don’t have any good answers. When can you say that something isn’t about race? how can you ever prove that it is? The answers to those questions rely in large part on what you think “race” and “racism” are and how they operate. Does anyone really think that Crowley woke up that morning and said to himself “i hate black people and I’m going to try to arrest one today.”? No. Can anyone really claim that such a tense situation was not in part fueled by a sense of Gates acting “uppity”–that is, out of line– and that those “lines” are in part drawn along racial contours FOR ALMOST ALL OF US? I think the answer, here also, is no.


    • socdeputy says:


      I don’t think we are in any disagreement. You are absolutely right. The media coverage has been split. However, I tend to read the NY Times and more liberal blogs. One of my favorites is Crooked Timber, where the bloggers have be excellent but the reaction to the blogs have been, well, very biased and one sided. I also would not claim that Crowley acted “stupidly.” There are times when his conduct is absolutely appropriate, but he could have handled it better. “Stupid” comes into play when an outside viewer perceives a situation but NOT using the classificatory scheme being applied by those acting in the situation. The fact is, most cops find what Crowley did within the realm of the possible actions to be taken. The majority, like myself, seem to have decided that we would try a different tactic in the same encounter, but then hindsight is always more clear. I don’t know any cops that think that Crowley acted illegally or as a rogue. Most that I have talked to, and that is not a random sample, seem to agree that he lost his cool and in doing so reinforced the very stereotype of racist cops that Gates used to perceive Crowley.

      On the other hand, there was no reason for Gates to immediately begin verbally berating Crowley. Crowley was there because he was dispatched for an in progress B&E. That is a pretty serious investigation. He had specific facts (forced entry during day time, when forced entry is THE primary mode of break ins and day time THE primary time that break ins occur, as home owners are away) and a specific suspect description. Skin color obviously factors in because Crowley was told that a black skinned man was breaking into the house. Breaking into house is inconsistent behavior for people who live in their home, even if they have good reason for it. The question is what does an experienced officer like Crowley do with this information. How is it mentally and emotionally organized? What repertoire of action does he draw upon? How does the information that he has bias how he approaches whomever answers the door? I think it very likely that the mention of a black man as a suspect changed the tone of Crowley’s investigation. But I also think that the conceptual frame work embodied in the police habitus also does an enormous amount of the explaining and also helps us understand other police officer’s reactions (other than just loyalty to their own).

      As for the issue of race, I have never said that it comes down to “race” or “not race.” What I have said is that linear explanations where race is the only motivating or even the primary motive for Crowley’s conduct is overly reductive, explains little, and ignores the context in which police decision making, emotions, and cognition occur. Part of my objection has been the loose use of the term “racial profiling.” In general I agree with Wacquant that “race” is a folk concept and not an analytic concept. As such, it is doubtful that the term can do much explaining at all. But, for example, cops frequently have issues with people who are “uppity.” But whether or not the officer’s perception of another’s race factors in is an empirical question that has to be explained. “Contempt of cop,” “failing the attitude test,” or even “the asshole” are well known and studied sociological phenomena that lead to nearly identical outcomes as in the Gates case. Plenty of people fit those categories without having to belong to a stigmatized minority group and a lot of that has to do with situational factors such as demeanor, the nature of the call, the emotional state of office and citizen, etc. My point has been that “contempt of cop” can not be REDUCED to race and the fact is, on the left and right, the issue of race in the Gates arrest has been immensely reductive, has not taken into account the specific discourses and classificatory schemes that officer and citizen bring into situated encounters.


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