Saturday, July 25, 2009

Civil Servants

I've been thinking a lot about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates this week.
And I'll be upfront in my opinion. I think the behavior of both men in the situation was probably wrong. But I think Officer Crowley was more wrong. Of course he did the correct thing in responding to a call reporting a suspected break in. But once Professor Gates presented his id proving he was in his own house, Officer Crowley should have apologized for the disturbance and left. No doubt about it.

He had no business calling in 7 other officers and telling Professor Gates to come out to his front porch and then arresting him. Doesn't matter if Professor Gates called him a racist. Officer Crowley may indeed be a fine officer. He may teach classes on how to avoid profiling. But he didn't follow his own lessons. Being an asshole is not a crime. Being rude to a police officer is not a crime. Police officers enforce the law, they aren't above it.

Lawrence O'Donell has an excellent op-ed about it in this week's Time Magazine: Viewpoint: The Stupidity of the Gates Arrest.

and Digby is, as always, correct in her analysis of Gatesgate.

But I've been thinking about this situation in the context of being a civil servant.
Which I am. (as you already know.) And so is officer Crowley.
According to the Wikipedia entry, Cambridge has a population of 101,355. The city of Los Angeles has a population of 12.6 million. Not comparing the municipalities at all. That's not my point.
The part of town I work in has a population around 20,000.

You've all heard me say that I'm rarely civil and never servile. And also you've probably heard me say I hate people.
And yes, I deal with people not on their best occasionally. Let's see, what are some of the things people have said to me or called me? "Whore," "bitchbrains," "idiot," "demon born Hell agent," "ungodly witch," "fatso."
Did those hurt my feelings? Maybe. Did they piss me off? Maybe. Did I use my very limited power to retaliate? No. Never. Did I respond to their insults? No. Did I call them names and curse them out? IN MY HEAD. And only in my head. Ever. Not once have I ever responded. And believe me, I'm one of the most thin skinned people I know.
And apparently so is Officer Crowley. But, unlike me, he doesn't seem to figured out a way to not let people get to him.
Policemen come in many forms. Some are good, some less so. But, like I said before, they aren't above the law. And they don't deserve extra respect because they're policemen. Of course, they shouldn't have to be abused either. But, again, being an asshole to a police officer isn't against the law.
I guess what I'm saying is: Professor Gates might have been an idiot. But he wasn't breaking any laws. And Officer Crowley overreacted and escalated an incident that could have been stopped with a SIMPLE apology. And an exit.


Christina said...

Yup yup yup. I'm going to blog about this with a personal example too when I have a moment of clarity. Your point is exactly the one I come to as well, as the public servant, in a position of power, his role was to step away. So yeah, he acted stupidly.

Vernon Lee said...


I need to be reacquainted with the amazement that anyone would defend Crowley just because he's a police officer, and their jobs are hard, and they're on the front lines, and shouldn't we all just reflexively defend those wielding authority in our names... when these cops have the power to arrest, taser or shoot you if you don't show them proper deference.

High time we all check in on why a phrase like "Contempt of Cop" exists in the criminal justice system.