Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Through Thick and Thin: Professor Gates to Dead Canaries

with 9 comments


Another day, another week, and a another year older. Yesterday was my birthday, which was why there was no mid-week post. The celebrations began early and lasted until last night. Of course pretty much the only person celebrating was me, and my celebrations mostly consisted of sitting around home relaxing with the cell phone turned off. Worked for me.

Cutting straight to the chase, I’ve changed my thinking regarding the Professor Gates affair. (This is why I have no future as a cable news pundit, I can change my mind when presented with reasonable argument.) I’ve decided I was unfair to the professor. The fact of the matter, being arrested inside your own home because you got in a cop’s face is simply unconscionable. Cops are supposed to be trained to deal with stuff like that in a professional manner, and wasting everyone’s time with a trumped up “disorderly conduct” arrest is just the modern version of arresting people for mopery*. I mean, what, exactly, is disorderly conduct? Pretty much whatever the cop says it is, try explaining that to a jury. Which is why the charges were dropped like a lead balloon as soon as this case hit the airwaves.

In the greater picture, I still think this has little or nothing to do with racism. The response to it does highlight a much deeper issue, how did we become a society where police have reached such an elevated status where being polite and deferential is considered the only acceptable way to conduct oneself around cops? There’s a whole host of issues bundled into this issue. I mean, we have more cops per capita than any other major industrialized country, and yet our crime rate is about the worst in the industrialized world. The same with our prisons, we have a greater percentage of our population locked up than any other country as well. So gee, we have a cop on every corner, backed up by cops with as much firepower as military infantry, and millions of bad guys are locked up. Not to mention sentencing laws that have gotten more draconian every year. Yet somehow, despute this massive investment in law and order, it’s still not safe to walk the streets. We’ve been “getting tough” on crime for decades now, and the only payoff seems to be the creation of a prison industry and police industry with hordes of lobbyists making sure they get ever more money.

However, the point I am trying to make, is that while we are not a police state or an occupied country … yet, we have gotten to a point where the police are more and more are here to protect themselves and the interests of our corporate/political elite. And decades of cops shows and fake court shows not only have blinded people to this situation, most of them now are programmed to assume the police are always right. So again and again one can read about police shootings and police brutality, and the pundits approve! I mean, the mainstream media never even uses the phrase “police brutality” anymore.

Let me illustrate. Back in the seventies I worked for a fine fellow, Keith Ugie, a property owner in Los Altos Hills. He lived on a long dead-end road, and one day he came home from work and a cop car was blocking the entrance to is street. So he parked nearby to wait. A young cop came over and told him to move along. He looked at the cop and said “No, I’m legally parked, I live on that street, I’m not interfering with you in any way … so I’m going to stay right here until you’re done with whatever you’re doing and I can go home.” The cop had a coniption de merde and threatened to arrest him if he didn’t move. Keith didn’t move. The cop went and got the older cop. The older cop came over, and apologized for the younger cop. And that was that. My point here is not that the cops indeed have arrested him today in this circumstance, but that is attitude toward the cops is what citizens of a free country should have. The police are supposed to be our servants, not vice versa. And if a cop oversteps the line, it’s the cop who is at fault, not the citizen. And arresting a guy in is own home when he has done nothing wrong is over the line by any definition I can think of.

Granted I still think it’s a good idea to be polite to cops, but only because it’s a good idea to be polite to everyone. And I’m sorry I joined the sorry chorus of talking heads who promoted the “we all have to respect the cops” line. No, we need to get back to an America where the cops respect us, or we are heading for the police state the extreme rightists and the extreme leftists are warning about. That extremists of all stripes are worried about the USA becoming a police state sure seems like a dead canary to me.

In any event, what was supposed to be a post about the week’s news as morphed into a diatribe about the Professor Gates incident. So be it. Have a great weekend everyone!

*Mopery is “walking down the street with no particular destination in mind” or in more more modern usage, “exposing yourself to a blind person.”

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use/Public Domain under US copyright law. The author, Jean-Baptiste Greuze died in 1805, I’m not using the picture for profit, yada yada yada. Credit: National Galleries of Scotland. It’s titled “A Girl With a Dead Canary.” I selected it to illustrate the post because it was the first public domain pic of a dead canary I could find, and as always, I love old paintings almost as much as I love old photographs. The foliage should be green and the canary yellow, but age has changed their hues. It’s changed my hues, that’s for sure.)


Written by unitedcats

July 31, 2009 at 10:34 am

Posted in Crime, Philosophy, World

9 Responses

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  1. I appreciate your rethink. Are you concerned about the e-mail that was sent by Officer Barrett to the media in Boston, and how many officers do you think hold views similar to his?

    Mike Goldman

    July 31, 2009 at 7:37 pm

  2. Wow, I’d heard about it but hadn’t read it before. Shocking from several perspectives. Sadly racism is deeply entrenched in some American institutions, the police and firefighters having some of the worst problems in this regard. How prevalent it is, I can’t say, but I think it’s more common than most would suppose.


    July 31, 2009 at 9:24 pm

  3. Mike, thanks for the e-mail link, very sad and disturbing that anyone, let alone an officer, would write something like that. Not to mention the stupidity of bragging about it to his colleagues. Their are idiots and hateful people among all walks of life, including police, to think otherwise, while a nice thought, is naive. But don’t judge the actions of all by those of the few.

    I agree that prof Gates should not have been arrested, once the officer had sorted the situation out he should have explained to Gates the misunderstanding and released him. I still think if the Prof had acted more respectfully initially (no, legally he doesn’t have too, but its the decent thing to do) things might not have escalated, but ultimately the officer should be held to a higher standard. I do think being an officer would be a tough job, where you are in difficult situations, and they are flawed human beings just like the rest of us. Not an excuse, but I do think it should be considered when judging a situation like this.

    As far as having the police remembering that they are public servants and should behave as such, the same should be said for politicians, good luck on both accounts.

    Josh V.

    August 1, 2009 at 11:58 am

  4. Doug, that entrenched racism which exists is why there is distrust between minority communities and police. It’s unfortunate, to be sure, but hopefully the Gates incident has raised awareness, regardless of the role racism played in his actual treatment and arrest. Understanding the state of mind of everyone involved may help us to overcome prejudice and seek better relations between police and citizens generally.

    And hopefully Officer Barrett will be fired and not permitted to return to policing in the future. We don’t need people like him making every other officer look bad by association. Who could trust a person like that with a badge and a gun?

    Mike Goldman

    August 1, 2009 at 7:05 pm

  5. Thanks Josh, as well. I appreciate your reply.

    Mike Goldman

    August 1, 2009 at 7:16 pm

  6. Mr. Gates was guilty of having an opinion in his own home. How dare he !

    His arrest charge (disorderly conduct) can only occur in a ‘public space’. His home or property are not public. Its called the 4th amendment.

    Read it everyone. You have the right to be secure in your own home. Insist on it please.


    August 2, 2009 at 11:03 am

  7. Hey there – I don’t know if you remember me.

    In any case, it’s interesting that you now criticize the way so many people reacted in defense of the police officers, and even more interesting that you seem to believe that racism is a far-fetched explanation for what happened.

    You explain everyone’s deference to police officers as an omen of the coming police state. But this can easily be explained in terms of racism. My suspicion is that people reacted that way because the citizen in question was a black man. The comments I was seeing on news articles basically amounted to this: “Harvard professor? Pah – he’s still just as uncivilized as any other n*****. If he’d been polite, like any nice white person would have, everything would have been fine. But no, he had to get all uppity!”

    If Dr. Gates had been white, then maybe the cops would have been more deferential. Maybe they would have left him the hell alone after he proved that he was in his own damn house. If they hadn’t, then maybe everyone would have immediately recognized the situation as a case of cops overstepping lines. And in light of Officer Barrett’s email, I don’t think that’s an unreasonable thing to suspect.

    So why set aside racism as an explanation?


    August 4, 2009 at 7:51 am

  8. I didn’t set it aside, it’s entirely possible the cop was motivated by racism. It’s just that I don’t think I can draw any firm conclusion on that with the evidence at hand. So I set it aside for purposes of discussion and debate, and tried to concentrate on other aspects of the situation. I have been planning on writing more about the systematic racism that still pervades our society, especially some of our institutions. It’s a hard topic for me though, and one I am not sure how objective I can be at.

    We’re you under the name SeaSerpent before? I had to approve your post, which implies this was your first comment. —Doug


    August 4, 2009 at 8:35 pm

  9. Well, I’ll certainly be interested to see what you come up with!


    August 5, 2009 at 6:25 pm

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