Duck! and Gather

Archive for July 2009

  • In: Uncategorized
  • Comments Off on Wow! Slam Dunk Racial Profiling

Check out Gates Case Shocker. Here’s the money quote:

The 40-year-old woman whose emergency call to Cambridge police sparked the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and a raging national debate on race relations claims she never said “black” men were breaking into his house.

“This woman is 100 percent clear on what she said,” said attorney Wendy J. Murphy, who is representing 911 caller Lucia Whalen. “She never said she saw two black men. She said, ‘It never crossed my mind that there were two black men.’ ”

Whalen said she couldn’t have reported the color of the men’s skin, because she was too far away and viewing them from behind, Murphy said.

Well, put that together with my legal translation of “Would you step onto the porch” (= “I think you are a perp …”), and what we have here is slam dunk case of racial profiling. No “probable cause” to overcome the 4th Amendment’s prohibition against cops entering our home — as Sgt. Crowley did when he entered to follow Gates into the kitchen. Nothing here but an ugly case of “the nigga must have done it”.

Will be interesting to hear how the ring-wing nut jobs spin this new twist in the story.

Still looking forward to the beer on the lawn.

UPDATE; Check out the video that commenter Jason provides on the post called Henry Louis Gates: The System is Racist. That video has the 911 audio which makes out an even clear case of racial profiling than does the quote above.

  • In: Obama
  • Comments Off on From Jim Crow to Jim Crowley

I can’t wait for the photo of Sergeant Jim Crowley, sharing a beer with President Barack Hussein Obama and Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on the White House lawn, to be juxtaposed with this eponymous photo of a dark and ugly time in our history.

Check out the video at 0:33. Officer Crowley recounts his version of the incident with Prof. Gates. He says, in a calm, non-threatening, voice: “I asked him if he could step outside and speak with me”. He says this as if the request is an entirely reasonable and straightforward one. Maybe Crowley even believes that himself.

But the lawyers who set up the police operating procedures know that that is no straightforward request. It has huge legal significance. Sorry to quote myself from a couple of blog posts ago, but here is the legal translation:

Cop says: “Would you step outside onto the porch.”

Translation: “I know you might be the owner/resident of this house. But there seems to be something fishy about you (e.g. maybe you’re running a drug lab inside). The 4th Amendment requires that you be outside in order for me to legally search you.”

There’s no reason why Crowley couldn’t speak with Gates across the threshold of Gates’ home. Gates didn’t need to “step outside” simply to speak with Crowley. Asking Gates to step outside just “to speak” is a euphemism for “I see you as a potential perp”.

So when Crowley says this in a completely innocuous way, it makes me wonder. Is he just a simple-minded cop? Does he ask this of every resident of every home that he approaches in Cambridge? If so, then truly there is no racial animus here, systemic or otherwise.

But I’m picturing a little old white lady, in a grand old house, standing inside the house, across the threshold, opening the door to a cop like Crowley. Would the first thing out of Crowley’s mouth be: “Would you step outside onto the porch”? I have a hard time believing that.

I guess we’ll never find out.

  • In: Obama
  • Comments Off on My Interactions With Law Enforcement

I am a 6’4″ (shrunk to 6′ 3 1/2″), middle-aged, mostly bald, white male, of athletic build, and advanced education. Gotta say, that over my 46 years on this Earth — 24 in Canada, 2 in Europe, and 20 in America — my relations with cops have been very, very smooth. Almost like the cops I’ve met are “my guys”.

Here’s my most recent story. A couple of years ago, I got a speeding ticket. It was my first in a decade. And before a couple of speeding tickets I got in the late 1990s around the time of my divorce, it had been 14 years since my previous speeding ticket. Until testosterone started declining in my 40s, I was usually one of the fastest cars on the road.

I used to track the patterns of cops looking for speeders (e.g. end of the month), and recognize the make and model of undercover vehicles (e.g. Caprice Classics). But even with this counter-surveillance, I got the feeling that I just did not fit the kind of profile the cops were looking for. Now I’m content to just follow the speed of traffic.

But a couple of years ago, I was pulled over going 65 in a 50 zone, rushing to a meeting. I was driving my beat-up 1990 Honda Accord. It’s dirty inside and out. I work at home, shave rarely, and dress somewhere between casual and slovenly. At the time I was pulled over, my insurance was paid up, but my tags were 2 or 3 years expired. (DMV hadn’t sent me bills, and I never noticed the tag on my car receding over time.)

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  • In: Obama
  • Comments Off on Sergeant Crowley’s Teachable Moment

I didn’t want “Fuck tha Police” to be my last word on this subject. As I have blogged initially, I think there is a huge opportunity here. So does Obama.

As I explain in my last post, I believe that by asking Henry Louis Gates Jr. to step outside in his initial greeting to the man, Sergeant Crowley was engaging in a deep, personal provocation of Gates.

Cop says: “Would you step outside onto the porch.”

Translation: “I know you might be the owner/resident of this house. But there seems to be something fishy about you (e.g. maybe you’re running a drug lab inside). The 4th Amendment requires that you be outside in order for me to legally search you.”

Why would Crowley think there was something fishy about Gates? My guess is that Crowley has seen the prison statistics about black men and drug crimes, and so he simply has a 20-year habit of asking black folk to step outside of their cars and homes, in order to comply with the 4th Amendment.

I’ll bet this was standard operating procedure for Crowley and most cops in the area, for decades.

But then the suspected perp turns out to be a friend of the POTUS, and suddenly you’ve the national media camped out on your front lawn.

I think, as I have written before, Crowley is a good man at heart. He’s trying to do the right thing. I do think he’s had a bit of a racial bias thing going on, born of experience with the racist U.S. drug laws as applied to black folk.

But I think this incident will serve as an excellent teachable moment for Crowley and all similarly well-meaning cops. I hope he joins Obama and Gates for a beer at the White House. What a great, historic photo op that would be.


p.s. I do think Gates is a bit of a pompous jerk and that’s one thing that got him into trouble. But I don’t believe the grand “teachable moment” here is for Gates to learn how to bow his head, say “sir”, and roll-over to a badge and gun. Sure, that lesson might help Gates navigate America’s “justice” system better. But that lesson is not a new one for black folk. Instead, it’s a dark and painful history. The future of America is about cops treating black people as humans with dignity.

  • In: Uncategorized
  • Comments Off on Did Crowley Ask Gates to Step Onto the Porch?

For me, the whole Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrest story comes down to the first 10 seconds of the interaction between himself and Sergeant Crowley. In Gates’ own words, those first ten seconds went like this:

So I went over to the front porch still holding the phone, and I said ‘Officer, can I help you?’ And he said, ‘Would you step outside onto the porch.’ And the way he said it, I knew he wasn’t canvassing for the police benevolent association. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I realized that I was in danger.

Is that true? Were those the first words out of Crowley’s mouth? I don’t care how he said those words. I care only whether he did say those words. Because if he did, then we all but have our answer about systemic racism. The reasoning boils down to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The 4th Amendment prohibits cops from entering your house without your permission without a warrant issued by a judge. Obviously, a week ago Thursday, Crowley did not have a warrant to enter Gates’ house.

So what it did it mean for Crowley to ask Gates to step out onto the porch?

Read the rest of this entry »

In my last post, I call the Henry Louis Gates arrest a perfect story and a “matchstick”. The reason I call it “perfect” is that:

  1. No reasonable person could confuse Gates, a short, 58-year-old, handicapped, egghead, with a perp.
  2. No reasonable person could confuse Crowley, an intelligent professional, with an honorable track record, with a racist.

Yet, despite these reasonable facts, Crowley did treat Gates as a perp, and Gates did treat Crowley as a racist. How the hell could that have happened?

The simple answer is these two men have huge egos. They’re both arrogant. And what happened last Thursday is really just about two arrogant men butting heads.

The more interesting answer is that the dance that these two men performed last Thursday is the most stark illustration we have of America’s racist legal “justice” system.

It’s a brutally circular dynamic. Congress passes laws mandating sentences for crack cocaine to be 10 times longer than those handed down for the same amount of powdered cocaine. Why? Because black men sell crack; white men sell powder. Racism is at the core of the drug laws.

So then what we have is black men incarcerated at rates many orders of magnitude greater than white men. So now we have our “proof”: black men are all criminals at heart. It’s “in the genes”.

So when a cop sees a black man, he sees a potential criminal. It’s a “rational” assumption given the prison statistics. i.e “I’m profiling because the profile is based on hard, cold statistics.”

And thus the circle is closed. So this is why, I believe, a good cop like Crowley didn’t apologize to Gates for the mixup immediately after Gates produced his ID, and why, I believe, Gates assumed this meant Crowley himself is a racist.

Wouldn’t it be great if this Gates/Crowley story led to revisiting of the drug laws — let alone a repeal?

Thank God Obama weighed in on the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. story last night. Otherwise, I would never have heard about it, having no television, and the story not making the top 3 on my iGoogle Reuters feed. But Obama weighing in bumped that story into the top 3, and sent me headlong into a couple of hours of surfing.

What a beautiful story! Couldn’t be more perfect. The “suspected perp” is only most esteemed black scholar in America, walks with a cane and limp, and is an old 58. The “racist white” cop seems professional, and has even taught classes teaching against racial profiling.

So the first guy is about the furthest thing from a “Scary Black Man”. And the second guy is about the furthest thing from a Jim Crow/LAPD skull-breaking cop.

And maybe it is precisely because these unlikely, benign characters got together a week ago, and performed a sort of ritual dance, that the story became so interesting. I mean, there’s no middle ground in it. No safe harbors.

That is, there’s no way the cops in this story are racist in the old, crude way.

But there’s also no way any cop or anybody else could have mistaken Gates for a potential perp.

So this age-old cop vs. black guy dance they performed last week was the perfect incident. No extraneous circumstance allowing us to dismiss the case. This is OJ all over again.

Remember OJ? >95% of white people polled said he was guilty. But something like only 60/40 of black people said the same. WTF?!?

The divergence came down to the meaning of Mark Furmann as an acknowledged, Stormfront-type racist. We white people saw that rogue cop, and still our certainty about OJ’s guilt didn’t waver. Black people saw the same rogue cop, and they saw much, much more.

The dance between Officer Crowley and Prof. Gates last week squarely raises the question: What is the Meaning of Barack Hussein Obama as POTUS?

Since the race riots of the 60s, the affirmative action that began in earnest in the 70s, and the so-called “drug wars” (read: put young black men in jail) that began in the 80s, this country has sort of been frozen on racial progress.

Well, what I mean is people over 30. For the kids — the Twitter generation — race is no longer an issue. But for the over-30 crowd, there is still baggage. And until this Crowley/Gates story blew up, that baggage had been more or less frozen.

Now this story comes up, and it is a fissure in the racial subconscious of America.

You may have noticed something odd about this post. I’m talking about a story that IMHO will serve as the matchstick to burn down any residual racism still lingering in this country after Obama’s election. Yet I have told you nothing about the facts of the story.

Read the rest of this entry »

The only American holiday that I “buy into” is July 4, Independence Day. To me, the rest of the holidays seem either anachronistic and/or contrived, and certainly driven by the retail corporations. But July the 4th will remain live and meaningful so long as there is an America. This is because America is a live, flowing river of ever-present change.

On Saturday morning, my wife and I packed our toddler, and headed out to two different July 4 celebrations in local towns — Saratoga and Los Gatos, California. The one in Saratoga was particularly interesting to me. In addition to the band, parade of town officials, and military folks, there was a troupe of traditional Chinese dancers. They were wearing traditional costumes and doing a “foreign” dance.  It was a WTF?! moment during the proceedings.

But then it struck me. This is the heart of America. Saratoga, which had long been a “white bread” town, is now very mixed, with a sizable Asian population. And so the town is changing. Dramatically so, but gracefully and smoothly.

And this, I remembered, is the genius of America. Ever-flowing change. And I remembered further that one reason these changes happen is that America is a really big tent. We don’t just have all kinds of people here. We have all kinds of ideologies. Indeed, three of these ideologies are represented in three of the national “anthems”:

  1. humanism/oneness (America the Beautiful: “And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea”)
  2. religion (God Bless America: “Stand beside her, and guide her, thru the night with a light from above”)
  3. militarism (Star Spangled Banner: “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night, that our flag was still there”)

These are three very different ideologies. But if you listen to the words of these three songs, they are neither strident nor exclusionary. They’re inviting to the other ideologies.

And so this is the DNA of America. This is the reason for our glorious changing seasons.

Every ideology gets full voice in this nation. Some even get their own anthem.

And out of all these disparate voices, particularly the most reasonable among them, a nation moves with the times.

To me, America just passed out of a “God Bless America” phase, and is now in an “America the Beautiful” period. On the horizon, however, looms the “Star Spangled Banner”.

for the money has gone too far

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July 2009