Do you ever feel as if you’ve been worked over by your government?

Getting a ticketI am very disgruntled. I got a moving violation today and have the strong feeling that I was set up.

There is a road near my home that I travel frequently. It’s a familiar road and, in its own way, a fun one:  Many people in my community travel that road on foot and I like to keep an eye out for friends.  Seeing them always gives me a comfortable, small town feel.

Given my dual reasons for keeping an eye out for pedestrians (safety and small town friendliness), you can take my word for it when I say that, as I neared a specific cross street, there were no pedestrians drawing near and, as I drove past that specific cross street, there were no pedestrians heading towards it from the opposition direction. Indeed, the only pedestrians  were two men nearing this particular intersection as I drove towards it.

Just as I entered the intersection (going the speed limit), one of the men walking north towards the corner suddenly swerved east towards the cross walk and stepped off the curb. I had a split second to figure out what to do. In that split second, he looked over his shoulder, up the cross street, and then stepped back onto the sidewalk. I had my foot hovering over the brake, ready to plow my passenger into the dashboard, but his change of plan made me change my plan.  I decided that he’d changed his mind about his impulsive decision to cross the street (because there was no indication that he was previously contemplating doing so), and I drove on.

Fifteen seconds later, I saw a motorcycle police officer coming up behind me with his lights on. An officer wearing a uniform from a police department two towns away from mine approached and asked politely if I had seen the pedestrian. I said that I had, but that he’d stepped into the intersection when it was too late for me to stop safely for the passengers in the car — even though I was going the speed limit — and, since he’d obviously then changed his mind and turned around, I kept going.  The officer informed me that I had enough time to stop and issued me a moving violation.

At this point, I might have thought the whole thing was my bad luck, but then something happened that got me wondering: About four minutes after the policeman stopped me, I saw another car in my rear view mirror getting pulled over. I’m betting he got pulled over for the same infraction because the office went out of his way to tell me that they were cracking down on cars that didn’t stop for pedestrians.

The crackdown might explain that another car got stopped immediately after I did, except for that information I opened the post with:  There were no pedestrians near that intersection other than the two men I mentioned, one of whom got me in trouble.  Perhaps — and I’m just say perhaps – that same pedestrian did the same thing to the other driver that he did to me: Looked as if he wasn’t going to cross, waited until the driver got into the intersection, stepped into the cross walk, then stepped back onto the curb, right in front of another motorcycle cop.

There’s no way I can ever prove this, of course. I just think it’s a remarkable coincidence that, within four minutes, on a street with only two pedestrians at a corner where police were hiding as part of a crackdown, two people got ticketed for moving violations.

It’s not the end of the world, of course, but I don’t like being made a fool of, especially when it costs me money — and being caught in a con (a scam? a sting?) does make me feel as if I’ve been played. Whatever the cost, I can afford it, thank goodness. Others who travel the road can’t (and I wonder if the police let them off with a warning, since the whole infraction is, I believe, a man-created offense).

Aside from the cost of the ticket (and I don’t know yet what it is, but I’m sure it’s not cheap), if I want to avoid seeing my insurance going up, I have to go to traffic school. The county makes that expensive too:

In addition to the bail, you must pay a non-refundable administrative fee of $52 when requesting traffic violator school. The Court accepts certificates of completion from classroom and online traffic violator schools accredited by the Department of Motor Vehicles. You will also be required to pay the fee at the traffic violator school you select. You must submit satisfactory proof of completion to the Court by your due date. If you do so, your citation will not be reported on your driving record. If you sign up for traffic violator school and fail to submit the certificate of completion to the Court by the due date, the Court will notify DMV of your conviction and this conviction will be added to your driving record.

You know what else irked me? The ticket itself. The useful information on the back is illegible, light gray on pink.  I could see that it said “IMPORTANT — READ CAREFULLY,” because that was in 10 pt text and all caps, but everything else was not only in faded gray on pink, but was also 6 or 7 pt text.

If a business handed out a document with important information in illegible text, not only would people not be bound by the information, but the business would be sued under all sorts of consumer protection acts. One of the mandates the law imposes on businesses is that they must ensure that important information in documents that they give to consumers is in dark ink and uses a readable font. Our government, however, is free to hand out unreadable traffic tickets. Fortunately, I was able to access the information I needed on the internet.  Not everyone, though, is as internet savvy as I am, something that’s especially true for older people.

I’ll get over this, but as someone who’s not fond of government at the best of times, I really didn’t need to be on the receiving end of this petty exercise in police power.  I was just speaking today with a contractor about building codes.  He said that inspectors don’t have to have any building experience.  Instead, they can just be any old person who takes a class on how to read the code and apply it to a building site.  This means that the inspector is going to be absolutely inflexible.  Since he has no knowledge, all he can do is paint by bureaucratic numbers.

Take wheelchair ramps, for example.  I like them.  They’re useful for all sorts of people, from the disabled to mothers with baby strollers.  My problem is that codes don’t say only that the ramp has to be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs of a specific width, that it cannot have a grade greater than “X” or less than “Y”, and that it cannot force the disabled to wend their way through garbage piles.  Architects, engineers, and contractors can then act creatively to meet those parameters while still respecting the space or design of the building project.  Instead, codes spell out rigidly what the ramp must be like, even though it might be impossible or cost-prohibitive to fit that specific, code-defined ramp on the project, and even though an equally useful ramp might be built a different way.

I have the same problem with the ticket I got.  There was not the smallest likelihood I would have hit the man, who turned back to the curb the second his foot hit the road.  There’s also no indication that I was driving so recklessly or fast that I would have been unable to stop had it been apparent that he was bound and determined to cross.  The rule didn’t provide any flexibility for me to read the entire situation:  the passengers in my car, the other drivers on my tail, and the pedestrian’s actions, moving both forwards and backwards.

Instead, because the pedestrian (whether he was a plant or not) decided on the spur of the moment to step into the street, I was expected to stop immediately, sending my passengers flying and risking that another car would rear end me.  Keep in  mind that, as the situation played out, I could have hit the pedestrian only if I suddenly accelerated from 30 mph to about 70 mph (which I could do in a Tesla, not my Mom car), or if he had sprinted at warp speed to get in front of me.  Keep in mind too that, if the pedestrian was a continuing into the intersection, or was a child, I would have slammed the brake so hard, I would practically have moved backwards.

Grumble, grumble, grumble.  Grumble.

An update on the story about the liberal mugged by reality, plus news about shoddy police tactics

I wrote a few days ago about my liberal friend who was shocked by the way the judicial system treated a friend of hers who got arrested for allegedly doing a bad thing.  I have absolutely no idea whether the guy is guilty or innocent.  This post posits all three possibilities.

The guy ended up being charged with 21 counts, many of them duplicative, and all of them carrying very high minimum sentences.  He will almost certainly plea bargain.

If he’s guilty, a plea may be a good deal for him.

If he did what he is alleged to have done, but there are extenuating circumstances, that’s irrelevant in terms of deciding the risk of going to trial.  The moment a jury concludes that he committed the acts, he’s done for.  So again, a plea bargain is the way to go.

And then there’s the question of whether he’s innocent.  By charging him with 21 acts, the prosecutor, by bringing 21 counts against him, has already sent a signal to the jury that this is a “bad” man.  The legal presumption may be innocent until proven guilty, but a jury will almost certainly think “Boy, that’s a lot of smoke.  How about if we just convict him on one of the charges?”  The jurors won’t know, of course, that just one of those charges can mean decades in jail.  So again, the best bet for the guy is to plead out.

So think about that for a moment — we have created a judicial system where a person, whether guilty, innocent, or with a good excuse, begs to go to jail rather than to face the stacked deck in court.

But there’s more to it than that: This system encourages lousy police work, because the police know that they probably won’t be called upon to answer for it before a judge and jury.  Police are rational and they are overworked.  Even the best and most decent of them will eventually fall down the slippery slope of dangerously careless policing.

Did I say dangerous?  I meant it.  Please read this post by my friend Mike McDaniel (whose home blog is Stately McDaniel Manor).  It describes the terrible outcome of the kind of shoddy police work that our judicial system actively encourages.

A friend gets a hard lesson about the “liberal” police state

I was quite tired yesterday when I read something interesting.  Having read it, I jotted down an idea for blogging about it.  That note says “loving the individual versus loving the system.”  I then went to bed.  Today, I’ve spent the last several hours trying to remember what I read and what my cryptic little note meant.

Quite obviously, of course, the note refers to the difference between true conservatives, who believe in individualism, and Leftists of every type who speak of the individual, but only as a prop to justify state power.  The problem is that I’ve said this multiple times before at this blog.  What was new and exciting to me was something that I read that more perfectly illustrated the difference between conservative and statist.  I suspect that whatever that interesting trigger was, it’s gone forever, which is too bad.

However, having that thought in my mind did come in handy today when I got a call from a friend.  Someone she knows got arrested on the charge of doing something very bad.  He and his family don’t have much money, so they cannot afford a good lawyer.  Instead, he will get a pro bono public defender pulled from a pool of available attorneys — which means it’s very hit and miss whether the attorney has the actual skills to represent him.  The multiple charges against him carry automatic and lengthy prison terms — in other words, mitigating circumstances are not allowed.  I don’t know whether this person did what the police say he did but I do know that, if he actually did do what was alleged, there are actually mitigating circumstances.

But here’s the deal:  Because of the mandatory sentencing, his pro bono lawyer has already told him to plea bargain.  A trial is just too risky, because the outcome is binary — you win or you go to jail forever — and the attorney isn’t good enough to raise a reasonable challenge to the state’s charges.  That means that, even if this guy is innocent or there are extenuating circumstances, the risk of having his day in court is so great that the system is forcing him to spend the next decade or more in prison.

This is profoundly undemocratic.  We are guaranteed under the constitution a right to a fair and speedy trial, but the system is designed so that people have no incentive to take advantage of that inherent right.  The problem isn’t even as simple as rich defendants versus poor defendants.  It’s the fact that prosecutors layer on as many charges as possible, regardless of their validity, simply to force a plea bargain.  Rich people can hold out longer, but ultimately prosecutorial overreach is a “get into jail very not free” card.

My friend, who is heartbroken, was fulminating about the “police state.”  I agree.  I don’t blame individual police officers or even individual prosecutors (many of whom I count as my friends in the legal world).  They are operating in a system that cedes them greater and greater power, and with power inevitably follows corruption.  This is especially true when there are no checks on that power.

I see this increased power flowing not from the conservatives, who are normally considered law and order types, but from the statists, who are control freaks.  An inevitable byproduct of a control-freak is increased enforcement.  That is, control is meaningless unless you have the brute force to effectuate it.

Put another way, conservatives expect people to behave well.  Rather than micro-managing that behavior, they would like our institutions to teach good behavior as a moral, not a police, imperative.  Think about it this way:  If you remove God from the equation, the Ten Commandments are still a perfect list of core moral behaviors that lead to societal cooperation:

Exodus 20:1-17

Then God said all these words: “I am ADONAI your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the abode of slavery.

Commandment 1
“You are to have no other gods before me.

Commandment 2
You are not to make for yourselves a carved image or any kind of representation of anything in heaven above, on the earth beneath or in the water below the shoreline. You are not to bow down to them or serve them; for I, ADONAI your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but displaying grace to the thousandth generation of those who love me and obey my mitzvot.

Commandment 3
“You are not to use lightly the name of ADONAI your God, because ADONAI will not leave unpunished someone who uses his name lightly.

Commandment 4
“Remember the day, Shabbat, to set it apart for God. You have six days to labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for ADONAI your God. On it, you are not to do any kind of work -not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your livestock, and not the for eigner staying with you inside the gates to your property. For in six days, ADONAI made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why ADONAI blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for himself.

Commandment 5
“Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land which ADONAI your God is giving you.

Commandment 6
“Do not murder.

Commandment 7
“Do not commit adultery.

Commandment 8
“Do not steal.

Commandment 9
“Do not give false evidence against your neighbor.

Commandment 10
“Do not covet your neighbor’s house; do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox, his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

People who willingly abide by these rules are good citizens.  Conservatives do not believe that they are perfect, but that they will err on the side of decency and morality.  The problem, of course, is that without God as the  ultimate, albeit abstract enforcer (which is the case with statists who will not cede any micromanagement even to God), you’re left with nothing put police power to carry out your increasingly petty and overreaching decrees.

Since there are no big rules, there can only be thousands and tens of thousands of petty little rules.  And petty little rules need an awful lot of law enforcement.  And a lot of law enforcement means a vast concentration of power centered on policing.  It also means an overwhelmed prison system that incentivizes going to jail rather than presenting your case.

What was fascinating was that my friend, in the midst of her unhappiness, had an epiphany:  Sen.  Dianne Feinstein is one of the leading lights of state power.  It’s true.  The minatory, bossy, arrogant Feinstein is certain that she knows everything better than you.  She goes about armed or with guards, but she knows that you’re too stupid to be armed.  Or if you are allowed to be armed, she knows which gun you should use and how many bullets it will take for you to defend yourself.  She knows what you should be paid for your work, she knows how much of your income the government can spend better than you, and she knows that it’s up to her to control even the minutest details of your life.

My friend, though, hasn’t quite connected all the dots.  After fingering DiFi as the living embodiment of Big Government, my friend said, in a bewildered voice, “I don’t understand how she could have come out of San Francisco.”

I’m not shy.  I told my friend that SF is the perfect DiFi breeding ground.  Take away San Francisco’s endless tolerance for public nudity and gay sex, and you reveal a City government with pure tyrannical instincts.  The Board of Stupidvisors micromanages the city in every way possible and has since the Leftist takeover in the 1960s.  Here are just a few examples, which appear in posts I’ve written over the years:

San Francisco: America’s homegrown anarchic totalitarianism

San Francisco mulls expanding gay rights program at expense of academic programs *UPDATED*

The politics of City budgets in liberal cities *UPDATED*

Socialist governments just LOVE to control food

We’ll spend your money no matter what

American taxpayers officially on the hook for a 1.7 mile tunnel in SF

Life for the law-abiding in San Francisco

You get what you pay for with city government

Only in SF is JROTC a “controversial” program

Dealing with government bureaucracies

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad, nude world — if you live in San Francisco

The streets of San Francisco (or, this is Nancy Pelosi’s city)

San Francisco’s pro-tenant laws and ethos drive up the cost of renting

Life in an increasingly fascist city — what San Francisco’s plastic bag ban means

Pro-Life versus Get-A-Life

This definitely wasn’t the post I intended to write, but it will have to do.

You need a scorecard to know the players — or yet another reason why citizens should be armed

I may not own a gun, but I cherish my right to own a gun should I want one.  Ever since Hurricane Katrina, I’ve realized that police cannot always be there to protect people.  What I’ve also realized, is the police officers can be just as dangerous when they’re on the scene as when they’re not.  This thought has been swirling around in the back of my brain ever since I started learning about a practice called “swatting.”  Swatting happens when a person, either as a (stupid) prank or from real malevolence, calls 911 and reports a hostage situation at the target’s address.  These reports always require a SWAT team to appear.  Homeowners find themselves awakened when the police surround their house or burst through their doors.  The there’s a high likelihood that something terrible will happen, such as the police shooting a befuddled homeowner who appears threatening.

Even without swatting, though, the police can be dangerous because they don’t know who the bad guys are.  With the best will in the world, in a confused situation, it’s impossible for them to tell who’s the homeowner and who’s the intruder.  In Fort Worth, Texas, police shot a grandfather who, hearing a ruckus from his neighbor’s house (police searching for drugs, as it turned out), grabbed his gun and went over to help out.  He never even made it off his driveway but was, instead, was shot dead by the police.  I’m not blaming the police.  I’m just citing this particular story as an example of the fact that, in fraught situations, police are justifiably nervous and can’t tell good guys from bad.  Neighbors, however, know each other, and a homeowner certainly knows who shouldn’t be in his house.

A little grab bag of things regarding Boston’s travails *UPDATED*

[UPDATE:  Thanks to Libby and John C, please scroll down to see two more great images.]

Tom Elia, who blogs at The New Editor, alerted me to this tweeted picture, which purportedly shows the rear bumper sticker on the car the Chechen brothers carjacked.  If you look carefully on the bumper’s right side….

Bumper sticker of jacked car in Boston

It’s a hokey old song, but I thought of it when I thought of the wave of first responders, in Boston, in Cambridge, in Watertown, and in West (Texas), who so willingly showed up when the calls came in:

And finally, on a slightly less mordant note, did you know that one of Sinatra’s later albums (1970) was called Watertown (apparently after a place in New York) and that it had a song of the some name? I don’t like the song, but it seems appropriate here:

UPDATES:

What coexist really means

Coexist as it should be

Moral hazard and martial arts — and was I making any sense at all?

It all started when my sister and I got to talking about the up-coming Olympics.  I used to enjoy them when ABC presented each day’s events as a tightly packaged three-hour narrative, complete with villains (usually the Russian, French, or East German judges) and myriad heroes, whether they were the known champions who saw years of hard work paying off, or the dark horses who surprised everyone by appearing out of nowhere. While I may not like my news packaged, I don’t mind it at all when it comes to my Olympics.

Now that the Olympics seem to be 24 hours a day, with a fairly random presentation, I’m overwhelmed and, barring something spectacular (such as Michael Phelps’ amazing run of gold medals), I don’t have the patience for it.

Having determined to our mutual satisfaction that we both feel the same way about the Olympics, my sister offered me an interesting factual tidbit:  “I’ve heard,” she said, “that they’re thinking of adding Mixed Martial Arts to the Olympics, but the people opposing it say that it’s little better than dog fighting.”

My hackles went up instantly — not at her, but at the people who would say that.

“First off,” I said, “professional MMA is a voluntary activity.

“Second, these guys perceive themselves as warriors victims, not victims warriors.  [That was a heck of a dyslexic mistake, wasn't it?]

“And third, while they get a lot of injuries, I bet the injuries are less serious than football.  It’s the whole ‘moral hazard’ thing — the more you insulate people from known risks, the more dangerous their behavior is.

“Think of the difference between football and rugby.  The rugby guys get seriously trashed with superficial injuries to most parts of their bodies, but the lack of helmets mean that they don’t lead with their heads.  You therefore don’t hear about head and spine injuries with rugby players.

“With football players, though, the helmets and padding mean that the league has relied on increasingly large players, who use increasingly aggressive pressure on the opposition.  The injuries can be deep and profound.

“MMA’s the same thing — the guys tear up their knees and shoulders, which is a bad thing, but not life threatening.  It’s a risk they ought be allowed to take.  And they’re grown men, which means that they’re probably getting a lot less trashed than all those little gymnastics, who have been taking enormous risks with aerial activities, not to mention the bone stress and eating disorders.”

Clearly, I was on a roll.  Fortunately, I was preaching to the choir, since my sister just said, “Well, you know that the safest communities are those with the least police presence.”

“That sounds right to me,” I responded.  “After all, no one is going to care as much about protecting you and your loved ones as you are.  Provided, of course, that the authorities haven’t taken your weapons away.  You know that old saying:  when seconds count, the police are minutes away.”

“Yeah,” she answered.  “Look at Chicago.  They have this insane crime rate and they already have one of highest ratios of police officers per citizen in America.  So the City is going to hire more than a thousand police officers, as if that’s going to work.”

“It’s just like teachers, isn’t it?” I offered.  “We keep being told that our failing schools will get better if we hire more teachers, even though there’s no evidence that this approach works.  More than that, it ignores the fact that, back in the day when you and I were in school, our classrooms routinely had 35-40 students per teacher, and our test scores and overall education was just as high as now, if not higher.”

“That’s right,” said my sister.  “They never look at whether the teachers are teaching a smart way, or whether politics is interfering with education.”

She and I ended our conversation then, quite satisfied with each other.

But here’s the problem:  Were we right about anything we said?  Is rugby safer than football when it comes to serious (brain and spine) injuries versus superficial (teeth, nose, elbows, knees, etc.) injuries?  Are the safest communities in America those with the least police presence?  Does Chicago really have one of the highest rates of police per citizen?  And do today’s students really know less than students in the 60s and 70s, or have our expectations gone up since then?

These are good questions and we probably should have known the answers before we started talking.  As it is, I’m simply too lazy today to check whether my facts are right.  And in keeping with my previous post, “When ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”  Since every issue resolved itself so neatly, why in the world would I want to mess up my nice little conversation with actual, possibly different, facts?

British police can’t even defend themselves against dogs

Perhaps I’m misunderstanding things here, but as I read this article, five British police officers got badly mauled by a single dog because none had a gun.  It wasn’t until a SWAT team arrived that the attack ended.

In America, the police are minutes away when seconds count.  In England, the police are there, but who cares?  Even the dogs aren’t scared.

Self defense and the police

I finally figured out the Second Amendment when Hurricane Katrina struck.  I mean, I’d always known before that the police can’t be everywhere and that they often show up to mop up after a crime, because the criminal and done and gone so quickly.  The knowledge that they’re out there is certainly a deterrent to crime generally, but it cannot stop all crimes specifically.  Knowing that intellectually was not the same as understanding that viscerally.  Hurricane Katrina brought the whole thing home:  with the best will in the world, it was impossible for New Orlean’s police to protect citizens literally left adrift by the Gulf’s raging waters.  Those with guns protected themselves.  Those without were vulnerable.

Mike McDaniel gets this.  A former police officer and current Second Amendment stalwart, he understands the limits of what the police can do, and the point at which the citizenry is responsible for its own care.  It’s a post that’s worth reading.  I don’t have a gun in my house for various reasons, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t think you shouldn’t have one either.

A pepper spray series

From Zombie, who comments on the gaggle of giggling girls who gleefully relive their pepper spray experience,

and

From Castra Praetoria, who’s been pepper sprayed a few times himself (but all in the line of duty),

and also

From James Taranto, who notes that a lack of actual aggression doesn’t mean that the protesters weren’t engaging in the type of activity that calls for police crowd control of the physical variety.

Giving police respect *UPDATED*

I’ve been following with interest the discussion about police power.  I agree with OldFlyer completely that police authority versus identity politics is not the main issue here, especially because of the fact that all evidence surrounding the Gates arrest is, to date, self-serving ex post facto data.  Instead, OldFlyer is completely right that the important issue is Obama’s strikingly divisive and unpresidential behavior, followed by his narcissistic inability to admit that he erred.  Nevertheless, the discussion about police power is an interesting one.

Thinking about it during the night (insomnia is a great spur to deep thought), it occurred to me that I have no problem giving police respect because I don’t see the relationship between civilians and police as a demeaning “they have power, I don’t” situation.  Instead, I give police respect because they’re doing a difficult and necessary job.  I don’t deny that police officers have a great deal of power, but I recognize the necessity of that on-scene power because they’re willingly entering dangerous situations most of us would flee.  Without power, they’re just fish in a barrel, waiting to be shot.  Ultimately, I am grateful for their service, and I admire what they do.  More than that, I appreciate that we’re lucky enough to live in a country in which most police officers carry out this job with dignity, decency and honesty.

Unlike me, people who show respect to police officers only because the latter are in a power position don’t actually respect them at all.  Instead, they hold them in contempt.  Rather than viewing cops as an admirable front line against anarchy (“thank you for taking the time to make my world safer, even if it means casting a suspicious look on me”), they view them as power-hungry control freaks (“you’re just holding this job because you like to feel important, but I’ll make nice because I’m scared of your power”).  It is these civilians who, when they get obstreperous, find themselves hauled in on “disorderly conduct” charges — and this happens because the police recognize the contempt motivating the behavior.

UPDATE:  It turns out I’m not the only one who approaches law enforcement with genuine respect.  (Not that I speed, so I haven’t yet had to talk myself out of anything!)

Non sequiturs are us (or are Obama)

Isn’t the first advice of being in a hole to stop digging?  Someone needs to remind Obama of that, because he’s still out there making enemies of police officers throughout America.  He’s also saying utterly ridiculous things to justify his position.  How’s this one?

The president said he understands the sergeant who arrested Gates is an “outstanding police officer.” But he added that with all that’s going on in the country with health care and the economy and the wars abroad, “it doesn’t make sense to arrest a guy in his own home if he’s not causing a serious disturbance.”

If police offers were responsible for health care, the economy and foreign wars, that might make sense. As it is, though, their job is to protect the public at home, and to ensure that citizens cooperate with them in keeping communities safe.  What Obama said isn’t even a straw man argument.  It’s just nonsense.

Round-up on the Gates arrest — and Obama’s comments *UPDATED*

By now, you’ve all heard about the Henry Louis Gates incident:  a neighbor reported a possible break-in; cops came; they discovered that it was Gates trying to get in after being locked out; and, when things got heated, the cops arrested Gates.  Gates has cried racism; the cops claim a righteous arrest.  Since it was a “he said/he said” story, I pretty much ignored it, waiting for more information.  On the known facts, it was possible that Gates became obstreperous with those who are on the front line of American crime.  Alternatively, it was possible that some white officer, poorly paid, had it with a black man living “above his station.”  I didn’t know, and neither did you.  Barack Obama, however, was less wise than we are and, in a nationally televised presser, decided to weigh in, strongly criticizing a member of America’s police forces.

The result of Obama’s immature, hasty, impolitic foray is an overwhelming onslaught of newspaper stories and blog links.  I think the whole thing is sufficiently interesting — since it combines race, domestic security, Hah-vahd elitism, and Barack Obama — that I’ve got a fairly comprehensive round-up of links on the subject.  As always, I’m very interested in any comments and insights you might have.

The arrest itself

The arrest report which tells of a very uncooperative Prof. Gates.  He refused to step out onto the porch to identify himself or speak with the police officer (something that would have made the police feel safer); he instantly and repeatedly played the race card (are you investigating this “because I’m a black man in America?”); and then he threatened the offer.  All in all, stupid behavior, regardless of your color.  (The Boston Globe, incidentally, found the report too damning, and scrubbed it.)

Mary Katharine Ham has a good summary of the arrest itself.  As others have noticed, the pattern is this:  officers got a report of a crime in progress; they find a man in the house who refused to identify himself, who refused to come to the safety of the porch, and who then hurled insults and threats at them.  The officers took the bait and arrested him.  Racism?  No.  Human nature?  Yes.

James Taranto’s comment on the whole affair, which he wrote long before Obama weighed in.  It’s especially interesting, because Taranto found himself in the same position once, when he was a guest in a friend’s house, but was mistaken for an intruder. We’ll pick up as the police are trying to enter the house to apprehend a potential burglar:

Apparently a neighbor had seen us in the yard, mistaken us for a strange man, and summoned the police. As we recall, there were two cops. They were not friendly. We remember vividly that one of them had his gun drawn, albeit defensively (that is, it was still pointed into the holster).

We were shocked and offended by the intrusion, but we had the presence of mind not to give voice to those feelings. We explained the situation, showed our identification, and demonstrated that the key in our pocket unlocked the front door. Satisfied that we were not a trespasser or burglar, the policemen left. They did not apologize. The experience left us a bit rattled. But on reflection we realized that although perhaps the policemen’s manner could have used some improvement, they were merely doing their job. It wasn’t their fault the information on which they acted was bad.

Having been through a similar experience, we feel qualified to say that Gates handled the situation poorly. Becoming belligerent with a police officer is almost never a good idea. Not only can it get you arrested, but it can cause a merely uncomfortable situation to escalate into a deadly one. If Gates thought the officer behaved improperly, he should have held his peace, defused the situation, and later taken the matter up with local officials. In addition, if Gates did tell the officer he had “no idea who he was messing with,” he showed a distinct lack of grace.

This is not to say that the police are always right, and it seems to us that arresting Gates was an unwise use of the officer’s authority. Having ascertained that the burglary report was false, the cop had no reason to remain on the scene. This appears to have been a misunderstanding between two stubborn men, both of whom would be better off had one of them exercised some maturity and forbearance.

To be sure, we are a person of pallor, so that our encounter with the cops lacked the racial overtones of Gates’s. We did not enjoy being obsequious to men who were not even polite to us, but to do so was not a racial humiliation, as it evidently would have been to Gates.

Whether or not it is true in 2009 that “this is what happens to black men in America,” it must be an awful burden to be a black man in America and believe that it is true. Gates and his supporters might consider whether their actions in this matter help ease or compound this burden for younger black males who are still forming their ideas of what it is to be a black man in America.

Larry Elder (who is black) also had a similar experience, and discovered that a soft answer turneth away wrath:

OK, the cops overreacted. Cops’ training involves dealing with verbally abusive citizens. They could have walked away, written a report and allowed the prosecutor to determine whether to file charges. But Gates overreacted, too.

Last week, about 2 p.m., while driving a nice car, I got stopped by a police officer about a block from my home in Los Angeles. The officer asked for license and registration. “Yes, sir,” I said, handing him my license. Before I could retrieve the registration, he said, “Mr. Elder, do you still live at this address?” I said I did. He said: “OK. I stopped you because you rolled through a stop sign. Two pedestrians saw you, and they gestured to me, as if saying, ‘Are you going to do something about that?’ So I felt I had to stop you. I’m not looking for area residents. I’m looking for people who don’t live here who might be committing crimes. You’re fine.”

I did roll through the stop sign. He could have ticketed me. Rather, he responded to my politeness with politeness. Besides, don’t we want a proactive police department that, within the law, doesn’t just react to crime but also tries to prevent it?

Cops routinely deal with conflict, angry citizens and quite often the worst of the worst — while going to work every day willing to take a bullet for someone they don’t even know.

Even Henry You-Don’t-Know-Who-You’re-Messing-With Gates should understand that.

Cops are human beings, too.

Chris Rock has practical advice about how a black man (indeed, how any man) should act when the cops approach.

Dr. Boyce Watkins, a black man and the son of a police officer:

I might be kicked out of “The Black scholars club” for saying this, but the truth is that I don’t feel sorry for Henry Louis Gates. America is far more capitalist than it is racist, so a distinguished Harvard University Professor like Gates is likely to get more respect than the average White American. The idea that he is somehow the victim of the same racism that sends poor Black men to prison simply doesn’t fly with me, and Gates should be careful about appearing to exploit the plight of Black men across America to win his battle of egos with the Cambridge Police Department. At worst, Gates has been a victim of racial profiling by the woman who called the police, as well as the officer who may have interpreted his protests as being more belligerent than they actually were. The same thing happens to Black boys in the school system, who are suspended at astronomical rates for bad behavior. The fact that the charges have now been dropped against Gates shows that a mistake has clearly been made.

One can reasonably argue that Professor Gates would not have had this experience if he were a White woman who seemed to “belong” in the neighborhood. I’ve heard officers refer to the “invisible” line in our city, where the rich are protected from the poor, and those who don’t seem to belong are arrested. By being Black, Gates surely crossed the invisible line in his community. However, once Gates proved to the officer that he was the owner of the home, the officer should have simply said “thank you” and left the premises.

One question that can’t be answered is whether or not the officer was being verbally abused by the stereotypical Harvard arrogance of a man who felt that he was above being questioned. Dr. Gates, in all of his frustration, might have been served well to remember that the officer has a gun and that this situation could have been dealt with at a later date. Perhaps telling the officer that he “doesn’t know who he’s messing with” (as the officer alleges) was one way of making sure that the officer knew his place in the “Haaa-vad” (Harvard) pecking order. If that is the case, then I cannot sign off on Dr. Gates’ reaction to the officer who may have been simply trying to do his job.

The man at the center of this firestorm:

But people who know Crowley were skeptical or outright dismissive of allegations of racism. A prominent defense lawyer, a neighbor of Crowley’s, his union, and fellow officers described him yesterday as a respected, and respectful, officer who performs his job well and has led his colleagues in diversity training.

“He’s evenhanded and, in the cases I’ve had with him, he’s been very much in control and very professional,’’ said Joseph W. Monahan III, a criminal defense lawyer in Cambridge and former Middlesex County prosecutor. Monahan has represented several defendants arrested by Crowley for domestic assaults and for drunken driving.

Crowley himself, speaking to the Globe yesterday and again last night in Natick, said he will not apologize and asserted, “I am not a racist.’’

Crowley’s police union issued a statement saying it had reviewed the arrest of Gates and expressed “full and unqualified support’’ for his actions.

Obama’s comments

Barack Obama, weighing in against the police, despite freely admitting his ignorance, and including a joke that, if it was about a bomb at an airport, would get him arrested.  (And as to that joke, it’s in exceptionally bad taste and is an insult to every security person working at the White House.):

Though some facts of the case are still in dispute, Obama showed little doubt about who had been wronged.

“I don’t know – not having been there and not seeing all the facts – what role race played in that, but I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two that he Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home,” Obama said in response to a question from the Chicago Sun-Times’s Lynn Sweet.

Gates, Obama allowed, “is a friend, so I may be a little biased here. I don’t know all the facts.”

However Gates, he continued, “jimmied his way to get into [his own] house.”

“There was a report called in to the police station that there might be a burglary taking place – so far so good,” Obama said, reflecting that he’d hope the police were called if he were seen breaking into his own house, then pausing.

“I guess this is my house now,” he remarked of the White House. “Here I’d get shot.”

Yuval Levin on how peculiar it was for Obama to opine on a police matter (although Brutally Honest thinks that this was par for the course for Obama):

There is much to be said about the astonishing dishonesty of President Obama’s health-care rhetoric tonight, and much (no doubt) will be said. But I have to admit I was actually most struck by his answer to the last question, about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. It’s the kind of question to which a president would normally reply with something like: “That’s a local police matter, I don’t know the details and I know it will be worked out responsibly,” and move along. Obama gave a lengthy review of the facts, called the police officers involved stupid, and implied they are also liars. Very odd behavior for a president.

Levin wasn’t the only one who realized how improper it was for Obama to opine on an issue about which he knows nothing:

“I support the president of the United States 110 percent. I think he was way off base wading into a local issue without knowing all the facts as he himself stated before he made that comment,” [Sgt. James] Crowley told WBZ-AM. “I guess a friend of mine would support my position, too.”

Michelle Malkin on the reflexive hostility the left has to the police:

Who’s surprised that President Obama trashed police officers as “stupid” on national TV and implied they were racist despite “not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that?”

This is Barack Obama, friend of cop-targeting domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose door sports a picture of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal.

This is Barack Obama, leader of the Democrat Party, which still embraces police-hater Al Sharpton.

“I might be a little biased,” Obama admitted before unleashing on the police.

We know. We know.

Dan Riehl opines about the way in which Obama completely destroyed his post-racial image:

As the occupant of the WH, Obama has a responsibility to speak for all Americans. He appears to be showing a pattern of not doing that, but seeing everything through a lens of racial politics, first. It is as unfortunate as it is dumb.

Not having all

the facts, he should have withheld judgment, perhaps pronouncing the incident as unfortunate. He didn’t term Professor Gates’ alleged reaction to questioning, after apparently breaking into his own home, as ill-considered, let alone stupid, or otherwise dumb. And

the Cambridge police are not the neighbor who summoned them to the scene. We have no way of knowing if they acted “stupidly,” or not. However, that was a conclusion Barack Obama was prepared to jump to based solely upon Race, while admitting not knowing

the facts.

He also displayed a willingness to abandon American police officers in the line of duty without a full hearing of

the facts. It’s impossible to recall any former president doing such a thing, at least before some objective fact finding was done. This may not be a wound he recovers from, and certainly not easily, in terms of his political career.

Meanwhile, any notion of a post-racial era in America due to Obama is likely doomed. That, perhaps, is the biggest shame of all.

Jules Crittendon thinks Obama needs some sensitivity training:

Gates has been demanding sensitivity training, and I’m beginning to think he’s right. Some sensitivity training might be called for in this situation. For the Harvard professors, 24-hour news network ministers and apparently presidents of the United States as well, on how destructive it is to individuals, to race relations and to society in general to level inflammatory accusations of racism or to call people “stupid” and “rogues” without knowing who they are, what they are about, or even what exactly happened.

Thomas Lifson nicely summarizes the facts, and the probable political damage Obama incurred by wading into this.

UPDATE:  Thinking about this, Obama was quick to opine about police stupidity, despite a complete absence of facts, but tried to protect himself by saying, “”I don’t know – not having been there and not seeing all the facts – what role race played in that….”  That was just cover talk, as his indicated by his execrable and offensive joke about White House security.  He does believe this was about race — AND HE’S RIGHT.

Why is Obama right?  Because the police report (which is the only near contemporaneous evidence we have right now) shows that Gates immediately escalated the situation by making it about race.  His first words, after refusing to cooperate, were “Why, because I’m a black man in America?”  He then accused the officer of racism.  He then told unknown third parties that the officer was racist.  And since then, Gates has made it about race.  So yes, this was definitely about race.

Also, I have some more insights about Obama’s involvement in all this.  At Maggie’s Farm, Bruce Kesler weighs in on the whole thing.  He sees this, not as a race fight, even those it’s phrased in those terms, but as yet more class warfare:

In our democracy, the elites are not supposed to be anointed by God or hereditary, nor allowed any special governmental privileges, rights or exceptions from the laws that govern everyone else. Elites in America should earn respect for their character, accomplishments and contributions alone.

Consider how far we’ve gone in another direction, toward self-selected groups flaunting their disregard of common morality and sense, and even the law, as if immune or above the obligations and restrictions necessary to maintaining a society and government of free peoples working in comity and decency toward individual and national advancements above personal benefits and pelf.

And Andy McCarthy, of course, has Obama’s number:

[T]he Gates question smelled like a set-up to me. Obama went out of his way to call on that reporter as the last questioner of the night — even when some confusion about whether he’d called on someone else resulted in his having to go back to her after taking another question.

For a wartime president managing a slew of manufactured “crises” in a reeling economy, he was sure armed with an astonishing level of detail about the arrestee’s side of the story in a local breaking-and-entering case that had resulted in no charges being filed. Obama even had a “spontaneous” joke at the ready about how he himself would probably get “shot” if he ever tried to break into the White House. The joke, of course, fell flat. Trust me on this one (I used to be the guy who decided whether to file federal charges in Westchester County in the first few years after the Clintons moved there): Outside the courtiers of the White House press corps, no one — especially the Secret Service — likes jokes about American presidents getting shot.

And it is just shameful for an American president to describe the police as “stupid” and feed into the racializing of the Gates case.

Taranto, by the way, has now decided that Obama and Gates were in the right, and Crowley was wrong.  He has a point, which is that, although Gates was unbelievably offensive in the beginning, once Gates proved he was the homeowner, Crowley should have backed off.  The problem is, that’s not so easy, once someone has been hurling threats and imprecations at you (and at unknown third parties, over the telephone).

I vividly recall that, after Mel Gibson was arrested, the news was filled with stories of his antisemitic outburst.  One caller to a talk show was a highway patrolman, and he said that drunks, because they lack judgment, frequently try to inflame, rather than conciliate officers, with the inevitable results.  I’m not saying Gates was drunk, but his response to the officers was certainly inflammatory.  Should we then be surprised that the officers, whose lives are at risk every time they report to such a situation, got inflamed?

UPDATE IIBill Cosby too states that Obama’s remarks, given the informational vacuum in which he operated, were completely inappropriate.  This is not about race.  It’s about a President not taking sides in this kind of dog fight.  It’s wrong when the same president who deals in airy-fairy, “I’m always the good guy in the middle” generalities, suddenly takes sides and calls an American police officer stupid.

UPDATE IIIHube also wonders whethering being a complete jerk who practically invites arrest shows that the arresting cops were racists (as opposed to just really, really angry).