He arrested Skip Gates to silence an angry man
President Obama had a problem. He had just called the Cambridge Police Department "stupid" for arresting Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his own home last summer, and the critics were circling. So he invited Gates and the officer, Sergeant James Crowley, to the White House for a beer.
"I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart," said Obama. Problem solved.
The president let Crowley off easy, but we won't. Because Crowley's arrest of Gates stands as a textbook example of what happens when a keyed-up, macho police officer encounters someone who gives him lip — even when that person is understandably outraged at the idea that the police had been summoned solely because he was African-American.
Gates's so-called offense has a name: "contempt of cop." Last month, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting reviewed six years' worth of arrests for disorderly conduct Cambridge and found no racial pattern. On the other hand, the center reported, 60 percent of such arrests involved talking back to police.
Did Gates overreact? He may have. He and his taxi driver were seen trying to force open a stuck door, and they may well have looked like they were breaking in. But Crowley, upon arriving at the scene, was quickly able to figure out that he was dealing with the legal resident of the property, not an intruder.
Thus, even if Gates were ranting and raving (something he denies), Crowley should have understood why Gates believed he had been racially profiled. More to the point, he should have left. Instead, he arrested Gates and charged him with disturbing the peace — a charge that Middlesex County District Attorney Gerard Leone dropped as soon as it hit his desk.
The arrest of Skip Gates quickly blew into an international incident, and it's not over yet. A panel named by city officials to investigate the incident was expected to weigh in just as the Phoenix was going to press. Nor have we heard a rational explanation for why Crowley said the sole eyewitness reported seeing two black men. The woman who had called the police came forward to say she had said nothing to the police about the men's race.
What has been firmly established is that a man who had done nothing wrong, standing in his own home, was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to the police station solely for mouthing off to a police officer. It's an outrage — not to mention, as our president so eloquently put it, really, really stupid.