Veteran Maryland criminal attorney Michael D. Montemarano sent me his thoughts on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. in Cambridge.
"Most cops are, as Sgt. Crowley appears to be, hardworking and reasonable professionals. Being human, however, they can make mistakes, and can do so without being, or being understood as, racist or power-mad. The best question, it seems to me, arising out of this teachable moment, is the appropriate relationship of the police to the community.
Simply put, the police are not, and should not be considered any different or more special than, any other public servant. They work for the citizenry. If they don't like that concept, they should get out of the business. In my view, over the past 20 to 30 years, especially as driven by the war on drugs and the hostile us-against-them attitude this has engendered on the part of the police toward parts of the community, the police have lost sight of this subordinate relationship, and the courts and prosecutors have failed to rein them in adequately.
Once Sgt. Crowley learned that Prof. Gates lived in the house . . . he should have been out the door like a shot, no pun intended, with "Apparently the report was incorrect, sir. Sorry to have troubled you," still echoing in the hallway.
He did not. He described Prof. Gates, whom he had identified and who was then standing in his own home, to the police dispatcher as "a bit uncooperative." So? Having made the ID, what was the sergeant's purpose for being there? Was he invited? Did he have a warrant? With the identification of the "home invader" as the homeowner, his job was done and his presence unneeded as a matter of police policy, and unjustified as a matter of law. He should have left, posthaste. Prolonging the confrontation with an uncooperative, hostile, angry, loud and unpleasant individual was on him.
Certainly Prof. Gates did not need to get unpleasant, make comments about Sgt. Crowley's mother, whatever the officer claims. But this was not a relationship among equals, once the ID had been made. An uninvited guest was in a person's home, and under Maryland law failure to vacate the premises can support a charge of trespass. That IS a crime. This was Sgt. Crowley's legal obligation, I submit, and was not in any way paralleled by an obligation on the part of Prof. Gates to be civil. Prof. Gates' misbehavior is on him, but it does not amount to a crime, given the rest of the facts.
Any other viewpoint elevates the interests, and tender sensitivities, of the police over those of the citizen and homeowner who pays his salary. Officer Friendly is the one with the gun and the training, and he is paid NOT to overreact. So why did he? And when he did, he acted "stupidly." I start to understand why the President was on the Law Review at Harvard. Smart guy.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
No answer from the ACLU or NACDL...but at last at least one lawyer has done a legal analysis of Sergeant Crowley's case against Henry Louis Gates...I wonder whether President Obama has read this? From Dan Rodricks' Baltimore Sun blog: