Here’s where I think the police officer went wrong with the unfortunate incident this week involving Henry Louis Gates. Rather than apologize at the scene once he understood that Gates was in his own home, he acted in a heavy-handed fashion sending us a reminder that the police must have the last word.
If you were confronted in your home by a police officer, wouldn’t you be upset? Gates justifiably may have been agitated so the smart thing for Sgt. Crowley to do would have been back off, apologize and wish Prof. Gates a nice day. The local media would have covered it and 24 hours later, the incident would have been largely forgotten. Yes, this is 20/20 hindsight, but I can’t imagine there weren’t opportunities for Sgt. Crowley to go conciliatory unless Gates required a straight jacket.
Instead, Sgt. Crowley with his union and department in supporting roles, saying police were just going by the book. No apologies necessary. How many times have we heard that it cost nothing to apologize? How many times have we heard how unproductive pride can be? Forget racism at least about this part of the incident.
Sgt. Crowley is not a monster. He was the EMT who tried to save basketball player Reggie Lewis’ life several years ago and is respected by his colleagues and neighbors. But I think Sgt. Crowley would have acted the the same way with me (I’m white). Does he wish he could have this one back? You bet although he won’t admit it.
[You can hear his side of the story from a WEEI sports radio interview this morning. His tone seems conciliatory, but his sympathetic questioners and faux news commentators Dennis and Callahan toss him softballs all the way. I wish he had gone onto a more objective and real news outlet such as WBZ. D&C are supposed to talk about sports, but unfortunately veer or I should say, careen into news.]
The incident reinforces the notion that if you challenge or shout at a police officer, some (more than others) will quickly slap the cuffs on, call it disorderly conduct and claim `going by the book.’ You can’t tell me “the book” would say this incident was intelligently handled. After all, the charges against Gates were dropped the following day. Now, that was smart!
I suppose I have sidestepped the issue of racism, but it’s hard to say what was going through Sgt. Crowley’s head although I suspect he is a product of his difficult environment. Big city policing is a dangerous and difficult job, but they should at least try to fight off the cynicism.
As for Gates, he should tone down rhetoric. Maybe he will after reading Joan Vennochi’s column in this morning’s Boston Globe which says he behaved like an arrogant Harvard professor used to deferential treatment, not just “a black man in America.” Testosterone and machismo played a big role in this incident and perhaps Prof. Gates should acknowledge that (and Harvard provides him with a house, too?!).
The incident has been instructive. Cool heads need to prevail.