Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Police State and Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. - Part II

In my last article I spoke about the similarities between the case of Skip Gates and that of Rosa Parks. Today I'm going to discuss what the case of Rodney King can teach us about the case of Henry Gates.

I know that probably 95% of my audience stopped reading immediately after seeing the name Rodney King. And I know that I seem to be contradicting everything I said in my previous article about this not being primarily a case of racism by bringing up the most racially charged incident in recent American history.

So why bring up Rodney King at all? Why fan the flames of racism? Well it was one of those serendipitous things that occasionally occurs when you're searching on the internet. You type a phrase into Google expecting to get one thing and come up with something totally different.

That's what happened to me. I was getting so frustrated about the nature of the online conversation regarding Dr. Gates' arrest that I yearned to gain some clarity. And I thought. as others have as well, if we could only get the tapes of the radio transmissions. Then we would finally be able to find out exactly what happened.

So I did a search using the following words - gates police tape. The first articles I found suggested that the Cambridge Police Department was considering releasing the tapes. Hey take your time. The arrest occurred on Thursday, July 16. That was ten days ago. No hurry. But first they have to review the tapes. Why? Are they trying to hide something? Are they giving the Police Union a chance to hear it first in case there is something that might reflect badly on one of their "brothers" in the fraternal order of police.

And what about the 911 call? Wouldn't it be relevant to hear what is on that call as well? Especially after so much vitriol and hatred has been spewed in the direction of a distinguished Harvard professor. And the one charge that has been repeated over and over that perhaps bothers me the most is the accusations that the real racist in this case is not the police officer, but instead it is the academic who has spent his life studying and fighting racism.

I clicked to the next page of results and then found this link "Shocked by Tape of King Beating, Gates Testifies - Los Angeles Times". Gates in this case referred to the former Los Angeles Police Department Chief Daryl F. Gates. You remember him, don't you? I was almost hypnotically drawn to open this link. And here is what I found.
Former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, testifying Thursday in Rodney G. King's lawsuit against Gates and 14 other current and former officers, recalled his shock when he first saw the videotape of King's beating.

Asked his opinion of King's beating, he said, "We are not in business to beat people."

Asked if he thought King deserved to be beaten, he said, "I don't think anyone deserves a beating. Only that force which is reasonable and necessary should be used."

Milton Grimes, one of King's lawyers, suggested to Gates that if there had been a policeman's report instead of the videotape of the beating, no officer would have been disciplined for it.

Gates, who was continuing first-time testimony about the beating incident, did not answer but agreed that the report written by Officer Laurence M. Powell, which blamed King for the beating, would not have been sufficient grounds for punishing the policemen involved.

"If we had not been fortunate enough to have the videotape of the Rodney King beating, is it fair to say the officers would not have been disciplined?" asked attorney Milton Grimes.

Attorneys for Gates and the other defendants in King's suit objected that the question called for speculation, and the judge barred an answer. Grimes asked if Gates agreed that Powell's arrest report "did not accurately reflect the beating of Rodney King." Again, the question was ruled objectionable.
After reading this, thoughts began whirling through my head...

Did King deserve to be beaten? Did Gates deserve to be arrested?... If there hadn't been a tape of King's beating would the officers have been disciplined? If we could hear the tape of Gates' arrest would the officer be disciplined?... Did the arrest report accurately describe King's beating? Did the arrest report accurately describe Gates' statements to the officer?

The officers in the Rodney King case were charged with use of excessive force, but also with filing a false report. I felt the need to look at the Rodney King tapes again to refresh my memory.


Police Chief Gates was forced to resign as a result of the Rodney King beating. That seems harsh I thought? After all, what did he do? He wasn't at the scene when the officers brutally attacked an unarmed man. And then I clicked on page 2 of the article and was confronted with this.
Known for his sarcasm and shoot-from-the-lip style, Gates appeared subdued and professional on the witness stand.

Confronted with one of his comments that blacks react differently to chokeholds than do "normal people," Gates said he was not being racist but acknowledged: "That was probably an inelegant choice of words."

Asked if he said casual drug users should be shot to death, he replied, "I said casual drug users ought to be shot--not to death. That was a bit of hyperbole."
How soon we forget. But that was back in 1991 - almost twenty years ago. Surely things have changed. It reminded me of the song by Bruce Hornsby.
That's just the way it is
Some things will never change
So why do I bring all this up? And isn't it an exercise in hyperbole to compare the case of Gates with that of King? Yes, absolutely.

But the reason I bring this up is not for the purpose of drawing parallels between the arrest of Gates and King. The similarities really begin after the incident. The real similarities, the ones that disturb me and are the reason I'm taking the time to write this article, are in the reactions that I have seen online with respect to Dr. Gates arrest.

Consider this. If the "disorderly conduct" charges against Gates had not been dropped and he had gone to trial, what would have been the verdict of the jury? Well from the comments I have seen online, the verdict would have been very different depending on the racial makeup of the jury. And this is irrespective of whatever facts may have come out during the trial.

Let's get back to that audio tape of the police calls while Sgt. Crowley was on the scene. Here's the question I've been asking myself. Would the audio tape change anyone's mind?

Here's a different question. Did the video tapes of the Rodney King beating change the minds of the jury in that case? You may recall that the jury which consisted of ten Whites, one Filipino American, and one Hispanic, but no Blacks, found the officers not guilty - despite the video evidence. And you most certainly also recall that there was a riot that ensued following the verdict.

The point is that the video evidence, which seemed irrefutable, did not sway the non-Black jury. They concluded that there was no excessive force; there was no falsified police report; there was no racism involved whatsoever.

Fine. So why should I believe that the people that have already formed an opinion about Dr. Gates will suddenly change their minds if a sufficient amount of new evidence is brought to light? That would be naive.

And at the same time, why should I not believe that many people's opinions regarding the arrest of Dr. Gates are based on their racist attitudes? It would be naive not too.

If it had been an elderly cantankerous white professor who answered the door and had refused to come out of his home when ordered and had continuously badgered the officer to produce his official ID, would Sgt. Crowley have arrested him? I think we all know that he would not have.

But because it was an uppity black man that answered the door, the inevitable outcome was that Dr. Gates was arrested and taken into custody. Why? In order to humiliate him and put him in his proper place.

He had committed the "crime" of "contempt of cop". And not only that, he committed the "crime" of "contempt of cop" while Black. Do you want to see what at typical cops reaction to "contempt of cop" looks like. Take a look at this.

Following this incident a Baltimore Police spokesperson said, "given the extreme nature of that incident, we thought it was important for the officers to brush up on their interpersonal skills."

Look, I'm not saying that the officer shouldn't do his job. And I'm grateful that in this case he is keeping kids from skateboarding in an area where it is prohibited. All anyone is saying is that police officers need to treat the public with respect.

If you're dealing with a violent suspect, then use an appropriate amount of force in doing your job. But when dealing with the general public there should not be a hostile, superior attitude. We're the ones that pay your salaries. Remember?

But I wish it was just a matter of better manners and a respectful attitude. A little bit of training could easily clear that up. But I'm afraid that - as I said in my previous article - this goes much further than that. This is a matter of creeping fascism in society. You see it in the attitudes that support torture of terrorist suspects.

It started with the "war on crime" and SWAT teams, and then after 9/11 it escalated off the charts with the "war on terrorism". The police force is being turned into a military force. This is being further encouraged by the popular culture. In movies and TV shows, police are shown using extraordinary amounts of force. And despite the election of Barack Obama and the Democrats, there is no movement to dismantle the Police State created by Bush and the Republicans.

Unfortunately, even though America has recovered somewhat from the shock of 9/11 and a semblance of normality is returning to American society, there is still a slow drift towards fascism that every once in a while rears its ugly head. The case of Skip Gates is one of those moments.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello dear Frank,
I hope you don't think I forgotten you or your fine blog, and these two articles on the HLG affair are very thoughtfully written, which is what I've come to expect from past reading here.
I'm reminded of a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson: When the people fear the government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.
I agree, and hope Prof Gates makes this a civil liberties issue.
Kind regards, Sally