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Why Can’t We All Get Along?

July 27, 2009

America is grappling with yet another white police-black man confrontation.

Nobody was beaten up à la Rodney King in 1992 Los Angeles.

Nor was a prisoner tortured à la Abner Louima in 1997 Brooklyn.

No, on the surface this July 2009 incident appears minor — a white police officer’s arrest of a black Harvard professor for disorderly conduct outside his home.

Yet the case has drawn national headlines and the attention of President Obama, whose initial reaction was to chide the Cambridge, Massachusetts police department for acting “stupidly” in arresting the scholar, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Over the past year, Obama has seemed utterly unfazed by Hillary Clinton, John McCain, the collapsing economy, and Iran’s nuclear threat.

That Gates’ arrest caused our cool-as-a-cucumber president to shoot from the hip before knowing the facts underscores the sensitivity of such police-related confrontations to all black men.

Obama subsequently telephoned the white officer, Sgt. James Crowley, to, in effect, apologize — and invited him and Gates to the White House for a beer.

Gates said he was happy to use his experience as a “teaching moment,” adding, “If meeting Sgt. Crowley for a beer with the president will further that end then I would be happy to oblige.”

O.K., so let the learning curve begin. For openers, let’s look at the Cambridge police report. Granted, police reports can be misleading. An officer can omit or add facts at his discretion. And no police report includes an officer’s tone or gestures.

Nonetheless, the police report suggests that, as brilliant as Gates may be, he has not mastered a simple lesson when it comes to dealing with police officers who are not as wealthy, as well-educated, or as prominent as he is.

In short, whether you are black or white, it’s stupid to run your mouth at a cop, regardless of whether you’re right.

Returning home from China on July 16th, Gates found his door jammed, and, with his black driver, sought to shoulder it open. Lucia Whalen, a 40-year-old, white passerby, thinking the two men were burglars, called the police.

In fact, according to the Cambridge police report, there had been a previous burglary at Gates’s home.

When Crowley arrived and asked Gates for proof that he was the homeowner, the 58-year-old Gates, who walks with a cane, began haranguing Crowley.

Here now, in precious police jargon, is the Crowley narrative, leading to Gates’s arrest.

“As I stood in plain view of this man later identified as Gates, I asked if he would step out on to the porch and speak with me. He replied, ‘No I will not’. He then demanded to know who I was. I told him that I was ‘Sgt. Crowley from the Cambridge Police’ and that I was ‘investigating a report of a break in [in] progress’ at the residence. While I was making this statement, Gates opened the front door and exclaimed, ‘Why, because I am a black man in America?…’”

Gates, the police report continued, then made a telephone call. “Gates was telling the person on the other end of the call that he was dealing with a racist police officer in his home. Gates then turned to me and told me that I had no idea who I was ‘messing’ with….”

Finally there is this: “As I descended the stairs to the sidewalk, Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him…. I warned Gates that he was becoming disorderly. Gates ignored my warning and continued to yell, which drew the attention of both the police officers and citizens who appeared surprised and alarmed by Gates’s outburst. For a second time, I warned Gates to calm down while I withdrew my department issued [sic] handcuffs from their carrying case.

“Gates again ignored my warning and continued to yell at me. It was at this time that I informed Gates that he was under arrest. … Gates initially resisted my attempt to handcuff him, yelling he was ‘disabled’ and would fall without his cane. After the handcuffs were properly applied, Gates complained that they were too tight. I ordered Off. Ivey, who was among the responding officers, to handcuff Gates with his arms in front of him for his comfort while I secured a cane for Gates from inside the residence.

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“I then asked Gates if he would like an officer to take possession of his house key and secure the front door, which he left wide open. Gates told me that the door was un-securable due to a previous break [in] attempt at the residence. Shortly afterwards a Harvard University maintenance person arrived on scene and appeared familiar with Gates. I asked Gates if he was comfortable with the Harvard University maintenance person securing his residence. He told me that he was.”

"I put my expertise up against anybody in the country," the NYPD’s former Chief of Department Louis Anemone recently told Newsday’s Rocco Parascandola.

Anemone was referring to the expert trial testimony he was about to give for Sgt. Dexter Brown, shot by a fellow officer during a botched 1998 undercover narcotics buy. Before Anemone could testify, the city settled the case, paying Brown $3.25 million.

But, with that boast to Parascandola, it sounds as though Louie — after a decade in the wilderness — may be getting his mojo back.

He had resigned from the NYPD in 1999, unable to deal with the insufferable Howard Safir. Then, in 2002, he took an unsuccessful turn at the MTA where his role in a bizarre corruption investigation led to his dismissal.

Since then, New Yorkers have heard little from him — to their detriment.

As the NYPD’s unofficial official historian Tom Reppetto put it: “Chief Anemone never received the proper credit for all he accomplished in the NYPD. It's a shame that a man of his capacity is not in an important public service job today.”

As ordered by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, reporters at One Police Plaza will begin moving this week out of their second-floor warren, known as The Shack, where they have been based for the past 40 years.

But they won’t be leaving the building, as Kelly had decreed.

Instead, after the reporters yelped bloody murder, Mayor Michael Bloomberg elbowed Kelly for suggesting such an eviction [especially in an election year.]

Somehow, the police commissioner was able to find another spot for the reporters inside Police Plaza. [Kelly couldn’t allow them to remain in The Shack because that would indicate he had backed down.]

Instead, they will take over the Chaplains Unit down the hall, displacing the priests, ministers, rabbis and imams, who will be forced to move to an East Village housing site.

That, in itself, is not so bad an idea because, traditionally, officers seeking religious counseling have been reluctant to come to 1PP in order not to be perceived as “weak.”

Kelly won’t get any complaints from his clergy. They are a cowed lot.

In 2005, Your Humble Servant asked Rabbi Alvin Kass — who had been ordered not to speak to reporters — [at least not this reporter] — about a dinner in his honor, thrown by that veritable prince of Buff-land, Master Reginald Ward.

The question this reporter asked Kass was what soup had been served.

Kass said he had been instructed not to divulge that information.

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