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APTOPIX Harvard Scholar Disorderly

President Barack Obama said that Cambridge police officer Sgt. James Crowley “acted stupidly” when he arrested Harvard Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr., a Williams honorary degree recipient, for disorderly conduct.

How’s that for the best start to an EphBlog post this year? As PTC notes, the case has race, class, town-gown and US politics all rolled up into a tight little ball of wonderfulness. More below.

1) Picture courtesy of AP via CBS news. See Wikipedia for a useful overview. Read the arresting officer’s report. Read Gates’ statement and the associated interview.

2) To get a fair overview of the debate, you should read perspectives from both the left and the right. What links would you recommend?

3) Do I have any contributions based on my local knowledge? (I work in the neighborhood of the arrest.) First, I think that reports of that this was Gates’ house are misleading at best. The President claimed that Gates was in his “own home.” Untrue. The house in question, at 17 Ware Street in Cambridge, is owned by Harvard University. Now, there is a sense in which, say, a dorm room at Williams is “mine” even though Williams owns it, but renters are different from owners. This also explains why it was so easy for Gates to call Harvard to get them to send over a maintenance man to fix the door.

4) It is unclear to me why Gates would live in Harvard-provided housing. Where is Gates’ wife in all of this? Wikipedia notes that “Gates was married in 1979 to Sharon Lynn Adams. They have two daughters. He has since remarried.” Did his first wife get the house? How long has he lived on Ware Street? Needless to say, this isn’t connected to the behavior of Sgt. Crowley, but internal Harvard politics related to housing are always fun. I know other Harvard folks who would love to have that house . . .

UPDATE: Added Gates’ version, per JG suggestion.

UPDATE at 2:00 PM: I think that a useful way to consider a topic like this is to pre-commit oneself to having certain opinions depending on currently unknown facts as they come out. An ideologue is someone who, no matter what else we find out about the facts, will always argue that the arrest was “stupid.” An open-minded person will revise his opinions as more facts come to light. Here are my pre-commitments:

1) If the police tape shows Gates speaking in a reasonable tone of voice, I will conclude that the arrest was completely unjustified. If the tape shows him screaming like a lunatic, I am less likely to think that the arrest was stupid.

2) If it turns out that Gates has a drivers license with 17 Ware Street on it and that he showed the license to Crowley, then I will think that the arrest was very suspect. If Gates has no such license or did not show it to Crowley, then I will think the arrest more reasonable.

3) If it turns out that anything in Crowley’s report is untrue, I will think that the arrest is stupid. If it turns out that anything in Gates public statements so far is untrue, then I am more likely to conclude that the arrest is reasonable.

4) I am curious about what other police officers would have done if they were in Crowley’s shoes. I am curious what other police officers have done in similar situations. The more that Crowley’s actions are typical or standard or reasonable (in the eyes of other police officers), the less stupid the arrest.

5) I am curious about what other citizens (of whatever race or occupation) would have done if they were in Gates’s shoes. How do citizens normally react? The more that Gates’ reaction is typical or standard or reasonable (in the eyes of other citizens), the more stupid the arrest.

6) If it turns out that Crowley has a history of harassing citizens, especially back citizens, then I will be more likely to discount the claims he made in the report.

What pre-commitments are you willing to make?

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