Two waffling responses to Gatesgate
not talking about Obama’s first statement followed by his sweeping-up-the-mess second statement. Look at the two comments
by Richard Lowry and Heather Mac Donald of America’s flagship conservative magazine National Review
that are quoted at Phi Beta Cons. Both Lowry and Mac Donald say that Officer Crowley was within his rights to arrest Gates, but that he shouldn’t have done so
. Lowry: “The officer … probably should have shown more forbearance.” Mac Donald: “[I]t would have been preferable if [Crowley] had thanked Gates for his cooperation and walked away from the provocation.” So they’re both accepting the Henry Louis Gates vision of America, in which blacks can carry on like maniacs, abuse, insult, and speak threateningly to police officers, and not suffer any consequences, while the police should walk away like the defeated party. Meaning that the miscreants are in charge, and the police defer to them.
Consider further the false, relativistic language both writers use. Lowry: “The interaction spiraled downward, until the officer arrested Gates, basically for the offense known as ‘contempt of cop.’” Spiraling downward is a term that implies that both parties were reinforcing each other’s bad behavior. To the contrary, Gates was acting like a maniac from the start, while Crowley was doing his job and enduring Gates’s outrageous behavior.
Then Mac Donald: “I would guess that Sergeant Crowley simply snapped under Gates’s taunts and chose to teach him a lesson for the informal offense of contempt of cop—an understandable, if less than ideal, reaction, but not a racist one.” There is no indication that Crowley “snapped.” To the contrary, he was acting in a rational, proper way throughout the incident in which he was placed under extraordinary emotional pressure by Gates’s unceasing intolerable insults and threats. When he finally arrested Gates, he did so after two clear warnings to him to cease his behavior. That is not the picture of someone who has “snapped.” Further, disorderly conduct, of which “contempt of cop” is a subset, is not an informal crime but a statutory crime, or rather misdemeanor. What other long established criminal offenses does Mac Donald now consider “informal”?
I would not have expected any better from Lowry, generally an intellectual lightweight. But I am very surprised at Mac Donald, one of America’s more clear thinking mainstream writers on race and crime, who has, moreover, shown an understanding of the difficulties faced by police. Perhaps Mac Donald’s bitter public attacks on belief in God have made it harder for her to maintain a firm line on any normative moral judgments, which, after all, originate in religious belief.
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Ben W. writes:
Thank you Lawrence. These two comments show how VFR goes far beyond any other blog in getting at the root of a problem:
“Perhaps Mac Donald’s bitter public attacks on belief in God have made it harder for her to maintain a firm line on any normative moral judgments, which, after all, originate in religious belief.”
And from another entry today:
“Of course, materialists do believe in truth, but only of the material, deterministic kind. This is why the notion of repentance and remission of sins seems absurd to them.”
It isn’t enough to respond to daily situations or to the trends of a decade. VFR looks deeply into the attitudes and ideologies that are destroying Western civilization.
Lydia McGrew writes:
Thanks for your coverage of the Gates provocation. It’s been truly excellent, especially nabbing that police report before it disappeared forever down the memory hole. I’ve been disappointed by some conservatives (like those you’ve quoted from NRO) who have so little spine on this. It’s a bit chilling. The way you keep reiterating the facts in the face of phrases like “spiraled downward” and the like is important, as well as the reminder that the snarkily named “contempt of cop” is, in fact, a statutory crime. Most of us mere mortals do not consider that we have a right to scream insults persistently at police officers (who are calmly doing their job) even from our front porches; we assume that we could, legitimately, get arrested for doing so. But when someone like Gates chooses to push the envelope, that all gets questioned. I wonder to what extent this is part of the strange idea that there are no punishable offenses as long as “no one gets hurt.” That this isn’t yet the statutory situation in America seems sometimes to come as a surprise.
Thank you both very much.
Michael P. writes:
First, I haven’t written in a long while—at least since your spam problem. But it’s OK since I’ve nothing to offer that others are not doing better.
However, I can say that your site is unique … no … that would not be accurate. It is, instead, you who are pretty unique. After all, who else is doing what you do? Otherwise, please know that regardless of whether you get a lot of “fan” mail, what you do is appreciated.
Thanks very much. It’s good to see you back at VFR.
John K. writes:
No no no.
“So they’re both accepting the Henry Louis Gates vision of America, in which blacks can carry on like maniacs, abuse, insult, and speak threateningly to police officers, and not suffer any consequences, while the police should walk away like the defeated party.”
A man of any race (including a black man) absolutely has the right to act that way if he chooses to in his own house, and Sgt. Crowley was in the wrong to arrest him. Obviously (at least to me), he had to investigate to make sure Prof. Gates was a legitimate resident of the house, but the arrest was afterward.
I haven’t followed this close enough to have read Rich Lowry or Heather MacDonald on it, but I agree with Jonah Goldberg: the opinion of the cops splits right down the middle, on the right as well as in America at large.
Please tell me what other things a person has the absolute right to do on his front porch, in sight and sound of his neighborhood and a sizable group of people standing in front of his house including several police officers. Take off his clothes? (No “victim” there, right?) Perform a consensual sexual act? (Ditto.) Commit an assault and battery? (There you have a victim, but it’s his own property isn’t it?) And when would these acts which he can do on his property become offenses for which he can be arrested? When he walks off his property to the public sidewalk? So is nudity or a sexual act or assault ok on his front porch, but becomes a punishable offense on the sidewalk?
Your position is symptomatic of the thoughtless, irresponsible libertarianism that disastrously controls so much of the American “mind.” We now live in a society of mental children each of whom feels he has the right to make up on the fly not only whatever he thinks the law ought to be, but whatever he thinks the facts are. The abstract theoreticians of the French Revolution whom Burke denounced for casting aside all human experience and basing their policies on whatever “cool” notions appealed to them, had nothing on contemporary Americans.
John K. replies:
Please tell me what other things a person has the absolute right to do on his front porch, in sight and sound of his neighborhood and a sizable group of people standing in front of his house including several police officers. Take off his clothes? (No “victim” there, right?) Perform a consensual sexual act? (Ditto.) Commit an assault and battery? (There you have a victim, but it’s his own property isn’t it?) And when would these acts which he can do on his property become offenses for which he can be arrested? When he walks off his property to the public sidewalk?
All of those things are obviously different in kind from lipping off to a cop, especially in the context of there being no other offense. [LA replies: “lipping off to a cop?” You’re ignoring and misrepresenting the facts. This was a sustained outbreak going on through the entire incident, not one disrespectful crack. The one commonality of all the people, whether liberal or “conservative,” who criticize the officer and find excuses for Gates is that they DO NOT DEAL WITH THE FACTS.]
Furthermore, to assert such is not at all a disparagement of human experience but rather a pushback against the trend toward social control by all the petty bureaucrats from the myriad arms of government. I’d wager that’s a phenomenon well within the experience of your audience. [I have no idea what you’re saying or what your point is.]
PS. The “absolute” business was about the strength of disagreement, ie, you are absolutely wrong and not intended as a comment about absolute rights.
A. Zarkov writes:
I have to take issue with your characterization of Heather Mac Donald’s article. When I read the entire article, I get a different impression. Mac Donald’s focus is more on the racial profiling issue than on Sgt. Crowley. The pertinent paragraph in full reads as follows:
It is certainly possible to debate whether Gates’s escalating verbal abuse of the investigating officer and refusal to cooperate with his requests rose to the level of criminal conduct. Most certainly, it lay within Sgt. James Crowley’s discretion not to make the arrest—and in retrospect, it would have been preferable if he had thanked Gates for his cooperation and walked away from the provocation. I would guess that Sergeant Crowley simply snapped under Gates’s taunts and chose to teach him a lesson for the informal offense of contempt of cop—an understandable, if less than ideal, reaction, but not a racist one. Crowley, even by Gates’s account, acted politely throughout the interaction.
I agree with her paragraph with the exception of the word “snapped.” In my opinion, that’s not an accurate description of what probably happened. Crowley was certainly provoked by Gates’s outrageous behavior, and that might have affected Crowley’s decision on arresting him. But that’s one poor word choice in an otherwise excellent article. It seems to me that she wanted to be generous to Gates in service of her larger argument on racial paranoia.
Reading some of the legal blogs that deal with this incident, it’s pretty clear that Gates would not have been convicted of disorderly conduct in a court of law. Most likely his behavior, extreme as it was, did not cross the line into disorderly conduct according to Massachusetts statutes and case law. However this does not make Crowley a rogue cop—far from it. We don’t expect cops deal with the fine points of law in the course of their duty. We cannot expect policemen to come to the same conclusions as lawyers acting at their leisure with the aid of WestLaw (legal software to look up cases). Lots of arrests don’t hold up, and never lead to a charge. This does not in itself prove the arrest was in any way abusive. The whole business of “contempt of cop” is murky and will no doubt remain so.
Your comment cancels itself out. You say you disagree with my criticism of Mac Donald, and then you proceed to agree with me on the precise point on which I criticized her.
Then you go on to defend the rest of her article. But I did not say anything about the rest of her article. I was only dealing with her comments about the arrest.
A. Zarkov replies:
I don’t think Mac Donald waffled even in the paragraph I quoted. She made one poor word choice, and I believe that was accidental. Otherwise I find nothing objectionable in the rest of the paragraph or the article. [LA replies: So you also think, along with Mac Donald and Lowry, that the officer should have walked away with his tail between his legs.] So perhaps our disagreement comes down to her use of “snapped.” You think it was deliberate waffling, but she has hardly waffled on race and police in her other writings—quite the contrary. You obviously don’t like her atheism, and are less willing to be generous to her than I am.
I didn’t even bother to read Richard Lowry. He rarely has anything intelligent to say so I usually skip him.
For heaven’s sake, now YOU’RE doing to Mac Donald, the same thing SHE did to Crowley, imagining what was going on inside her head. Why don’t you deal with WHAT SHE SAID? Why don’t you stick with the facts? What is wrong with people today, that they keep spinning off into speculations about what was going on in people’s head?
She said, on the basis of NOTHING, that he “snapped.” That goes to the crux of his actions in this event. She’s clearly saying that he acted on an improper, unprofessional basis. There’s no doubt as to the meaning of her statement. And you’re excusing her baseless accusation by calling it “poor word choice,” and “accidental.” You won’t even let stand the fact that she said what she said, but you rush to excuse her, just as the blacks and liberals—and, to a lesser but still troubling degree, Mac Donald herself—rushed to excuse Gates and blame Crowley instead of looking at the facts.
A. Zarkov replies:
Mac Donald has no prior knowledge of Crowley. On the other hand, I have read many of Mac Donald’s articles, and on the basis of that prior knowledge, I believe she just made an accidental error in word choice. Haven’t you ever been in conversation with someone and said something like, “are you sure you mean that, this doesn’t sound like what you usually say?”
If we want to adhere rigidly to what she wrote, then you are right—in that paragraph she waffled. Nevertheless, this is so uncharacteristic of her that I’m willing to believe that it was a simple mistake. I suppose we could write to her and ask. That would settle it.
I sent Mac Donald’s e-mail address to Mr. Zarkov.
John K. replies to LA:
“I have no idea what you’re saying or what your point is.”
It’s pretty simple really. Over the past, say, 40 years we’ve seen an explosive growth in government bureaucracies at all levels. These people (OSHA enforcement agents, municipal police, zoning specialists, meter maids, etc.) try to do a “good” job and justify their existence. Often times this amounts to “regulating” things that are better off left alone. This comes at the expense of the people in general, financially and otherwise.
This isn’t abstract navel-gazing about the French Revolution but a pretty clear trend here in the United States for a while now. And if this trend is going to be reversed (and our economy recover) it’s up to us to do something about it.
What does this have to do with the Gates incident?
John K. replies:
The cops arrest Gates, which does nothing for us (or for Gates obviously). What it does do is create stat numbers and paperwork, giving the appearance for the cops themselves and their bosses that they’re doing something that legitimately protects the public interest instead of self-serving bureaucratic shell games which is what it was. Multiply times 100 and that’s where our tax money is going.
You’re pushing your own particular cause instead of dealing with the issue at hand. The Gates matter has nothing to do with the problem of the growth of bureaucracy, but with how an officer is to deal with a situation and what proper policing consists of and when an officer is justified in arresting a person who is acting out.
As I’ve kept pointing out, it’s just amazing how people don’t want to deal with the issue at hand, but want to use that issue as an opportunity to push some other issue that they care about more. That’s what Obama did in his remarks on the incident, trying to turn it into some b.s. “teachable moment” on race, by which he means persisting white racism and racial inequality, instead of looking at the facts, deciding what was true, and on that basis determining who was wrong and who was right.
Jonathan L. writes:
Thank you for your response to John K.. I felt this was a an important point to make, given that too many conservatives fail to appreciate the importance of such values as respect and authority when it comes to the enforcement of the law. Even Steve Sailer, supposedly no libertarian, just doesn’t get it:
Should “contempt of cop” be an arrestable offense? This appears to be a gray area in the law, and perhaps necessarily so. In theory, it would be nice if you could relentlessly scream insults at a cop in public under the First Amendment, but the Second Amendment gets in the way. There are a couple of hundred million guns in America, which means that cops feel they always have to stay in control of the situation psychologically, because, otherwise, the confrontation might escalate to the point where somebody winds up with a hole in him. (Usually, it’s not the cop but the enraged suspect who ends up in the morgue.) Moreover, letting one probably harmless maniac like Gates get away with abusing cops sets a dangerous precedents for the less harmless maniacs.
For conservatives blind to such transcendental notions as the majesty of the law, only pragmatic reasons suffice for why we should not “scream insults in public” at police officers (too many loose guns floating about, too many non-Asian minorities in our society). These conservatives don’t see a police officer or a President as bearing an authority that comes with the office and that transcends the particular person in it. All that really separates them from liberals is the particular flaw they focus on when rationalizing why the authority figure should not receive any deference from them. Left-liberal: “that cop is a racist white!” Biologically-reductionist right-liberal: “That cop’s IQ is at least half a standard deviation less than mine!” For liberals every human is a comet of desire, and the only function of public life is ensuring those comets never interfere.
You’re getting at something good here, but it’s a bit diffuse.
Jonathan L. writes:
What I’m trying to say is that there is a good beyond the pragmatic in recognizing and respecting the authority of a police officer. You yourself identified some of these pragmatic, consequentialist aspects:
Imagine a society in which people can carry on in this manner against police, and the police can do nothing except walk away with their tails between their legs. Police officers would have no respect, they would have no authority, and they wouldn’t be able to do their jobs.
Thinking some more on this, I remembered what you previously wrote in regard to women in the priesthood:
As I see it, there are two main bases for the prohibition on female pastors: biblical teaching, and nature/common sense. Nature and common sense tell us that the particular qualities needed in the priesthood cannot be exercised properly by a woman. This is obviously the case in any church with a traditional liturgy. There the priest during the Eucharist is a stand-in for Christ. He needs to embody the impersonal and transcendent aspect of Christ and God. A woman cannot do this. The moment you have women priests—and I’ve attended Episcopal churches with women priests conducting the mass—you have the physical particularities of a woman, her soft, lustrous hair (and what does a woman priest do with her hair?) drawing attention to the woman’s own physicality, that militate against the transcendent and impersonal aspect of the priest’s symbolic function.
Police officers also must embody impersonal aspects of the public order for which they are stand-ins, two of which—strength and resoluteness—are totally undermined if the officer allows himself to be verbally abused and dominated in public. It is really the same principle under which a judge can jail a courtroom participant for “contempt of court”. Too many conservatives fail to appreciate this aspect of the issue, however, and see Sgt. Crowley acting only in personal terms (i.e. a fallible human being overreacting in the heat of an argument) and miss the impersonal, symbolic functions of his office which Crowley was protecting when he arrested Gates.
Yes. Quite right. They are seeing Crowley as a man with a gun, not as the representative and protector of public order, and owed deference on that account alone. We give such deference, for example, when we speak of a policeman as “Sgt. Crowley,” or “Officer Crowley,” not just as “Crowley” (though obviously the rule can be softened in a very long discussion such as we’ve had on the Gates matter). As a man, he’s just a man. But as a police officer, he exercises an impersonal authority that transcends him as an individual, and society must not allow that authotity to be grossly disrespected.
And, by the way, I doubt that there are more than two or three contributors at the supposed flagship magazine of American conservatism who would understand this point.
In connection with the idea of the impersonal and “transcendent” character of authority figures, readers may be interested in my essay, “What is transcendence, and why does it matter?”
James P. writes:
Mr. Zarkov says with respect to Heather Mac Donald,
“She made one poor word choice, and I believe that was accidental.”
She is an intelligent professional writer. She generally writes very well, and I’ve never seen her make an “accidental” poor word choice. One has to assume that in this case, she used “snapped” deliberately, intending to convey that Crowley acted inappropriately and irresponsibly on the spur of the moment as a result of emotional stress. In short, she meant exactly what she said.
A. Zarkov writes:
I will send Heather Mac Donald an email today. I hope she answers, and if she does I will share her response.
One further point. You ask: “So you also think, along with Mac Donald and Lowry, that the officer should have walked away with his tail between his legs.” My answer is no. But my threshold of tolerance for the kind of behavior that Gates exhibited is probably lower than Sergeant Crowley’s. I can say that, and still agree that “it is certainly possible to debate whether Gates’s escalating verbal abuse of the investigating officer and refusal to cooperate with his requests rose to the level of criminal conduct.”
Finally without having observed Gates’s actual conduct, I cannot conclude one way or another as to whether retrospectively, “it would have been preferable if he had thanked Gates for his cooperation and walked away from the provocation.”
I feel that you and others are still missing the point. Why are you insisting on second guessing the officer at all? Why are you doing this? Obviously there were grounds to arrest Gates. And once Gates and the liberal media started to spread their Big Lies about the arrest, the most important thing was to counteract those lies with the truth. Which is what I’ve been doing for the last week at this site. For you to be second-guessing the officer under these circumstances is not only unnecessary; it is, even if it’s not your intention, to be lending support to Gates and the left in their campaign to delegitimize police.
And by the way Gates has quietly withdrawn most of his lies; he’s no longer charging racial profiling, no longer calling Crowley a rogue cop, etc. The latest I heard was that his complaint was that Crowley wasn’t sufficiently polite. Yet even as Gates has dropped much of his unsustainable nonsense, various conservatives won’t drop their strange preoccupation with questioning the propriety of Crowley’s actions.
John K. writes:
“As I’ve kept pointing out, it’s just amazing how people don’t want to deal with the issue at hand,…. “
No no no. This is the incident at hand. There’s nothing I’ve seen, here or anywhere else that leads me to believe that Prof. Gates committed a crime (btw, another good clue here is how quickly the charges were dropped). People who don’t commit crimes shouldn’t be arrested.
“So you also think, along with Mac Donald and Lowry, that the officer should have walked away with his tail between his legs.”
I find that a despicable statement.
But thank you for confirming my previous point and making it crystal clear where you’re coming from. This is not a libertarian or anarchist website.
Cornelius T. writes:
I agree regarding the great importance of police authority in crime-ridden America. You are right that their authority must have broad deference because their role as protectors in a violent society is necessary to the proper functioning of society. In short they are the difference between order and disorder.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 24, 2009 05:02 PM | Send
Once, long ago, police had a transcendent authority that was shattered by the Sixties revolution, but we must remember that The Greatest Generation also respected parents, teachers, and clergy with almost equal zeal. In high school one old math teacher also served as vice-principal and had such transcendent authority that I rarely ever saw more than one or two kids in after-school detention. Today no-one would believe that an entire New Jersey high school was ruled by an old math teacher. The word “authority” meant something then.
Of all the standard authority figures of the past, only police still remain standing, but they are facing far more violence than in the old days. Furthermore, urban crimes are frequently unresolved and courts are turnstiles of injustice. Finally, the truth about blacks committing far more crime than whites is kept a secret by our MSM, except for publishing the photos of black criminals by reporters. No generalizations about black crime are ever made! The death of authority is aggravated by the abundance of fatherless households among blacks, a condition that spells disaster for black young men. Then we have the added burden of “racism” as a weapon against all whites by disgruntled blacks. Paranoia is widespread among blacks anyway; so an insecure, neurotic black scholar like Gates would be a deadly target if “challenged” by a white cop, even with a rainbow audience. We live in unique times governed by PC mania. It is 1984 and Obama is watching. Recall Napolitano’s warning that returning Iraq veterans might be terrorists!! The left wants complete control and we must resist in any manner that is reasonable. Authority in the Age of Obama might well reside only in the radical egalitarians of the left.