The latest charge: Crowley “confronted” Gates

Last week I criticized Robert VerBruggen of NRO’s Phi Beta Cons blog for writing, “when you’re arrested for breaking into your own home, don’t you get a little leeway?”, and I criticized him a second time for not admitting his mistake (see this and this). In a subsequent exchange he wrote back:

The statement itself is edited—“arrested” is struck through, and replaced by “confronted by police”; also, there is a note at the bottom pointing out the correction (and also pointing out that the correct fact is in the news story just above my comment—I typed the sentence quickly and didn’t catch the problem when I read back through).

You can read it here.

I replied:

But your change of words is not correct either. Gates was not “confronted” by police. Gates created the confrontation. An officer came to his door and asked to speak with him about a reported break-in. Instead of cooperating and saying, “Yes, officer, can I help you?”, as any normal, law-abiding person would have done, he instantly assumed that the cop was a white racist who was out to harm him, as he clearly explains in his interview at The Root, and he went ballistic against the officer. There are no excuses for his behavior, yet you are still making them.

Also, you wrote approvingly of Lowry’s and Mac Donald’s comments criticizing the arrest as “contempt of cop.” As though people are allowed to behave any way they want toward a police officer. I commented on Lowry’s and Mac Donald’s relativistic approach in the entry, “Two waffling responses to Gatesgate.”

Mr. VerBruggen replied:

If you’d like to argue that it’s illegal in Massachusetts/Cambridge to treat a police officer disrespectfully, feel free to do so—just cite the relevant law, and explain why he wasn’t arrested for that instead of “disorderly conduct.” (Or, point to the part in the disorderly conduct statute that gives police officers a special right to demand not only compliance in executing their duties, but also freedom from “insults.”)

But I’m not seeing how approaching someone on his property and demanding he show ID does not constitute “confronting” said person.

I replied:

Unbelievable that you describe a police officer properly performing his duties as “confronting” someone, as though Officer Crowley, when he responded to a reported break-in at Gates’s house, saw a man inside the house, and asked him for ID, was doing something wrong—so wrong that it justified Gates’s subsequent behavior. Thanks for being so clear about where you’re coming from. You’re no better than Gates and Obama. In fact you’re worse than Obama. Even he never said such an off the planet thing. Let’s just disband the nation’s police forces, why don’t we, since that’s where your thinking leads.

- end of initial entry -

James P. writes;

“I’m not seeing how approaching someone on his property and demanding he show ID does not constitute “confronting” said person.”

Even if we accept this, so what if he did “confront” Gates? The police have no obligation to be “non-confrontational.” How on Earth can you enforce the law without “confronting” actual and potential criminals? How can they determine who is and isn’t a burglar without “confronting” them and demanding they show ID?

If my neighbor thinks my house has been broken into, I want the police to come to my house and confront anyone they find there—including me, if that happens to be the case. I have no problem with showing the police ID in such a situation, and, as it happens, I have done so twice as a result of burglar alarms being set off accidentally. Needless to say I was not arrested for being a loudmouthed jerk on either occasion.

LA replies:

Where have you been? Police have to be SENSITIVE to renowned black “scholars.” And they’re supposed to know that they’re renowned black scholars on first sight. They have to bow and scrape and say,

“I’m sorry, kind sir, for interrupting your day, but, gee, I got this radio call and they said that some lady said that two men forced open the door of this house and, well, you know, there have been a lot of burglaries in the neighborhood lately, and so … but you know, on second thought, it’s probably nothing. Why should I take up your time on such a trivial matter? Sorry for bothering you. Have a wonderful day.”

Hannon writes:

VerBruggen uses the words “demanding” and “confront” in a blatantly loaded context. Each of these words has a range of meaning, and I think he clearly implies the worst intent in each case. He does not come right out and say directly that the officer was “hostile” or “aggressive” or even “confrontational,” but these words accurately reflect his implied meaning.

LA replies:

Yes. And what is most indicative of VerBruggen’s real beliefs is that after he told me about his change of the word “arrested” to “confronted by police” in his blog entry, and after I said to him that “confronted” was also false and objectionable, he reaffirmed in even stronger terms his use of “confront”:

But I’m not seeing how approaching someone on his property and demanding he show ID does not constitute “confronting” said person.

VerBruggen speaks of Officer Crowley as though he were, not a policeman doing his job, but a rogue cop or a bullying individual acting on his own, “approaching” people on their property and “demanding” that they do things. Ironically, Gates has retracted (or at least has gone silent about) his outrageous statement that Crowley is a “rogue cop.” But VerBruggen has reaffirmed his portrayal of Crowley as some kind of illegitimate menacing individual.

Leonard D. writes:

I think you’re being too hard on Mr. VerBruggen. “Confront” is a perfectly apt word to describe what police do routinely: they challenge a person found in suspicious circumstances.

Where Mr. VerBruggen and you differ is the matter of a “little” leeway, and what is necessary for order. Yes, a man should get a little leeway to be rude to officers of the law, in the privacy of his own house. But he should not get a lot of leeway, including taking the matter out of his private house and into public—which is what Gates’s behavior looks like to me.

LA replies:

You are ignoring the plain meaning of VerBruggen’s comment. He was not describing Crowley’s behavior as a routine and thus legitimate police action. He specifically intended to say that Crowley was doing something improper and disturbing, which in turn justified Gates’s response.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 27, 2009 10:21 AM | Send

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