Lawrence O'Donnell Jr.: The Stupidity of the Gates Arrest





[Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. is an MSNBC political analyst and the author of Deadly Force: The True Story of How a Badge Can Become a License to Kill. ]

Here is what the absurdist, typically stilted language of Sergeant James Crowley's report on the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. really means:

Gates: You're not the boss of me!
Crowley: I am the boss of you.
Gates: You are not the boss of me!
Crowley: I'll show you. You're under arrest.

There is no crime described in Crowley's official version of the way Gates behaved. Crowley says explicitly that he arrested Gates for yelling. Nothing else, not a single threatening movement, just yelling. On the steps of his own home. Yelling is not a crime. Yelling does not meet the definition of disorderly conduct in Massachusetts. Not a single shouted word or action that Crowley has attributed to Gates amounts to disorderly conduct. That is why the charges had to be dropped. (Read "Gates' Disorderly Conduct: The Police's Judgment Call.")

In classically phony police talk, Crowley refers to "[Gates'] continued tumultuous behavior." When cops write that way, you know they have nothing. What is tumultuous behavior? Here's what it isn't: brandishing a knife in a threatening manner, punching and kicking, clenching a fist in a threatening manner, throwing a wrench or, in the Gates house, maybe a book. If the subject does any of those things, cops always write it out with precision. When they've got nothing, they use phrases that mean nothing. Phrases like tumultuous behavior. ...

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