Being a cop means never having to say you’re sorry.


I hear that the officer who arrested Henry Louis Gates has said he won’t apologize for it because he doesn’t want to set a precedent — he doesn’t want people to expect cops to apologize when they screw up, or cops to feel like they should apologize when they screw up.

Yeah.  The last thing we want is for people with guns and handcuffs to feel like they should take responsibility for using them.  Too much of a burden on the little dears.


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19 Responses to “Being a cop means never having to say you’re sorry.”

  1. michaellasley Says:

    I mean, surely he realizes he was wrong to arrest a man for coming home. But for some reason no one can ever say they’re sorry.

    Also: he can’t apologize, but he expects Obama to apologize for calling the whole situation — arresting someone in his very own house for nothing other than being upset that the police are in his house about to arrest him — stupid.

  2. urbino Says:

    Yep. This is the total upside-downedness I was referencing earlier. It’s crazy. It’s not like this is a close case. It’s not even close to a close case.

    This also brings light from a slightly different angle on the media’s insistence on treating everything as a close case — as a disagreement between two reasonable, equally plausible sides. They do it on political topics all the time, even when one side is saying something that’s blatantly, demonstrably, factually false. They’re so terrified of being accused of biased reporting that they fail to do any reporting at all; they just give each side a microphone and let them talk.

    They’re doing the same thing here.

  3. Mr. Roach Says:

    Here’s an issue: even if it’s your house, without running your license and talking to you outside cops don’t know (a) if you’re being held hostage or someone in your family is (b) if you’re subject to a restraining order or have warrants and (c) whether you’re up to no good in your own home, by, for example, having hurt a family member. SOP dictates ID, running for warrants, and taking things to the safety of the neutral ground outside to figure out what really happened.

    Gates lost his mind in this episode, made casual accusations of racism, kept disrespecting officers and screaming, and deserved to be arrested and deserves to be ridiculed until he apologizes. Obama made a big moral and political mistake in weighing in on this local issue when he’s biased (by his own admission) and wrong and confirming the stereotypes of black politicians: They stand up for blacks and are negative to law enforcement even when blacks misbehave.

  4. urbino Says:

    In this case the cop had no reasonable basis to suspect that:

    a) anyone was being held hostage;
    b) the citizen was the subject of a restraining order or warrant;
    c) the citizen was up to no good or hurting a family member;

    This is not like a traffic stop where the officer has pulled you over for actually committing a violation. In that case, it’s reasonable for the officer to run all those checks; you’ve clearly demonstrated the willingness to violate the law, even if in a small way. But when the officer has absolutely nothing but some random citizen’s phone call and an address, s/he has no reason to do all of that, and shouldn’t be able to compel it.

    Running your license to verify the information on it is reasonable. I probably don’t even really object to them doing the other checks while they’re at it.

    But there’s no reason a citizen who has committed no crime and cannot be reasonably suspected of having committed a crime should be compelled to go anywhere or do anything beyond providing id. Maybe the law in Cambridge says they can be, but I can tell you this citizen would be surprised and none too pleased by it.

    Chewing out a cop when s/he screws up is not a crime.

    Even being disrespectful to a cop is not a crime.

    Accusing a cop of racism, justified or not, is not a crime.

    The only people who deserve to be arrested are people who have committed crimes or are reasonably suspected of having done so.

    The notion that somebody deserves to be arrested just because they chewed out a cop is exactly the upside-down mindset my previous post was about. And any cop who arrests somebody for chewing him or her out has an extremely inflated notion of his/her role in society, and needs to get over himself or herself.

    Gates lost his mind in this episode, made casual accusations…

    It’s cool that you know exactly what happened when nobody else does.

    As for your comments about race and politics, I’ll let them speak for themselves.

  5. Mr. Roach Says:

    It would make the cops job impossible if they could be run off from an investigation in process by heavy-handed threats of “do you know who I am” and cries of racism. A certain amount of respect for their authority is essential for officer safety. Do we really want to live in a society where cops must run away with their tails between their legs whenever a black man starts screaming and hollering and making their jobs impossible? This is crazy; cops have a right to control encounters with citizens during investigations, and Gates should have shown that officer more respect. If a white guy did it, he’d be in jail, and it wouldn’t even make the local news. Unless he called a black cop a nigger. Then he’d lose his Harvard job in two seconds. And, I would add, rightly so. Crude, uncivilized behavior should not be tolerated, and in the crazy 1960s we lost all respect for authority and the idea that people owe authority figures a minimum amount of respect when those authority figures are just doing their jobs. Now everyone acts like John MacInroe and the rest of us are not horrified when we should be.

  6. dejon05 Says:

    If a white guy did it…

    The use of this hypothetical certainty makes my skin crawl. It is useless and impossible to assert what would happen “if a white guy did it.” This is the kind of emotionally-loaded rhetoric regularly employed by blowhards like Limbaugh, Savage, Coulter, Maher, and Olbermann.

    I believe the Cambridge Police Department shouldn’t be vilified the way some have tried to do. I also believe Pres. Obama acted stupidly by commenting on the situation in a prime-time presser the way he did.

    However, Mr. Roach does himself no favors by making his points with his wildly loaded language.

    “run away with their tails between their legs”

    … Yes. Because we are inundated with videos of passive cops who are too scared to assert their authority. On the other hand, in the world I inhabit (also called “reality”), over-aggressive police action is a well-documented trend… particularly against minorities.

    “in the crazy 1960s we lost all respect for authority ”

    I read in history class, not all “authority” was worthy of respect in the days of Jim Crow and Kent State.

    “Now everyone acts like John MacInroe”

    No… no, not everyone does. Just some. Some righteously, and some not so much.

  7. dejon05 Says:

    One more thing…

    I read your blog Mr. Roach.


    Now I am horrified.

  8. michaellasley Says:

    But, but, but….like urbino said, it ain’t against the law to be disrespectful. It certainly isn’t against the law to be disrespectful in your own home. The officer had no right to be there. Especially after Gates identified himself.

    I think it is clear by this case alone that cops actually DON’T run away with their tails tucked. Rather, they ARREST PEOPLE IN THEIR OWN FREAKING HOMES! Seriously, how can you make that argument when talking about this story?

    Cops cannot just come into your home. Once Gates asked him to leave, the cop should have left. I’m not defending what Gates said (or is said to have said). But I am defending his right to be upset and yell. At the cop. For being in his very own house. You’re mad at Gates, Mr. Roach, for how he responded to a situation he never should’ve had to respond to.

  9. Mr. Roach Says:

    Michael, what if he had a warrant? What if the burglar was in the home and threatened him to tell cops to go away? What if there was a domestic violence situation? What if he had a restraining order from his significant other? Cops need to investigate to figure out what happened. It might be inconvenient, but they, not pissed off citizens, get to decide when that investigation is complete. It makes their job impossible if people (a) freak out and create a ruckus when they’re just trying to figure out what happened and (b) decide for themselves what standard police procedure should be. Most of us learned in high school or earlier that in dealing with police, it’s best to be polite and, even if you’re arrested, to address it with a lawyer and not by screaming at the cops on the street.

    Incidentally, he was arrested outside his home after not giving the cop his driver’s license and continuing to berate the cop by calling him a racist, ragging on “his mama,” and other crude remarks. He gave a Harvard ID that did not show it was his house.

  10. Mr. Roach Says:

    To all the people who have opinions about what cops can and can’t do and what they customarily do to white people, I have to wonder, have you never seen an episode of the TV show Cops? What happened to Gates would have happened to most anyone in his position, or at least it was a significant risk.

  11. michaellasley Says:

    If he’d had a warrant, yes. He could be there. Such is the nature of warrants. He didn’t. You keep bringing up wild scenarios about warrants and hostages and domestic abuse. None of which are applicable here. It shouldn’t take a cop very long to figure out that there wasn’t a break-in at the residence. He could have made a call or two after leaving to see if anyone in the police department had ever heard of Gates, who is one of the most famous scholars in the US (as far as scholars and fame can be mentioned in the same sentence).

    I’m not against police asking questions. I’m not defending Gates saying whatever he said and yelling. I’m not saying we should go around yelling at people. I’m very pro-non-confrontation. But laying all of this on Gates, saying the cop was just doing his job, seems a bit naive and trusting of the cop over the citizen. I actually respect cops and think they have a scary job. But I’ve also been pulled over enough to know that cops can be very confrontational for pretty much no reason.

  12. urbino Says:

    I’m just going to leave this where I left it in my last comment: letting Mr. Roach’s comments speak for themselves. Something they do quite clearly.

  13. Mr. Roach Says:

    Michelle, the cops don’t know what they don’t know until they run your driver’s license. I realize those scenarios were not in fact the case; but the cop didn’t know that and couldn’t easily figure it out if Gates is freaking out like a crazy person. Indeed, that itself would raise most officers’ suspicion. There is a protocol to figure out what happened and ensure the home is safe. Famous “scholars” don’t get a free pass. He should have shut up and given up his license.

  14. michaellasley Says:

    I’ll follow urbino’s lead and hush, but I wasn’t suggesting famous scholars (don’t know why scare quotes were used….he’s fairly well-respected, even by those who argue with him) get a free pass. I was saying it’d be pretty easy to identify him. Even if he weren’t famous, university id’s have numbers and codes on them, are stored in a database and a call or two to the Harvard public safety could have cleared that up.

  15. dejon05 Says:

    Mr. Roach,

    I think it is safe to say you have earned full-blown troll status.

    Your comments are not even the slightest bit persuasive. They are merely provocative, and any moron can be provocative.

    I would suggest that “reasonable minds may disagree,” but I don’t think that applies.

  16. Mr. Roach Says:

    You all are true believers and, all of a sudden, experts on how police should investigate home robbery investigations.

    I initially thought this was just a class thing, that perhaps the cop, like cop sometimes are, was overly gruff and rude to an upper middle class professor unused to dealing with police. I can easily see it being off-putting to any such person. Then I read the police report and saw the photo of Gates screaming and witnessed his refusal to back down after the joint statement by Cambridge PD and Gates. You all should read the police report if you’ve not. And you should consider that the costs of inconveniencing people like Gates versus the costs of being mistaken about a burglary in progress or other possible bad scenarios that would lead to major liability might make cops a little risk averse about not unturning every stone in cases like this.

  17. michaellasley Says:

    I know I’m a true believer.

    Obviously, there is no way a cop would ever write a report that made him look like the good guy.

    I don’t recall anyone here saying Gates handled the situation in the most level-headed manner. I read the report. Gates was in his home / on his porch the entire time and not one word is said about him being a danger to the cop physically. He was yelling, which isn’t against the law. (Then again, I’m no expert on that.) The cop even assessed the situation quickly (ruling out all the wild scenarios you presented throughout the thread) and determined that Gates was in all probability in his own home.

    I’m not for yelling at cops. But I’m also not for cops being quick to arrest someone for being rude in their own home.

    The whole thing is silly, I think. A little humility on both sides would go a long way to ending all of this. Nothing wrong with Gates saying, hey, I shouldn’t of yelled at you. And the cop saying, “no problem. I was just making sure your home was safe. I should probably have tougher skin.”

  18. urbino Says:

    You all are true believers and, all of a sudden, experts on how police should investigate home robbery investigations.

    Everybody’s a true believer in something. I’m not sure what you think we’re all true believers in, but it probably doesn’t matter.

    As for being an expert on how the police should conduct a home robbery investigation (or, in this case, burglary), I’m not one, but that, too, doesn’t matter since this wasn’t a robbery investigation. There was no robbery. Once Gates identified himself, there was no basis to even suspect a robbery. Or any other crime. Therefore, there was nothing to investigate and the cop should have just said, “Have a nice day, sir,” and walked away.

    As I’ve already said, the specifics of what Gates said are irrelevant. Nor does it matter how loud he said it. Nor if he said it in his house or on his porch or standing on his head. He committed no crime. None. Not even a hint of a shadow of an inkling of one. Therefore, an investigation was unwarranted, and an arrest was completely unjustified. Somebody accused the man of breaking into his own home, a cop showed up and wouldn’t go away, and Gates got mad and yelled at him for it.

    I understand cops don’t like to be yelled at. I don’t like it, either. I don’t know anybody who does. But it’s not a crime.

    Whether Gates was justified in getting mad and yelling is also irrelevant. Maybe it was completely unjustified. Maybe he’d had a rotten day and this was the topper. Maybe his bum leg was hurting. Maybe he’s a foul-tempered sumbitch with a racial chip on his shoulder. Maybe he had a minor stroke.

    None of it matters. He committed no crime. That’s the only thing that does matter.

    Therefore, and this has been my point all along, any cop who arrests people in situations like this one are abusing the power we’ve entrusted to them. Having a gun and a badge doesn’t give them the right to arrest people who irritate them in the course of their job. That’s not law enforcement. It’s common bullying.

    And they should apologize for it, just like the bully at your kid’s school should.

  19. dejon05 Says:

    Disorderly conduct defined

    Disorderly conduct is what you get charged with when the responding officer figures out that you haven’t actually broken any law, but in the process of figuring that out, he has also concluded that you are a colossal asshole who needs to be taught a lesson.

    This is doubly true if the charge of “disorderly conduct” is dropped within 24 hours of your arrest.

    I want to like cops. I want to respect the way they conduct their vital function in society.

    The problem is too many cops make it very difficult to respect the way they provide their vital role in society.

    Check in your local jurisdiction which police charges have the highest rate of dismissal. It is almost always charges like disorderly conduct, and public intoxication. (Public Intox intuitively requires intoxication, but the absence of such does not always stop a cop from pinning this charge on someone the cop just doesn’t particularly like).

    These criminal statutes give the cops just enough leeway for them to manipulate these statutory resources for their own self-serving purposes.

    JU already made the point about what is NOT a crime… e.g. yelling, not respecting the officers uh-thor-i-TIE, or even being an jerk. But… if you do these things that are *not* crimes… the cops have the catch-all resources of disorderly conduct or public intoxication at their disposal.

    This is abuse of power. Plain and simple. So some may argue about how hard cops have it, and what a dangerous job it is. I am wholly unmoved when this argument is nothing more than a lobby to take away citizens’ basic rights and freedoms.

    I’ve seen too many cases where the cops have no problem doing this… and this case in Cambridge is just another one. The fact that it is not as egregious as others should not render moot what the cop did here. He was wrong. But his wrongful actions have somehow become defended accepted practice in the cop world.

    And that is why the cop culture too often allows and even applauds fundamentally unconstitutional policing.

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