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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

July 30, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Gates arrest: What should have been done to defuse situation?

Gates let his temper get the best of him

I applaud columnist Jerry Large for writing the truth [“Trust: Handle with care,” NWThursday, column, July 30]. I am a former police officer and have been in countless situations that are similar to the Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley incident in Cambridge, Mass.

I truly in my heart from all I have read and heard believe Gates accelerated this issue, and his deep fiery anger from whatever boiled over. If he would have been calm, done what he was asked, it would have been a simple matter.

I fervently feel there is no need for a Beer Fest, especially with President Obama serving up the ale. Obama should have never engaged in this issue. He is quickly losing his stature in so many ways; I find it hard to believe how he is handling so many issues.

— Ron Sapp, Mukilteo

With a little composure, situation would have been resolved

In response to Leonard Pitts Jr.’s July 26 syndicated column, “Sometimes they just don’t see you,” about Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s arrest: Let’s forget about what color the parties involved in the case were, for just a minute.

A neighbor does the good Neighborhood Watch thing when she calls 911 because it appears someone in forcing the door open at a neighbor’s house. She saw him, from the back, but not his color, nor would that have mattered.

Then consider a police officer’s work; they get called to respond to a breaking and entering call. Police deal with people who really are breaking and entering with ill intent who are possibly armed. They approach prepared for the worst, cautious and probably unavoidably pumping with adrenaline.

An officer would have no idea of Gates’ illustrious credentials nor did his color matter in this incident. They found him belligerent when he was righteously indignant about being confronted in his residence, and he was probably unavoidably pumping adrenaline as well.

Difficult as it may be, when confronted by police for breaking into your own house, all through a gross misunderstanding of identity, it would be best to rein in the adrenaline and calmly answer their questions and explain yourself, even if you don’t think you owe them anything.

My biker-jacketed white teenage son was frequently stopped and questioned by the police when he was busing to and from a night job. He had the good sense to calmly answer their questions.

Had Gates shown that kind of composure, he might not have been detained.

— Ann Chessman, Everett

In arrest, officer looking out for his safety

In Leonard Pitts Jr.’s syndicated column, he laments that Henry Louis Gates Jr. is “a man who did the things African Americans are always advised to do only to discover in the end, none of it saved him.” I ask, from what?

Police officers have standard procedures that are followed to ensure they stay alive, and Sgt. James Crowley followed them. Gates pushed the envelope of civility by yelling, playing the race card and implying the officer was confronting him because he was black.

Pitts didn’t mention Gate’s home had been previously burglarized or that it is standard procedure for an officer to follow a suspect into a house when he says he needs to get his ID so that he doesn’t return with a gun and kill the officer.

What else can you expect from scholars who perpetuate racism in America by theorizing it to death? Maybe Pitts and Gates should consider getting a real job and quit living to race bait and race baiting to live.

— David P. Meyering, Arlington

Straightening out the details in Gates arrest

It is extraordinary how mangled the facts of Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s arrest have become. This remains true even for those who purport to have read the publicly available Cambridge Police Department arrest report.

First, Gates was not arrested in the residence but outside of it. He was not in any sense “yanked from his house.”

Second, the residence is not Gates’, but Harvard University’s, which allows him to use as the place rent free. It is not in any sense his private property.

Third, Gates was not arrested for trespassing on the property or for mouthing off to Sgt. James Crowley. The public disturbance charge was explained in the report as a response to Gates’ tirade outside the residence that had caused passers-by to congregate on the sidewalk.

Fourth, the charges were dropped not because they were false or illegitimate (Crowley would have been reprimanded otherwise) but because creating a public disturbance is a discretionary offense. At what point is the public legitimately disturbed by a man shouting racial epithets at a police officer in its hearing?

Fifth, the Cambridge Police Department, not the prosecutor, dropped the charges for unknown reasons, but discretionary offense charges are routinely dropped. Such a decision does not imply that the initial charge was in any way illegitimate.

A sensitive issue of this kind requires intelligent handling — by all of us. We will never achieve any kind of teachable moment if we insist on a basic misrepresentation of the facts at hand.

— J.E. Elliott, Seattle

A failure in defusing a hostile situation

When a police officer arrives on scene, that officer, under color of authority, assumes responsibility to control the situation appropriately. Appropriately.

For Sgt. James Crowley to claim it was Henry Louis Gates Jr. — the reportedly disabled, elderly resident — not Crowley himself, who was in control of the situation is embarrassingly and patently false and self-serving.

Second, this inadvertently concedes the point that the law-enforcement officer in charge on scene felt somehow so overwhelmed by the nuances or complexities of the situation that he felt he had no choice but to bury the homeowner beneath the full weight of his authority, rather than exercise basic de-escalation skills — on himself as well as Gates.

Charges against Gates were dismissed because law enforcement recognized them as unjustified and possibly actionable.

Crowley had discretion on scene as to how to handle the misunderstanding, and, indeed, to quote President Obama’s original statement, handled it “stupidly.”

In a variation on the maxim of Maslow’s Hammer: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

— Will Fidleman, East Olympia

Comments | More in Barack Obama administration, Public safety, Race

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