Thursday, July 23, 2009

Living in a Police State

By DAVE LINDORFF

But whatever the real story is regarding the showing of identification information by Gates and the officer, police misconduct in this incident went further. Gates reportedly got understandably angry and frustrated at the officer for refusing to provide him with this identifying information and/or for refusing to accept his own identification documents, and at that point the officer abused his power by arresting Gates and charging him with disorderly conduct.

There’s nothing unusual about this, sadly. It is common practice for police in America to abuse their authority and to arrest people on a charge of “disorderly conduct” when those people simply exercise their free speech rights and object strenuously to how they are being treated by an officer. Try it out sometime. If you are given a ticket for going five miles an hour over the posted speed limit, tell the traffic officer he or she is a stupid moron, and see if you are left alone. My bet is that you will find yourself either ticketed on another more serious charge, or even arrested for “disorderly conduct.” If you happen to be black or some other race than white, I’ll even put money on that bet. (If you’re stupid enough to go out and test this hypothesis, please don’t expect me to post your bail!)

There is no suggestion by police that Gates physically threatened the arresting officer. His “crime” at the time was simply speaking out.

What is unusual is not that the officer arrested Gates for exercising his rights. That kind of thing happens all the time. What’s unusual is that this time the police levied their false charge against a man who is among the best known academics in the country, who knows his rights, and who has access to the best legal talent in the nation to make his case (his colleagues at the Harvard Law School).

Very little of the mainstream reporting I’ve seen on this event makes the crucial point that it is not illegal to tell a police officer that he is a jerk, or that he has done something wrong, or that you are going to file charges against him. And yet too many commentators, journalists and ordinary people seem to accept that if a citizen “mouths off” to a cop, or criticizes a cop, or threatens legal action against a cop, it’s okay for that cop to cuff the person and charge him with “disorderly conduct.” Worse yet, if a cop makes such a bogus arrest, and the person gets upset, he’s liable to get an added charge of “resisting arrest” or worse.

We have, as a nation, sunk to the level of a police state, when we grant our police the unfettered power to arrest honest, law-abiding citizens for simply stating their minds. And it’s no consolation that someone like Gates can count on having such charges tossed out. It’s the arrest, the cuffing, and the humiliating ride in the back of a cop squad car to be booked and held until bailed out that is the outrage.

I’m sure police take a lot of verbal abuse on the job, but given their inherent power—armed and with a license to arrest, to handcuff, and even to shoot and kill—they must be told by their superiors that they have no right to arrest people for simply expressing their views, even about those officers.

Insulting an officer of the law is not a crime. Telling an officer he or she is breaking the law is not a crime. Demanding that an officer identify him or herself is not a crime. And saying you are going to file a complaint against the officer is not a crime.


Insulting is not a crime, perhaps. But it is disrespectful, and why shouldn't it be punished in some way? Is there room for punishment outside the legal system? Or would this go against the "rule of law"? The "right to free speech" should not extend to manifest disrespect, which is a sin.

Still, I can sympathize with those who complain that LEOs overstep their bounds and carry out private grudges -- it's not only people on the "Left" that complain, but also those on the "Right" -- the paleolibertarians, Paul Craig Roberts, Sam Francis, Peter Hitchens, and others.

Some alternate views of what happened in Cambridge:
Steve Sailer: UPDATED: Who is "carrying racist thoughts?"
Damian Thompson: Henry Louis Gates arrested and alleges racism. But read the police report
and Obama has made a prat of himself over the Gates affair

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