Here’s what I don’t understand about Gatesgate. And let’s leave the patent racism aside, as well as the question about how Gates’s own neighbor was so clueless that she thought he was breaking into his own home. (She must feel like total shit right now. Good.) The racism is actually the least interesting part of this story, just because we all already know that none of this would have been happened had he been white.
No, the real interesting issue is this “disorderly conduct.” The cop’s stated reason for arresting Gates was that he was yelling at him in front of other people. Let me repeat it. That was the stated reason for the arrest. So riddle me this: since when do we live in a society such that yelling at a cop is sufficiently plausible as grounds for arrest that the cop can actually write it in the arrest report?
Let’s not be confused here: the cop did not claim that Gates was getting violent, or that he posed any threat to the cop or anyone else, including himself. He could not have made that claim — Gates is neither young nor athletic, nor would the cops have had any reason to believe he was any kind of criminal, on any kind of drugs, etc. There was a bunch of drivel about bystanders being alarmed, as if it’s against the law to alarm people… let’s face it, the only grounds for arrest was that he yelled at the cop.
What is this? Why should cops be free from being yelled at? (For that matter, why should anyone who is not a captive audience be free from being yelled at?) Ordinary people don’t get any kind of privilege against being yelled at; if I called the cops to report someone yelling at me they’d come arrest me for making bogus police reports. And it’s not like Gates was causing some kind of public disruption: the yelling was happening in his own home, a place where the police were (quite) explicitly not welcome. The cops could have caused the yelling to cease by doing what they ought to have done in the first place, namely driven away with apologies, leaving only their names and the address for whoever it is that accepts service of process for the Cambridge police department.
The cops seem to think that they’re precious pampered little princes, entitled to some kind of protection against offensive speech. It’s like being yelled at is an affront to their special little royal honor, an act of lesè majesté.
(Slightly edited to tone down the fury.)