Saturday, July 25, 2009

Best Take on Dr. Henry Louis Gates' Arrest

I have no doubt whatsoever, from my experience as a retired municipal judge, that "disorderly conduct" and "disturbing the peace" laws have some limited value in allowing peace officers to diffuse some situations for the public good.

HOWEVER, I also have no doubt that these laws are often used as retaliation by cops who get their egos bruised. I've seen it dozens of times. I'm proud to say that I "threw out" every such charge when the facts indicated the cop chose to over-react rather than calmly and professionally diffuse a situation. Needless to say, the cops in the jurisdiction where I presided got a lot more professional really quickly. Nothing worse than a supposedly impartial judge who rubber stamps police misconduct. It undermines the rule of law, and has no place in our civilized concept of what justice should be all about.

I have no doubt whatsoever from a review of all the facts, that this cop in Cambridge severely overreacted. Had this been a white professor and an African American cop, you'd have heard the right wing screaming "A Man's Home is his Castle." No such modicum of respect has been accorded professor Gates. Before you read the rest of this, read the POLICE REPORT.

Blogger dday @ Crooks & Liars lays out the facts and the law, and some common sense!

. . . . Policemen should not be allowed to arrest someone for being an asshole in their own home. If that was the case, right-wing bloggers would all be doing 10-20. It appears clear, and I guess there may be audio tape to this effect, that the cop came to Gates' house, figured out that he was not a burglar, words were exchanged, and then the cop arrested him for disorderly conduct. That's really over the line of what cops should be allowed to do, regardless of the motivations, racial or otherwise.

The crime of disorderly conduct, beloved by cops who get into arguments with citizens, requires that the public be involved. Here's the relevant law from the Massachusetts Appeals Court, with citations and quotations omitted:

The statute authorizing prosecutions for disorderly conduct, G.L. c. 272, § 53, has been saved from constitutional infirmity by incorporating the definition of "disorderly" contained in § 250.2(1)(a) and (c) of the Model Penal Code. The resulting definition of "disorderly" includes only those individuals who, "with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof ... (a) engage in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior; or ... (c) create a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor.' "Public" is defined as affecting or likely to affect persons in a place to which the public or a substantial group has access.

The lesson most cops understand (apart from the importance of using the word "tumultuous," which features prominently in Crowley's report) is that a person cannot violate 272/53 by yelling in his own home.

Read Crowley's report and stop on page two when he admits seeing Gates's Harvard photo ID. I don't care what Gates had said to him up until then, Crowley was obligated to leave. He had identified Gates. Any further investigation of Gates' right to be present in the house could have been done elsewhere. His decision to call HUPD seems disproportionate, but we could give him points for thoroughness if he had made that call from his car while keeping an eye on the house. Had a citizen refused to leave Gates' home after being told to, the cops could have made an arrest for trespass.

But for the sake of education, let's watch while Crowley makes it worse. Read on. He's staying put in Gates' home, having been asked to leave, and Gates is demanding his identification. What does Crowley do? He suggests that if Gates wants his name and badge number, he'll have to come outside to get it. What? Crowley may be forgiven for the initial approach and questioning, but surely he should understand that a citizen will be miffed at being questioned about his right to be in his own home. Perhaps Crowley could commit the following sentences to memory: "I'm sorry for disturbing you," and "I'm glad you're all right."

Spoiling for a fight, Crowley refuses to repeat his name and badge number. Most of us would hand over a business card or write the information on a scrap of paper. No, Crowley is upset and he's mad at Gates. He's been accused of racism. Nobody likes that, but if a cop can't take an insult without retaliating, he's in the wrong job. When a person is given a gun and a badge, we better make sure he's got a firm grasp on his temper. If Crowley had called Gates a name, I'd be disappointed in him, but Crowley did something much worse. He set Gates up for a criminal charge to punish Gates for his own embarrassment.

By telling Gates to come outside, Crowley establishes that he has lost all semblance of professionalism. It has now become personal and he wants to create a violation of 272/53. He gets Gates out onto the porch because a crowd has gathered providing onlookers who could experience alarm. Note his careful recitation (tumultuous behavior outside the residence in view of the public). And please do not overlook Crowley's final act of provocation. He tells an angry citizen to calm down while producing handcuffs. The only plausible question for the chief to ask about that little detail is: "Are you stupid, or do you think I'm stupid?" Crowley produced those handcuffs to provoke Gates and then arrested him. The decision to arrest is telling. If Crowley believed the charge was valid, he could have issued a summons. An arrest under these circumstances shows his true intent: to humiliate Gates.

The cop baited the guy into leaving the house so he could arrest him for making a cop feel bad.

I appreciate the work of law enforcement. But regardless of race, too many cops have the belief that if they get insulted, they have the right to turn that into an arresting offense. That's not the law whatsoever, nor should it be. It creates a chilling effect among the public not to call out bad behavior in law enforcement or raise your voice in any way. I know we're all supposed to believe that cops are saintly, but I live in LA. Police misconduct happens all the time, and we should be vigilant when it does.

Instead, the media takes the soccer ball and chases it into the corner, without any semblance of factual records or perspective. It becomes an emotional argument instead of a factual record of misconduct. We pay cops with tax money. We should not risk arrest when arguing with them.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Crass, but Necessary



Thursday, July 23, 2009

Today in Gay History

Happy 110th Birthday

Ruth Ellis

July 23, 1899 ~ 2000
from glbtq we learn how the lives of ordinary gay folk continue to have a huge impact on many people in our communities:

" Small of stature but great of heart, Ruth Ellis became an icon of the glbtq community in Detroit, where she lived for most of her 101 years. Out, proud, generous, and plain-speaking, she lived life on her own terms with determination and dignity. The Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit continues her legacy of offering shelter and support to young glbtq people.

. . . " Homosexuality was never an issue that was discussed in the family, but, Ellis said in 1997, "I think [my father] was kind of glad that I had a woman instead of a man because he was afraid I'd come home with a baby. If you had a baby in those days, you'd have to leave home. And he wanted me home [in Springfield, Illinois where she grew up]."

Ellis believed that her eldest brother, Charles Ellis, Jr., a World War I veteran who never married, was also gay, but "he never talked about it or anything like that."

Ellis graduated from Springfield High School in 1919 and went to work as a nursemaid and cook for a local family. She subsequently got a job at a print shop, where she learned how to set type and operate the presses.

In 1937, one of her brothers, who was living in Detroit, suggested that Ellis could earn more money there than in Springfield, and so she boarded a Greyhound bus and moved north.

She was soon joined by Ceceline "Babe" Franklin, whom she called her "one real girlfriend" and "the only person I had ever lived with." Franklin had promised Ellis that "if you ever leave Springfield, I'll come where you are," and she was true to her word.

Franklin took a job as a cook in a restaurant, and Ellis went to work for a printer for a time before deciding to go into business for herself. She and Franklin bought a two-family flat in Detroit and devoted the front room to the print shop. Much of Ellis's business came from local churches for which she printed coin envelopes and raffle tickets. She would also "take the walk-in trade" from neighborhood businesses and private customers requiring posters, fliers, or stationery. A self-taught photographer, she set up a darkroom in the former coal-bin of the house and offered the service of making hand-colored prints.

. . . She and Franklin opened their home to other lesbians and gay men, giving parties to which "people used to come from everyplace" and earning their house on Oakland Avenue a reputation as "the gay spot."

"On weekends, that would be the place to come because there weren't many places unless it was in someone's home. So they'd come down, and we'd play the piano and dance, and some of them would play cards," recalled Ellis in 1998. Gay men and lesbians came from as far away as Flint, Michigan and Cleveland, Ohio to attend the gatherings because they felt welcome in Ellis and Franklin's home.

The two women were an unlikely pair. "We were just two opposite people. Sometimes opposites attract. That was our case," explained Ellis. "She liked to drink, go to bars, gamble. I never did all that. Mine was concerts and things like that, going to church and church things."

Despite their differences, the couple stayed together for more than thirty years. "That's what I want these girls to do now, instead of breaking up after two or three months," declared Ellis.

. . . In the early 1970s, Franklin moved to the suburb of Southfield to be nearer her job, but Ellis, who never learned to drive, chose to remain in Detroit. Even after the couple stopped living together, though, said Ellis, "I had a key to her place, and I could come and go as I wanted."

Franklin died in 1975. Ellis had meanwhile moved into the downtown Wolverine Senior Center, where, because of her ebullient personality, she quickly befriended other residents and then helped them out by going grocery shopping and running errands for them.

At the age of seventy-nine, Ellis enrolled in a self-defense class taught by a woman, Jay Spiro, who she correctly suspected was a lesbian. Spiro, the first white lesbian whom Ellis had met, introduced her to a community of younger gay women, who immediately embraced her.

"They took me to bars. We went from one bar to another," recounted Ellis. "Then it just kept snowballing" as she began engaging in more and more glbtq and feminist activities. She became an admired and respected member of Detroit's glbtq community. "She was our inspiration and our link to the past," commented Kofi Adoma, for whom Ellis was both a friend and a role model. "When we listened to Ruth's stories, we knew we should also be able to accomplish things and not have fear."

Ellis's new friends were quick to volunteer to drive her wherever she needed to go, and they raised money to send her to a conference in California on issues faced by gay and lesbian African Americans. She began to enjoy traveling, making annual trips to Provincetown, Massachusetts and to the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. She took other trips around the country as well, including a 1999 jaunt to San Francisco, where she led the annual Dyke March and was serenaded by thousands of women singing "Happy Birthday" in honor of her centennial.

The once-shy schoolgirl also became a public speaker, addressing community and school groups and forums at the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, and Michigan State University. She imparted several messages to her audiences, the first of which was that they should be proud of and honest about themselves. In her case, stated Ellis, "I was always out of the closet. I didn't have to come out."

Ellis is the subject of Yvonne Welbon's award-winning documentary film Living with Pride: Ruth Ellis at 100 (1999). The two women met in 1996 when Ellis had traveled to Bloomington, Indiana for the National Women's Music Festival and Welbon spotted her at a dance for women of color and was immediately drawn to the sprightly nonagenarian who was dancing the night away.

. . . For the next couple of years Welbon interviewed and filmed Ellis at her home in Detroit and at the annual Golden Threads festival for older lesbians and gay men in Provincetown. Her film combines archival footage with recreations of the events of Ellis's life to tell her story.

When Living with Pride premiered in San Francisco, the diminutive Ellis--who stood only four feet eight inches tall--blossomed as a big star. All three screenings of the film played to sold-out audiences, and after each show, women thronged around Ellis, eager for the chance to meet and talk with her.

Also in 1999, Ellis presided at the ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the Ruth Ellis Center, a haven for homeless glbtq youth in Detroit. "We really did model the agency after the legacy of her unselfishness in giving to young people," stated Executive Director Grace McClelland.

The facility offers a Drop-In Center, the Ruth's House Emergency Shelter, and the Ruth's House Transitional Living Program, an eighteen-month course in independent-living skills for people aged sixteen to twenty-one.

The Street Outreach Program, developed in 2003-2004, has been highly successful in bringing young people into the Center, where they can not only have their basic needs for food, shelter, and hygiene met, but can also receive education about HIV/AIDS and other diseases and can be paired with a mentor to help them develop pride and self-esteem and to become self-sufficient.

Because of heart problems, Ellis spent two weeks in the hospital in the fall of 2000. She wanted to live out her days at home, however, and so she returned to her apartment, where she was attended around the clock by loving friends until she died in her sleep on October 5.

Ellis always insisted, "I'm just an ordinary little woman . . . . I'm not that important," but those whom she helped and inspired with her generous spirit, her determination, and her zest for living surely believed otherwise.

Ellis knew the importance of remembering the past and learning from it, but she never stopped looking to the future. In an interview in The Advocate in April 2000, she stressed the need for lesbians and gay men to work with each other for equality: "The only way we can get anyplace is by being together."

When asked for her thoughts on "gay people in the twenty-first century," she stated, "Gay people have to get in there just like anybody else. We have to work. We need more businesses. Scientists, chemists, things like that. If we could get more gay people in our politics, I think it would help a lot."

Ellis concluded with advice for young people: "I hope you get a good education. And be honest and caring. Try to love people. Have a happy life if you can in this crazy world."


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Moyers on Health Care Equity

H/T to
Crooks & Liars blog



Sunday, July 19, 2009

Stand Out Story of the Week

Signe Wilkinson in the Philadelphia Daily News