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Disorderly Conduct? - hmm... - nhpeacenik
Disorderly Conduct? - hmm...
Henry Louis Gates was arrested last week, if my memory serves me correctly, for "disorderly conduct in a public place". He was handcuffed and booked and subsequently released, and the charges have now been dropped. Disorderly conduct is a charge used, among other things, to get demonstrators exercising their constitutional rights of free speech off the street until the demonstration is no longer timely, or to break up legal but rowdy gatherings. It is my impression that, when contested, disorderly conduct charges are usually dropped. When charges are dropped, there is no legal record that can be followed up. As the Wikipedia article points out, disorderly conduct charges are akin to vagrancy charges, a category of offense that was largely invented (in the American context)  to enforce racial segregation and de-facto slavery in the early 20th century. Perhaps the ability of police to arrest citizens on "catch-all" charges like this should be ended, as most vagrancy laws have been nullified by courts.

While Mr. Gates may or may not have made intemperate personally offensive statements to the arresting officer, it appears to me that the only reason the officer had to handcuff and arrest him was personal and emotional; there could have been no public purpose served by arresting a man in his own home for using words to a police officer, who is a public official and is not supposed to let personal feelings get in the way of his primary duty, which is to prevent crime and defuse situaions of conflict. The best thing he could have done, after seeing Gates's ID, would have been to say "I'm sorry to have troubled you. It is obvious that no crime has been committed here, and I'll be on my way." The term "peace officer" is given to police because maintaining peace is their primary underlying duty; taking retaliatory action never furthers the peace, and everybody, including the police,  needs to eat some crow in order to defuse conflict situations.

The underlying problem still has much to do with differential treatment of people of different races, as the thought-experiment of imagining Mr,. Gates had been white will clearly show. Another thought-experiment might be in order, too. I suspect that a nontrivial number of less-well-educated black people have been arrested for disorderly conduct and failed to challenge the charge because they had no lawyer or didn't know they could, and it would be interesting to have statistics on the disposition of these cases and compare them with the cases of white people of different classes. FBI crime statistics might be helpful, though they are not as comprehensive as I'd like. I intuit that people of color are much  more often adversely affected by this kind of police tactic than are white people.

It was mentioned in the newspaper that the arresting officer had taught racial profiling classes to police recruits. I wonder what the content and impact of these courses was on the students (and the teacher). What would happen if police departments required that racial profiling/sensitivity courses be taught by a team that included a civilian belonging to the classes of people who might be adversely profiled.

I confess that I easily conjure up conspiracy theories to explain the seeming increase of police impunity for violence and corruption in Britain, Canada and the US. I know there needn't be a conspiracy to explain things like the arrest of reporters at the Republican National Convention and the deaths and injuries of peaceful protesters at London global-warming rallies. It's probably partly a zeitgeist issue that rewards paranoid violence on the part of officials in a time of anxiety over livelihoods and terrorist threats, and it's probably also a policy problem, exacerbated by defensive politics. Insofar as we can change policing policies to emphasize positive ethnically and racially diverse community-based police presence and de-emphasize legal sanctions and violence as tactics, we might go a long way toward debunking the conspiracy theories.

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nhpeacenik From: nhpeacenik Date: July 26th, 2009 02:41 am (UTC) (Link)
I came upon this interesting article in the Monadnock Freedom Forum, which seems to be saying roughly what I said in this posting, but from a more knowledgeable point of view. (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/monadnockfreedomforum/message/4921) It is attributed to to Jacob Sullum of "Reason" magazine, and Sam Smith. I don't know where this was originally published: C. B. Gassho (cbcgassho AT aol.com) might be able to provide references.
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