Mike the Mad Biologist

Remember last year, when Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested by the Cambridge Police (charges were dropped). We all sat around, had a beer, and discussed race. Well, there’s been a review of the Cambridge police’s arrest behavior from 2004 to 2009.

At the time, I thought it had nothing to do with race, but challenging police authority, and an atypical response based on Gates’ class:

But I actually don’t think this is about race, but a challenge to police authority. Basically, once Gates’ challenged the officer’s authority–and mind you, he had already shown the officer his identification–by asking the officer to identify himself, which is Gates’ right to do, the officer viewed this as a threat. Police officers do this all the time–in ‘bad’ neighborhoods. Talk to people who live across the river in Roxbury or Dot, and this isn’t unusual behavior. More than one police officer would describe these neighborhoods in language that isn’t that different from the way U.S. soldiers describe Basra. With that mindset comes a strong belief that an individual situation must be strictly controlled. ‘Mouthing off’–that is, exercising your rights–is an attempt by the potential perpetrator to gain control. If you’ve been around long enough, you have probably experienced this in one form or another.

And, in some situations, this is probably warranted: police, on occasion, do have to deal with pretty awful, and more importantly, dangerous people. But the problem is most people aren’t criminals, and they have this funny dislike of being presumed guilty when they’re not.

I concluded:

The real shocker is that this treatment happened to a ‘respectable’ person in a ‘good’ neighborhood.

We’ll get to that last sentence in a moment. But here’s what the review found (italics mine):

But a review of the Cambridge department’s handling of disorderly conduct cases from 2004 to 2009 finds no evidence of racial profiling. Instead, the analysis by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting finds that the most common factor linking people who are arrested in Cambridge for disorderly conduct is that they were allegedly screaming or cursing in front of police.

Of the 392 adults arrested for disorderly conduct, 57 percent were white, and 34 percent were black. That racial breakdown almost exactly mirrored the racial composition of the population that Cambridge police investigated for disorderly conduct, the center’s analysis shows….

The most striking conclusion of the review of Cambridge police data is that the majority of those arrested for disorderly conduct were allegedly yelling, often screaming obscenities, in front of police before the handcuffs snapped shut. More than 60 percent of the disorderly arrests reviewed by center involved some sort of allegedly inflammatory speech, such as talking back to the police, more commonly known as “contempt of cop.”

…”Disorderly is often used when people do something to [anger] the cops,” said Daniel Beck, a veteran criminal defense lawyer in Cambridge. “Sometimes, they’re just being a drunken jerk yelling,” he said. “Often, they’re challenging the cops’ authority.”

Told ya. And the review also determined:

A substantial minority of those arrested for the crime also shared another trait: 17 percent of them were homeless.

This was always about class and expectations of obeisance, not race.

Comments

  1. #1 Rem
    June 17, 2010

    Investigated for disorderly conduct is pretty vague. Yes, for those “investigated,” arrest rates were comparable across race, but whites are underrepresented and blacks massively overrepresented in these “investigations.” If Gates’ arrest falls under arrest after investigation of disorderly conduct, the criteria for investigation is rather questionable.