[Note: This post is a little dated. The events described have been assigned their place in the leftist narrative and swept under the rug. However, I did promise commenter Tdaxp a detailed explanation of why I thought his view of the Gates affair was dead wrong and this post covers that ground. In any case, the event serves as a powerful example of the hold that predefined narratives have over the minds of leftists.]
The incident between Officer James Crowley and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. demonstrates just what a powerful grip fictional narratives have on the minds of leftists. All the leftists in the country, from the President on down, fervently believe that Crowley acted out of racial animosity but they can’t explain what action of Crowley’s indicates his racial animosity. Instead, they must rely on a narrative shared by the subculture to convince each other that Crowley must be wrong.
Leftists are clearly caught up in two narratives. First, they have the narrative of black man versus white cop. In this narrative, one need only plug the race and role of each person into the narrative and the narrative will tell them who was absolutely wrong and who was absolutely right. Since Crowley was the white cop, the narratives says he acted wrongly. Case closed.
The second narrative is the hindsight narrative. This is a narrative in which the actions of participants in an event are explained in terms of information known in hindsight, not the information each participant had at the time. In hindsight, we all know that Gates was a legal resident in his home and that the report of break-in was a false alarm. With that information, the hindsight narrative creates a story in which Crowley is clearly a bully harassing an old man for illegitimate reasons.
We can dismiss the first narrative outright because it is simply racist. We should always evaluate individuals based on their own actions not on our arbitrary inclusion of them in some stereotyped group. The second narrative falls apart when we look at the sequence of events and examine the actions of both Gates and Crowley based on the information each had on hand at the time.
First, let’s look at the incident from Crowley’s perspective:
(1) Crowley receives a report of two men possibly breaking into a house. There had recently been numerous break-ins in the area. (Indeed, the damage to Gates’s door, see below, may have resulted from an attempted break-in.) That’s all Crowley knows when he arrives as the sole officer on the scene. The 911 caller is there and points the house out to him. Crowley goes up to the house and sees a single unidentified man inside. Crowley has no other information. Crowley wants to maintain control and safety in the circumstance so he doesn’t want to go inside (it might also be illegal for him to do so if the unidentified person isn’t a legal resident) and he doesn’t want to expose himself to a possible ambush by a reported second person. Based on the information he has on hand and standard police procedure, he asks the unidentified person to step outside.
When Crowley makes the request, the unidentified person not only refuses to reply but becomes belligerent and accusatory. Crowley can see no reason for the emotion and resistance. Crowley has to consider the possibility that the belligerence might be a sign that the unidentified person is running on adrenaline because the unidentified person was caught in mid-crime.
(2) Crowley, still having to take into account the second reported individual, then asks if anyone else is in the residence. This was a reasonable question because Crowley had a report of two men and he was at that time alone. Even if he hadn’t had that information, police routinely ask this question so they won’t be surprised indoors by the sudden appearance of unexpected individuals. Most police officer fatalities occur during routine traffic stops and domestic-disturbance calls. They have protocols designed to minimize those dangers for themselves and civilians. However, instead of complying, the unidentified man tells him it is none of his business, accuses him of being a racist and begins to make a phone call.
(3) The unidentified man has provided Crowley with no identification, no explanation of his presence at the scene of a possible crime, refuses to confirm if anyone else is present and then he begins to try to intimidate the officer by appearing to try and call the chief of police and saying that Crowley, “doesn’t know who he is messing with.”
At this point Crowley has no idea what the hell is going on. The average resident in an upper-middle class university neighborhood doesn’t start screaming at the police when they show up. Crowley can’t assume anything. The unidentified man might be breaking into the house and is trying to bully the officer into leaving. (Trying to pretend to be a homeowner is a fairly common trick on the part of burglars.) He may be trying to cover up a serious domestic dispute or violence. He might be intoxicated or having a medical crisis.
(4) The unidentified ranting man goes back into the house while yelling and talking on the phone. Not wanting to break contact, Crowley informs his control he is going inside and follows Gates inside. Inside, the unidentified man continues to berate Crowley. Crowley by now believes it likely that the unidentified person is a resident of the house but still doesn’t know why he his acting the way he is. Crowley asks for identification from the unidentified person but instead of complying the unidentified person demands Crowley’s identification (even though he’s wearing it).
(5) The unidentified person finally produces a Harvard ID. Crowley decides that the unidentified person is a resident of the house and he radios for Harvard Campus police and prepares to leave. Gates continues to demand Crowley’s ID all the while cutting him off and trying to intimidate him. (Office Carlo Figueroa, arrives in the house at this time and his descriptions correspond with those of Crowley.)
(6) The resident is yelling so loudly that Crowley cannot hear his radio. Police are trained to maintain communications at all times so Crowley explains he will talk to the resident outside and walks outside. The resident follows Crowley outside in full view of four (multi-ethnic) police officers and six or seven onlookers. The resident continues to yell outside and Crowley warns him he is becoming legally disorderly. The other officers concur. Crowley takes the resident into custody on a misdemeanor charge with the assistance of the other officers and in full view of onlookers.
So, critics of Crowley have to answer this: given the information he had at each stage (1 – 6) above, what actions of Crowley’s were racist? For that matter, given the information he had at the time, what actions of Crowley’s were unreasonable, unwise or without foundation in any way? When Gates refused to come outside or ID himself, should Crowley had just shrugged and walked away?
The power of both the racist and hindsight narratives means that leftists would never believe that Crowley did the right thing. Imagine if events been different. Suppose Gates was being held hostage at gun point by someone out of sight in the house or if Gates had just committed domestic violence and his spouse had been dying in a pool of blood upstairs. Suppose Crowley had just backed off in the face of Gates’s belligerence but it was later discovered that something had been deeply wrong inside the house. In that case, the narratives would have cast him as a racist who didn’t care about the safety of African-Americans and who missed, what were in hindsight, perfectly obvious indications that someone in the house was in danger.
Gates’s version of events is comical and contradicted by witnesses. In his version, a cop comes to the door, Gates is reasonable and polite, he explains everything to the officer, IDs himself and the officer seems perfectly satisfied until he suddenly arrests Gates outside for absolutely no reason whatsoever. At best it is a delusional description of the event. Unfortunately, I think Gates really believes it.
Let’s look at the event from Gates’s perspective:
(1) After returning from a trip, Gates discovers his front door has been damaged so that it will not open. Gates goes inside then comes back out with his driver and the two force open the door. Shortly thereafter, a police officer shows up at his door and asks him to step outside and talk to the officer. Gates angrily replies, “Why, because I’m a black man in America?”
With the information he had on hand, why didn’t Gates realize that the cop was there because of the forced door? If an officer shows up on your doorstep shouldn’t you assume it had something to do with the unusual incident that had just previously occurred? Why did Gates think there was anything racial going on at all? Based on the information he had about Crowley, as an individual human being, why did Gates assume that Crowley was up to no good? Based on what he knew about Crowley, as an individual human being, why didn’t he assume that Crowley had a legitimate reason for asking him to step outside the house? For all Gates knew, Crowley was tracking a violent criminal in the area. Why did he immediately assume that Crowley had no legitimate reason for being there and that he must be a racist?
Gates clearly gave no thought whatsoever to Crowley’s perspective. He clearly did not understand that Crowley at that time did not know who Gates was, that he was in his own home or that Crowley had information (a report of a possible break-in by two men) that Gates did not.
(2) Gates immediately begins to try to intimidate the police officer by accusing him of racism and by claiming that Gates was a powerful and connected person who could have the cop punished. Even if Gates had reason to believe that Crowley was acting improperly, is that the way a responsible citizen handles a conflict with the police? Is it the way that a person with wealth, influence and political connections should deal with anyone?
(3) Crowley determines that Gates is a legal resident and calls the campus police. Another officer shows comes into the house. Gates continues his tirade despite both officers’ request that he calm down. Gates is trying to communicate over his radio but cannot. Gates demands Crowley’s ID but then interrupts him repeatedly when he tries to give it. What information did Gates possess that justified that behavior?
(4) Gates follows Crowley outside and into a group of officers from two different police forces, and bystanders, while constantly yelling abusively. What information did Gates have that justified that behavior? Crowley and the other officers warn him he has become legally disorderly and ask him to stop. Why didn’t Gates stop? What did he expect to accomplish? After repeated warnings, the assembled officers arrest Gates.
Gates was clearly a fantasy-driven egomaniac. When he saw Crowley at his door he immediately assumed that he was important enough a figure to Crowley that Crowley would risk his police career just to harass Gates. Gates ignored the condition of his house as he found it, neglected to think about what information the cop might possess and instead slid into a story defined by the narrative he had spent his entire life constructing. In a matter of seconds he became the hero in a play in which only he had the script.
Unless you think that a multi-racial group of police fabricated the entire incident just so they could arrest an elderly, disabled black man on a misdemeanor charge, then the incident is Gates’s fault entirely. If Gates had simply not racially stereotyped Crowley, had he been aware enough of other people’s perspective to realize that forcing a door might raise legitimate concern, had he simply believed that he had the responsibility as a citizen and human being to remain calm and courteous, the event would have never escalated. Instead, Gates ignored reality and jumped headlong into his preprogrammed fantasy narrative.
Worse, half of the country including the President also decide to immerse themselves in the fantasy and turn it into a great morality play, the climax of which is that Crowley is dragged to the White House so they can all talk about what Crowley did wrong. Crowley didn’t do anything wrong other than not understanding he had blundered into a leftist-racialist’s Live Action Role Playing game in which he was cast as the villain.
Gates was right about one thing. He said that if this event could happen to him, it could happen to anyone in America. He was correct, he just had the wrong “him.”