Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Post No. 129: “The Facts” Don’t Really Matter

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Being solution-oriented, we’re going to suggest a way to view the public’s response to the arrest of Harvard Professor Gates - without addressing one single fact involved.

That’s because in this day and time, objective facts rarely matter. What people feel and think matter. What really matters is “the facts” as we each see them.

What’s right depends on your view of the world, and how events fit into the world you understand, know, appreciate, or want.

None of us was not present at Gates’ home (and thus have no first hand knowledge). Even though, at least initially, there was no transcript reflecting what was said, or video of the events, many quickly supplied their own assumptions, and formed conclusions about who did what.

Tocqueville, over 150 years ago, warned us this day would come. America must begin to approach our most serious issues innovatively, and stop wishing that they will disappear.

Simply relying on and retrieving our personal worldviews and experiences from our organic hard disks will not serve us well in this far more competitive environment. We’ll get our butts kicked by other nations, particularly totalitarian regimes not playing by our “rules,” if we keep this up, without achieving some resolution.

We read probably over 750 articles and comments on this event. Gates was variously described as arrogant, elitist, bi-polar, degenerate, a fraud, a clown, and proof that affirmative action does not work. Crowley, the arresting officer, did not fare any better. He was described as a thug, Nazi, Neanderthal, racist, and the same list of expletives used to describe Gates. (Maybe some progress was achieved since the expletive spewing crowd used the exact same expletives.)

If we are to gain anything constructive from this “thing,” we should appreciate there are some unresolved issues “in fact” that prompted this reaction.

Everyone’s position is legit.

During our 16 months navigating the blogosphere, there has been no topic about which more people have chosen to express themselves and definitely not this passionately.

Race, class, entitlement, and fairness remain America’s most prominent issues. In a way, this was the “O.J. incident” of our decade, in terms of everyone having an opinion. The economic collapse and the decline of life as we once knew it probably stoked the fire.

It has been suggested that everyone should learn at least one lesson in life from a friend. One of our Fellows speaks of a buddy of over 30 years, from whom he learned two. Once, when he suggested that his buddy did not deserve something, the friend quickly replied, “It’s not about what I deserve; it’s about what I want.”

That friend, a psychiatrist by profession, provided another lesson by relating a pattern observed during marital counseling sessions. The doctor observed how one spouse could bring up factual details of an event 20 or 30 years prior, and then describe, in detail, his or her anger. The other spouse would be shocked, and dispute the factual account. The session would then degenerate into a debate of “the facts,” and who was right or accurate.

He concluded that factual arguments rarely advance resolution objectives.

The Logistician was previously a trial attorney. He once represented employees of a fast food chain who identified an armed robber. The robber forced all but one employee into the freezer. He took the manager into her office, raped her, and then took the money.

One of the employees thought he recognized the robber, and the others bought into it. The accused had a twin brother, and… no more need be said. Charges were dropped, and the accused sued the employees for malicious prosecution.

The jury bought the accused’s argument, and awarded him damages. (Fortunately, the judge set the verdict aside.) The jury felt that the employees made their identification, and choose to pin the crime on just anyone handy.

Solving complex problems going forward (and competing) will require collaboration, appreciation of the views of all citizens, and a search for all facts and contributing factors. All of us have something to say of value, and none of us are just “fringe elements” to be summarily dismissed.

Whether you think someone should be arrested on their property while questioning the motivations of a responding law enforcement officer very much depends on the perspective from which you are watching the play unfold. This seemingly insignificant event is simply symptomatic of some very serious problems festering beneath the surface.

When the 1st O.J. verdict was rendered, the Logistician was in Chicago visiting a corporate client. He later returned to make a presentation before that client, and reps of another company. At the end of the day, a dinner was held. Since it was not a formal dinner, no speaker was scheduled.

However, being a trial attorney and having a personal connection to many of the players involved, he was asked to provide his thoughts as to how people could see “the facts” so differently. That he was even asked speaks volumes about where we are as a nation.

You see, “the facts” don’t really matter. The lens through which you interpret or view them does.

The only way to get beyond that is to borrow the glasses which others wear.


  1. Just wish it was that easy to say "hey , let me try your glasses and come to an understanding peacefully....the media certainly could use MANY pairs. Good story.

  2. Over and above this incident being an opinion-provoking event, there was also an arrest made. That makes it a matter of law. In my opinion, the professor's rights were violated by a Uniformed Thug who overstepped his authority in violation of the Bill of Rights. It is not illegal to be an arrogant elitist. Unwarranted search and seizure is illegal. While Gates was almost certainly rude, etc., his rudeness in no way threatens me, or society-at-large. The actions of the Uniformed Thug in question, however, do threaten both. There is no moral, or legal, equivalency in this case.

  3. King of New York Hacks wrote:

    "Just wish it was that easy to say 'Hey, let me try your glasses and come to an understanding peacefully.... The media certainly could use MANY pairs. Good story."

    Thanks for visiting us again. We remember your insightful comments from before.

    We acknowledge that it isn't easy; it requires work, affirmatively reaching out, and canning the unnecessary invective, which advances no one's interests.

    People frequently refer to marriage as requiring work, and it only involves interpersonal interests with a different type of long-term societal benefit.

    This requires a different type of work and commitment, and involves thinking outside of ourselves, and thinking about the long-term positive interests of society, including those to whom we might be married, our progeny and families, and the greater community of humankind.

  4. From ABC News: Cambridge Police Release 911 Tape and Radio Dispatches of Professor Gates Arrest

    Do you think that anyone will change their position on any of this now that we have a better appreciation of "the facts?"

  5. Interesting Rodak:

    Officer Crowley exercised his discretion at the scene, and we can debate whether he exercised it properly.

    Addressing the "seizure" issue, from a pure legal perspective, perhaps the more appropriate legal charge should have been "interfering with the conduct of a police investigation," "or obstruction of justice," as opposed to "disorderly conduct," which in most jurisdictions in this country, covers an unbelievably wide range of conduct.

    Additionally, from a legal perspective, asking Gates to step outside may address the "search" issue to which you referred.

    Are you suggesting that officers (1) should not have certain authority delegated to them, or (2) that they should not be permitted to make judgment calls because of the potential for abuse, or (3)that they should have to pull out a manual or book and make sure that the facts of their incident fit neatly into the defined offense, or (4) have to consult with a more senior officer before exercising such authority?

  6. What I'm suggesting is simply that the UT was on Prof. Gates' premises to investigate a "break-in." Once it had been determined by a show of picture i.d. that Gates was not a burglar, but the rightful owner of the home, the cop should have quit the scene, regardless of how rude Gates was being to him. That was the only acceptable "judgement call" for the UT to make. He overstepped (1); he ignored (2); he didn't need (3) under the circumstances; and he would have done well to resort to (4), as it turns out.

  7. Rodak:

    Arguably once it was established that Gates was the rightful possessor of the premises, then neither one of them needed to utter a further word.

    Back to the issue of the precipitating probable cause, from a purely legal perspective, the law does not demand that all police activity and investigation cease when the PPC has been addressed. We still have some difficulty trying to appreciate why the officer felt that he had some need to continue to be there, and why Gates felt that he needed to continue talking.

    However, we are simply speculating at this point. The actual tape and transcription are now available for all of us to read and digest. See our earlier comment, providing a link, above.

  8. We will never resolve such issues as they should be without employing something called "civility". Or perhaps by setting aside our emotional responses to practice something called "common courtesy."

    Both of these appear to be in short supply these days.

    I had something else to say but, following my own advice, decided I should not.

  9. We'll make some observations after reading the transcripts of the 911 call and the dispatcher's communication to the police: The quality of the recording appears to be fairly poor. Either the reporting person's cell phone had a poor connection, or the quality of the equipment used by the 911 service is poor, or possibly both. There was some difficulty in communication, so that information passed on was very ambiguous.

  10. I ran across this earlier today in looking at updates on the Gates situation. This is troubling.

    Tuesday, July 28, 2009

    Arrested in Silence: Police use TASER and Pepper Spray on Deaf Man

    By Robert McClendon & Mark R. Kent
    Staff Reporters

    Mobile police used pepper spray and a TASER on a deaf and mentally disabled man Friday after they were unable to get him to come out of a bathroom at a Dollar General store, authorities said.

    After forcibly removing Antonio Love from the bathroom of the Azalea Road store, officers attempted to book the 37-year-old, on charges of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and failure to obey a police officer, but the magistrate on duty at the jail refused to accept any of those charges.

    Love's family members said they had no idea where he was during the time that police had him in custody.

    Brodrick Love said the officers dropped his brother off in the parking lot of their apartment building without saying what happened or why his brother had been missing for six hours.

    Love's family members have filed a formal complaint against the officers.

    Christopher Levy, a Police Department spokesman, said the officers didn't find out that Love had a hearing impairment until after they got him out of the bathroom and found a card in his wallet indicating he was deaf.

    The officers' decision to take Love to jail — even after they discovered his disability — as well as their conduct throughout the incident is still under investigation, Levy said.


  11. All such recordings of 911 calls seem to lack a lot of clarity.Maybe they should use something other than a $29.95 Radio Shack provided tape recorder.

    Remember how, in elementary school, they played a little game where the teacher whispered a phrase in one child's ear and he or she passed that on to the next and so on? Remember the result? Consider that the 911 operator gets a rendition of what one woman told another and then relays what she heard on that call to the responding officer (and there may be another layer between the 911 operator and the officer). Things get distorted, emphasis gets changed, details fall out, perceptions intrude.
    And then the officer responds, events happen, and only after all that, maybe hours later, he writes a report.

    I like to say this is how it should have gone:

    Officer at door:
    "I am investigating a possible break in at this address, could you identify yourself, please?"

    "I live here, I am Professor Gates."

    "I will have to see some ID to confirm that."

    "OK, it's in the kitchen. Please come in."

    "Thank you."

    "Here." (showing driver's license)

    "Thank you, sir. Has anyone attempted to enter without your permission?"

    "No and there is no one here but myself."

    "Okay, sorry to disturb you." (and leaves)

    Now, I do not know what actually went down but I strongly suspect it did not resemble that in any way.

  12. Douglas:

    We agree with you regarding the quality of the communications equipment, and the notion that 911 calls are generally choppy or something. Upon reading this transcript, we were struck by how long it actually took the 911 operator to gather any facts or info of value. If it had been a life-threatening situation, time could have been a wasting.

    Even in the most modern, high tech (and very expensive) subway cars, the intercom/ communications equipment is just crap. One can barely hear what is being said. One would think that we have evolved to the point technologically that we could have better quality equipment, even at a low cost, installed for emergency communications.

    Something obviously went very wrong here. However, we remain concerned about how so many supplied their own facts, and produced their own spins. The transcripts suggest a re-thinking of much of what has been said thus far about the lady who called into 911.

  13. I could not agree more with you, Inspector. My take, upon reading those transcripts, is that she thought she was doing an older lady a favor (calming her fears) and doing the right thing in regards to the safety and security of her neighbors by reporting a suspicious activity to the police. No good deed goes unpunished, it seems, and this time someone else has received the punishment.
    The more I learn, the more I see an example of an unhappy confluence of misunderstandings.

  14. The woman who made the 911 call is being punished, big-time. She now has legions of reporters camped out on her lawn and can't leave her house to walk her dog without being swarmed upon: feeding frenzy, American-style.

    The sound quality of the 911 call is, btw, excellent. And it shows UT Crowley's written police report to be inaccurate on several counts, all of which work in his favor. Not only is the man a thug, but he is also a liar.

  15. You are correct, rodak, that she is now paying a price for being any part of this event. I am a little surprised the media has not found the "older lady" (have they?).

    The rest is your perception. Which, I think, is what the Inspector's point was.

  16. Bottom line: the man was arrested in his own home for the crime of embarrassing a police officer. In my book, "stupid" fits that arrest quite well.

  17. What do you think prompted the Boston Police officer to characterize Professor Gates as a "banana-eating jungle monkey?" Do you consider that to be a racist statement? He claims that he is not a racist. Just because someone makes such a statement, does that automatically establish them as a racist?

  18. What Boston police officer so characterized Prof. Gates? I certainly hadn't heard that one.
    Yes and Yes.

  19. Rodak:

    By now, you have probably run across numerous articles about the Boston Police Officer. However, if not, you can click onto the quoted words in our comment above, which contains a hyperlink which will take you to an article.

  20. Oh, yeah. I had heard about that. Just not the specific language.

  21. As we type this, C-Span2 Book TV is airing a 3 hour discussion with Juan Williams, a news analyst regularly seen on television, as part of its "In Depth Series." The discussion focuses on civil rights and race relations in the United States.

  22. John Hummel wrote: "I should state that it is just as much in the power to laugh at the fools, as to choose not to associate with them."

    First, thanks for visiting us and leaving a thoughtful comment. Second, we "sorta" agree with you in theory, but view the responsive action differently.

    Instead of firing someone, or suspending them, or filing a civil rights suit, how about simply permitting the audience to avoid, shun, or ostracize them as you say. We assume that will deliver the message and serve a deterrent function.

    Viewers, listeners, or followers of media or public personalities have the right and ability to let their feelings be known about offensive conduct by simply turning them off, sending in letters, making comments on blogs, or not buying the products of their sponsers.

    Schoolmates offended by statements of a schoolmate can simply distance themselves.

    If a commercial establishment engages in offensive conduct, the public can simply refuse to shop there, and the business will get the message through decreased sales.

    In other words, leave it up to the audience who is theoretically offended.

    We say theoretically offended, because let's say 75% of the people hearing or listening to the alleged offensive language, actually agree with it, but did not choose for some reason to express it.

    Who says that it is conduct that our society is unwilling to tolerate. The fact that 25% of the listening public finds it offensive arguably should not dictate the response, although we acknowledge the noble and high minded goals being pursued.

    Anytime you suppress people's true thoughts and feeling about issues, you potentially create the environment for other problems to develop in the long term. That resentment will fester and prove to be a cancer within your organization.

    Isn't it better for us to know their true feelings on these issues?

    We've always said that forcing merchants and public accommodation facilities to open their doors to black folks was a tactic loaded with potential problems. A substantial segment of our population has resented it ever since. It would have been far more powerful, in our view, to simply have black patrons walk down the street or go around the corner to an establishment that was willing to accept them without force or coercion.

    We thought that we were making such significant progress in racial relations, and yet recent events suggest that we still have major problems. "Relations" is not just about what the folks in power want to do or think is right, but about people actually getting along and interacting with one another voluntarily.

  23. Rodak, you assume omniscience where none exists.

    The officer on the scene did not stop at city hall and pull property records to see who owned the property. Gates showing his ID doesn't mean that was proof he owned the home or had the right to be in there. Just because his ID said he's a prof at Harvard doesn't mean he had a right to be in there. There are many possible scenarios for that ID to have the address, but still Gates has no right to be in the house. (e.g., divorce proceedings,

    Gates chose to be confrontational, to get in the officer's face, to unnecessarily add tension. A police officer's job is hard enough without having a jackass make it more so.

    Police officers often have to make judgement calls about whether they think someone is breaking the law, based on limited information. They are not judges - their job is to respond quickly. It's the job of DAs and judges to determine the truth. We hold cops accountable for the slightest errors in judgment. You should have shot that guy! You shouldn't have shot that guy! We sit back on our couches and second-guess cops all day long (or some, like Rodak, simply demonize them). But the fact is unless it's you out there on the front lines, risking your life,

    Frankly, Gates was being a jerk to the guy who was there to protect Gates' rights and the rights of Gates' neighbors. He wasn't there to harass a black man. He was there to ensure the security of Gates' property. Gates gave him grief instead of thanks, and a few hours in the pokey to cool off is exactly what he needed.

    As to anything the officer may or may not have said - maybe he lost his cool, and that's unfortunate, but losing your temper after being berated for doing your job is not racism.

    Gates teaches people all day long that the white man is still out to get the black guy. He clearly believes that claptrap, and he acted on it himself, to his embarassment.

    The bigger story here which was glossed over by the media, is that Obama basically said "I don't know what happened here, but the cop was racist". He commited the exact same offense as Gates, assuming racism where none existed. So much for Obama's "post-racial presidency".


  24. For those of you unaware of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. prior to his arrest at Harvard, and who have some clearly defined opinions of him as a person and scholar, check out C-Span2 Book TV's presentation recorded on February 10, 2009 (prior to his arrest) right now.

  25. Just wish it was that easy to say "hey , let me try your glasses and come to an understanding peacefully....the media certainly could use MANY pairs. Good story.

  26. This article, written by a former colleague of the subject Harvard professor, appeared in the electronic edition of The New York Times at the time, and throws some other things into the mix.


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