Sgt. Crowley's nightmare

I am in a sense fortunate in that I work in an area where I’m as likely to encounter an extraterrestrial as an Ivy League professor, but like most police officers I can nonetheless sympathize with Cambridge Police Department sergeant James Crowley, for whom there will be no waking from the nightmare for some time to come. But, except for the notoriety and lofty position of the reported “burglar” (one of America’s preeminent black scholars, and all that), the scenario presented to Sgt. Crowley is fairly typical, one that every cop has experienced many times. A well-meaning neighbor has seen something she perceives as out of the ordinary and has asked the police to investigate. If more people were disposed to act this way, America’s crime rate would plummet overnight…

Mr. Gates, who admits he asked his limo driver to force open a stuck door, is surely accustomed to a certain amount of bowing and scraping in the circles in which he travels, and it must have come as a shock when he was surprised by a cop who neither knew nor cared that he occupied such an exalted position. He apparently never stopped to consider that he and his driver may have been seen by someone who would misinterpret their actions and report them to the police. No, to Mr. Gates the first and only explanation for the sudden appearance of a white police officer at his doorstep was that the cops had come to hassle him because he’s black…

If I may presume to offer Sgt. Crowley a bit of advice, I would encourage him to invest in a small digital tape recorder such as the one I carry while on duty. I have done so for many years and it has often proved invaluable, as in the case when some of my colleagues and I were accused of all manner of heinous conduct by a young man we had arrested for carrying a gun. Among the allegations was that we had used the notorious “N-word,” which, though one can’t walk a block in some parts of Los Angeles without hearing the denizens use it a dozen times, is nonetheless held as a near-capital offense when spoken by a police officer.