Read Greg's bio and previous columns here
July 31, 2009
Itís Too Late for Skip Gates, But Hereís How to Avoid Talking
Yourself Into Jail
No one wants to get
arrested on the porch of his own home, like Harvard Professor Henry Louis
Gates, Jr. did after a neighbor called police to report that two men were
forcing open the front door of his residence. The two men turned out to be
the professor and his driver. As a public service, I am giving my readers
advice on what not to do if this should ever happen to you:
Do Not Disobey the Officerís Instructions
When the police officer
arrives to investigate the burglary call, bear in mind that he probably
doesnít know you from Adam, no matter how famous you think you are. When he
enters your home and asks you for identification, itís because he wants to
verify that you actually live there. In Professor Gatesís case, the police
sergeant was informed that there were possibly two burglars, and he
didnít know where the other man was. If you donít comply with his
instructions, heíll probably think youíre one of the burglars. Above all,
donít tell the officer, ďNo, I will not!Ē (show ID) or ďIíll show yo
mama my ID . . .Ē What legitimate reason would you have to not identify
yourself to the officer?
Donít Try To Intimidate the Officer
Once youíve satisfied
the officer that youíre the legitimate occupant of the residence, donít then
say something accusatory like, ďWhatís your name and badge number?Ē As far
as the officer is concerned, heís just doing his job, so whatís the beef?
Also, the question will be interpreted as a form of intimidation because his
uniform has a name tag, and most badges clearly display a number on them.
Donít say what Prof. Gates did as the officer walked away, such as, ďYou
havenít heard the last of me!Ē
Donít Play the Race Card
When the officer tells
you that heís investigating a report of a burglary, donít ask, ďWhy, because
Iím a (fill in the blank) man in America?Ē Itís not a good idea to accuse
the officer of being a racist, especially when he isnít one. Believe me, the
officer doesnít care if youíre black, white or whatever. Heís just doing his
job. His pay is the same whether he harasses you or not. How do you know if
he is a racist? Making such a remark confirms to the officer that youíre
Donít Become Loud and Animated
No matter how offended
you are that the officer thought you were a burglar, donít make another
mistake by raising your voice and yelling at him. Yelling and acting like a
fool makes you look like a jackass. Itís also a crime if you yell and carry
on to the point of engaging in disorderly conduct. Talking to the officer in
a normal tone of voice will never land you in jail, but yelling at the
officer on your front porch in public view provides the officer with the
legal basis to arrest you.
Donít Say or Imply Youíre Some Kind Of Big Shot
Prof. Gates reportedly
told Sgt. James Crowley, ďYou donít know who you are messing with.Ē When
coupled with yelling, itís a good bet that youíre going to go to jail to
prove that officers of the Cambridge Police Department cannot be
intimidated. Sgt. Crowley knew exactly who he was ďmessing withĒ: A
blow-hard, racist, elitist who looks down at less-educated, working-class
people, and thinks heís too lofty to deal with lowly civil servants such as
a police sergeant. Professor Gates later said he called Harvard University,
the owner of his house, to report that the front door was stuck shut, and
thought it had sent the police to repair it for him. How arrogant is that?
When have you ever heard of the police going to someoneís home to repair
something? Who else but a tenured Haaarvard professor would even conceive of
such a thing?
If you follow these
simple, common sense rules, youíll avoid jail, embarrassing yourself, your
employer, your profession and maybe even the president of the United States.
Gregory D. Lee is a retired DEA Supervisory Special Agent and
former police officer. He can be reached through his web site:
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