A terrific column:
The first question to be asked about Sgt. Crowley’s initial response is, was it lawful and reasonable? Clearly it was both. A cornerstone U.S. Supreme Court decision, Terry v. Ohio, held that an officer may stop and detain a person he reasonably believes to be involved in criminal activity. Here, Sgt. Crowley answered a citizen’s report of a possible burglary. Such reports are granted a presumption of reliability under the law, so Sgt. Crowley was on solid ground in approaching the home and, upon seeing a man inside who matched the description provided by the witness, asking him for his identification. A police officer responding to such a report must, for his own safety, assume the report to be accurate until he can satisfy himself that it isn’t. The cop who blithely handles every call assuming it to be a false alarm will likely not survive to handle many of them. In fact, many police officers faced with the identical facts would likely have ordered Henry Gates out of the home at gunpoint.
Sgt. Crowley did not go so far as that (imagine the furor if he had), but he exercised a measure of caution by following Gates into the home as Gates retrieved his identification. Gates insists Crowley needed a warrant to enter the home but he is mistaken, as even the most liberal judge would find that Crowley was faced with sufficiently exigent circumstances, viz. a possible burglar who may have attempted to arm himself or flee, to justify a warrantless entry.
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.
Read the whole thing.