I finally ran into an article that asserts that Officer Crowley’s arrest of Henry Louis Gates was inappropriate and, just as important, describes why. What really happened is that Crowley made a mistake in thinking Gates was breaking into the house and once he had established that Gates was the owner of the house, he made a bigger mistake in not apologizing and leaving the scene. Gates was obviously upset and likely made the situation worse by being verbally abusive. But as the article points out, yelling at a policeman from your own property, especially your own porch, is not disorderly conduct. Crowley is a veteran officer and has doubtless been in this type of situation many times. He should have retreated to his car and left once he verified that Gates was the owner of the house and was not a danger to anyone. Crowley most certainly should not have arrested Gates and then written a report that transparently failed to justify his actions.
Note that I worked in law enforcement for two years and graduated from a law enforcement academy as a young man, so I’m not some clueless wannabe pundit here. It’s difficult to remain objective in situations like the one Crowley faced, but the right thing to do was to leave, or perhaps to call in backup to help deal with the situation if he felt it was getting out of control and could be potentially dangerous. I don’t think anyone (anyone reasonable at least) thinks Crowley should be fired for his mistake, but it was a mistake. Police have a very difficult job and they deserve the benefit of the doubt because it’s impossible to always judge a situation correctly, particularly when you’re in it. Obama also made a mistake by saying anything other than some variation of “No Comment” when asked about the incident. This whole thing was an unfortunate incident that should have been minor but was blown up to national awareness because of missteps on the part of all involved. Hopefully all have learned a lesson from it.