American Morning

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July 28th, 2009
08:59 AM ET

Commentary: 'The police did not cause this situation. They did their job.'

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/28/am.intv.gates.police.911.tapes.art.jpg
caption="Det. Lt. Rogers said the Cambridge police officers did not profile"]

On Thursday, the president will meet with Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the Cambridge police officer, Sergeant James Crowley who arrested him. But the newly released 911 tapes and recordings of Crowley’s communication with his fellow officers are raising some new questions.

Police detective lieutenant Steven Rogers, 30-year veteran of the Nutley, New Jersey police department and the author of "Proven Strategies for Effective Community Oriented Policing" spoke with CNN’s John Roberts Tuesday.

John Roberts: Lucia Whalen was the woman who called in after talking with a neighbor who said that she saw a couple of people allegedly trying to break in to the home of Henry Louis Gates Jr. Whalen said two men were breaking into a home and when was asked if they were black, white or Hispanic she said she wasn’t sure but one of them looked ‘kind of Hispanic.’ The official police report said the 911 call described two African Americans who were trying to break into the house. Whalen's attorney disputed that whole notion saying that she never said that two black men were trying to break into the house and the 911 tapes seemed to back her up on that. So a couple of questions arise out of this. What would lead to this discrepancy and based on that 911 call, what would Sergeant Crowley have expected he was coming up upon when he went to Henry Louis Gates’ home?

Det. Lt. Steve Rogers: Obviously there is a discrepancy. That's something that the police department is going to have to work through. However, I’m troubled, John, over the fact this has become a discussion about racial profiling. That was never the case. These police officers responded to a scene that was burglarized once before. And they never brought up race. What’s troubling about this is that the president of the United States made this into an issue of stereotyping the color blue. This is a problem police officers have nationally. We can't look at every police officer as being prejudice and profiling as a result of responding to any crime scene that involves a person of color. So what I’m saying is that these officers acted properly. They did what they had to do according to law and unfortunately, race has come into this picture.

Roberts: So do you think that the president overstepped when he responded to the Lynn Sweet "Chicago Sun-times" question at that press conference about this case?

Lt. Rogers: Yes, John. The president did what people across the country do when it comes to police actions like this. He stereotyped. He shouldn't have done that. He should have gotten the facts. Nowhere was race part of the picture. Those officers responded to a scene of a crime. They didn't profile, they didn’t pick out a white man, black man, Hispanic man. When they got there, there was a situation they had to deal with and they dealt with it professionally.

Roberts: Do we know that race never became an issue here? Professor Gates insists that he believed he was being racially profiled in his own home. We have radio transcriptions of the communications between Sergeant Crowley and his dispatcher. He says the gentleman says he resides here. He's being uncooperative. Keep the cars coming. So he's got a case where maybe his reason to believe that Gates actually lives there but he continues to call for backup and he says that he's being uncooperative.

Lt. Rogers: The key is uncooperative. I've responded to many scenes where people are in their own home. I don't know that they live there. They had not yet shown me identification. So I would say could you please step outside just like these officers did. You don't know if that person lives there, they may have weapons in the house, there may be someone else in the house.

Roberts: Why do you ask the person to step outside? Supporters of Dr. Gates say he asked him to step outside so that he could arrest him because he couldn't arrest him in his own home.

Lt. Rogers: No, I don't think that's true. I think the police officers asked him to step outside because they did not know that he actually was the person who lived there. I don't believe that.

Roberts: He showed him identification

Lt. Rogers: I don't believe he did that before he asked him to step outside. If you look at the whole transcript, the professor was rather combative in the beginning. He said, don't you know who I am? Well, the officers didn't know who he was. So you step outside because there could be someone else in that house. You want to control the situation. I don't believe the police asked him to step outside to arrest him. I just think they wanted to make sure they were safe and they tried to contain the situation, but Professor Gates inflamed the situation.

Roberts: All of them are getting together for a beer at the White House on Thursday. President Obama says he hopes he can use this as a teaching moment. If this is to be a teaching moment, what's the take-away message?

Lt. Rogers: The teaching moment is to the president of the United States: don't stereotype police officers. That's the teaching moment, I believe.

Roberts: You think that's the only teachable moment here?

Lt. Rogers: Well, no, I think that's a very primary teaching moment. In other words, something we should take away from this.

Roberts: Nothing about how the interaction between the police officer and Dr. Gates could have defused a tense situation?

Lt. Rogers: No, John, the police did not cause this situation. They did their job according to the standard operating procedures of that police department and police agencies across the country. Sure, we need to lower the rhetoric. We need to lower the rhetoric but with the truth. The truth of the matter is the police did their job. The professor was offended that they didn't know him. And we have the president of the United States injecting himself in a local issue that would have never got this far if he didn't involve himself.

Roberts: I think there are probably people in this country that may argue with that.

Lt. Rogers: Sure they will.


Filed under: American Morning
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. Bob

    Det. Lt. Steve Rogers is the one who needs to get the facts straight. First, the police report states that Sgnt Crowley was inside Gates' house for some time, and then left to go back on to the porch. He continued to ask Gates to go on the porch, apparently so he could arrest him there. Second, it is now known that the 911 caller did not mention black people, and did not talk to Crowley at the scene other than saying who she was. Thus, the police report is in error. Either that error is on purpose, or is unintentional. Either way, race comes into play. The police and Crowley put race into play by inserting it either into their police report, or into their initial thinking about the scene. It's inescapable.

    July 29, 2009 at 4:14 pm |
  2. Lamar from Lakeland, FL

    If you take race out of it, the questions becomes why did the police drop the charges against Gates if Sgt. Crowley did nothing wrong? Because it was a false arrest to begin with.

    Now enter the race angle along with the divide and conquer strategy. Get some blacks to defend Sgt. Crowley while ignoring the fact that ‘falsely claiming racism’ and ‘talking about your mama in your home’ does not justify an arrest. Again, it distorts the more serious issue that an old black man with a cane was arrested in his own house for being rude. What ever happen to your right to free speech?

    By not concentrating on the poor decisions of Gates and Crowley, the media is turning all future cries of racism into a ' Cry Wolf ' moment while ignoring the problem that racial profiling exists in America.

    BTW – The Republicans love to make this side show the main attraction since they don't want to take any affirmative action against racism in the first place.

    July 29, 2009 at 1:41 pm |
  3. Vee

    Very few of us have jobs where being killed during the business day is a real possibility. Police, by the nature of their work, have to be prepared to confront physical violence at the drop of a hat. As citizens, we want our police force to be primed to act in our defense. And as citizens, we should all realize these facts when confronted by a police officer and do whatever we can to avoid escalation. Colin Powell got it right. Don't provoke a police officer or you risk pushing him into "defense mode." Keep your cool, be deferential, comply, and get out of the situation. If you were wronged by the officer in some way, find a lawyer afterwards and sue the heck out of the officer and the department. This approach isn't cowardly or hypocritical...clear-headed adults know to "pick your moment before you act." Getting chesty with the police makes as much sense as taunting a dog you don't know...if you get bitten, it's on you.

    July 29, 2009 at 7:34 am |
  4. Chrissy

    Absolutley the president overstepped his authority by making a public statement regarding a local issue. The fact that he has yet to make an apology to Sgt. Crowley, even though all the facts have now been presented to every household across the globe. I do not think a few beers will resolve this matter, nor do I think we have heard the last of this. It will come back and haunt Obama many times when it comes to decision making. He has lost his credibility with me personally. CNN you have done well in covering this story and keeping us informed. This story is definitely not going away as Obama might hope. Maybe he should give us all a few beers on the house; The Whitehouse that is.

    July 29, 2009 at 1:09 am |
  5. Sam

    Looking at the color blue, as Lt Rogers suggested is an angle I have never thought of. Perhaps if the President would have considered the "blue" component in this matter he would havae concluded that it was Gates who failed to understand why the cops where there to begin with. The cops did not know who Gates was when they arrived at his home. In fact, even his neighbor had no idea it was him. The President is probably to young to remember the old Dragnet series and Joe Friday always stating...'JUST THE FACTS, PLEASE, JUST THE FACTS. Mr. O'Bama, should watch this old police show, he would learn alot.

    July 28, 2009 at 9:42 pm |
  6. Tom

    I think Lt Rogers was very calm, very precise and fair to both sides of the issue. Again it seems the President can do no wrong even when caught with is proverbial hands in the rhetoric jar.

    July 28, 2009 at 3:56 pm |
  7. Unknown

    Lt. Rogers is wrong. President Obama never sterotyped the police. If you read the transcipt which Lt. Rogers did not you can hear the officer say that he viewed the id of Mr. Gates. The question is if the police report is right then why did the officer say the caller said that there was two black men in the home? I have lost a lot of respect for CNN and I hope they can ask go back to jounalism.

    July 28, 2009 at 3:37 pm |
  8. Loren

    The caller said "two people" or words to that effect. The police were merely following procedure and must eliminate a second person. Perhaps the Professor was iritated but the cops were following procedure. Give it a rest and also admit that the POTUS should have know better to get involved in a local incident. Don't call him (POTUS) at 0300 without all the facts.

    July 28, 2009 at 2:49 pm |
  9. Walt

    Lt Rogers said what had to be said. The president sterotyped the police. It is as simple as that. He presented the cops case in clear unmistakable language. Should have him on again. Good job CNN!

    July 28, 2009 at 2:23 pm |
  10. Matthew

    How could the clown ever fix his mouth to say OBAMA turn the situation into a racial situation. It was already there before Obama even knew of the subject!!! Secondly, I does not matter what people say or think, there should have NEVER been any arrest of any kind. The instant that Professor Gates proved that he stayed at that residence, the officer should have vacated the premises. Even if Professor Gates would have raised his voice at the officer, then so what!! He is on his property and officer was no longer welcome after significant proof of residence was established. Disrespect went both ways in this case it just so happens one of them was a cop, that abused his power. It should not have went any futher than a Dispute between Men. I agree with Obama, the Police did act STOOPIT in this case, There was no reason present to arrest Professor Gates, it almost seemed like retaliation against Professor Gates for him getting agitated. I would have been very agitated too if I am being treated unfairly in MY House, that MY hard work, and MY money, and MY time is paying for. I will not step out my house and that officer had not right to even be inside of his house AFTER Professor Gates prove to him that it was in fact his house. Where was the officers warrent for him being inside of the house AFTER Professor proved it was his. Show america a warrent, then and only then will the officer even start to be Justified for being there AFTER proof of residence was established. As for Obama's comment, I as well as many other American Citizens SUPPORT it.100%. The fact that some of America only notice what the Professor did wrong and not The Officer says alot in itself!

    July 28, 2009 at 1:44 pm |
  11. Lamar from Lakeland, FL

    The cops put some blacks up front do defend Sgt. Crowley. Again, it distorts the issue that an old black man with a cane was arrested in his own house for being rude. What ever happen to free speech? The media is turning all future cries of racism into a ' Cry Wolf ' moment and ignoring the problem that racial profiling exists in America. The Republicans are loving making the side show the main attraction.

    July 28, 2009 at 1:31 pm |
  12. Soothe

    John why the softball questions to this guy supporting the police
    actions?
    Why didn't you demand an answer to the question as to why did
    Sgt. Crowley lie in his police report and say he spoke to the 911
    caller , and report she described two black men with a backpack
    were breaking into the house.

    July 28, 2009 at 1:30 pm |
  13. RJ

    I`m by no means a fan of law enforcement as a matter of a fact they have never helped me when I needed it and have always been there when I dont need them but I have observed taunting and verbal assualts by minority men in particular black men and especially since Obama has been elected. There was once a need for an equalizer for minorities but that time has passed. Has racism been extinguished, hardly but it exsists in all segments of society and yes this includes minorities as well as white people! What minorities must understand is that for most of us white people, we dont agree with our past and wish it had never happened but the fact of the matter is it did and we must overcome it without making the people of today pay the price for what people of the past are responsible for! My family came over here just after the turn of the 20th century and for all you minorities that dont know this means long after the Civil War days and slavery! My family and I had nothing to do with that and we like many other white people are sick to death for being blamed for it! Mr. Gates found an opportunity to smear some white cops and ran his mouth when he should have kept it shut and just answered the cops questions and this is no different than what I have to do when confronted by the cops! There was a similiar incident that happened down in New Orleans awhile back and the black man who originally cried foul eventually admitted he pushed the cops and he was at fault, now we just need Mr. Gates to stand up and accept his punishment and tell the American people he had no right contronting the cop in a disrespectful manner and it was because of his own actions that landed him in jail!

    July 28, 2009 at 12:37 pm |
  14. lela morgan

    John, I think when they were called to a break-in of course they should have responded! I would like to know why the police did not leave when he found out Professor Gates lived there. What could Gates have done so bad and dangerous that the Police handcuffed him and arrested him? I would like to hear more from the other side, which we are not getting on the news.
    I think Obama only over stepped by saying the police acted stupidly! You say he did not have enough information. Well I question whether the news media has all the facts either! We did not hear on the recordings The Professor screaming like the police said we would. I would also like to know what you think about the Representive wanting to make Obama apologize with a resolution! It seems as though Republicans never apologize for anything they do, except when they get caught with their hand in the cookie jar with Mistresses! This apologizing is wearing really very thin! The Republicans need to spend more time helping the American people that are suffering from this terrible economy that was passed down by the Republicans! People are hurting out here on mainstreet! Stop, stop stop, help, help help!

    LIM

    July 28, 2009 at 12:26 pm |
  15. Karen

    John. Lt. Steve Rogers has intentionally misinterpreted and misconstrued what Pres. Obama has said. However I am not surprised because he is trying to gloss over the real issue and protect his own. Just as the Cambridge Police Department he does not have the backbone to tell the truth. Pres. Obama did not call any police officer or refer to any polic dept. as "racist" or "stupid". He specfically described the Cambridge police officer that arrested Prof. Gates "actions" as "stupidly." I agree. He was abusive as well. Prof. Gates had proven that he was a resident of that house. However he was arrested for "disorderly conduct" according to the Cambridge police. Under the Massachusetts statute yelling or berating a police officer is not illegal. Therefore Prof. Gates did not violate the law and was not guilty of any "disorderly conduct." There was no other choice but to drop the charges against him. The Cambridge police officer is guilty of abusing his power. He was out of line and he arrested Prof. Gates out of spitefulness. Because Prof. Gates, a "black male" challenged his authority he got angry. His so call white "superiority" complex kicked in. That is the bottom line. This entire incident is troubling and disciplinary actions should be taken against the Cambridge police officer. Sgt. Crowley was WRONG!

    July 28, 2009 at 11:37 am |
  16. Ray Mapp / www.blackmiracles.com

    YES ... the police have a job to do. police don't always do that job the same way. Citizens should most times give the police the benefit of the doubt and respect their requests.

    NO ... Prof. Gates should have NEVER been arrested under the circumstances presented to the public. Those police in fact acted STUPIDLY ... which any human can make a bad decision without the proper training and sensitivity.

    However because the general public lacks understanding of the job description of police officers and the personality type the particular police officer might have.

    "UNDERSTANDING THE POLICE AND STAYING OUT OF TROUBLE" by Grady Morrison ... (a retired African American Baltimore Police Officer) IS A MUST READ FOR EVERYBODY.

    This book points out that ... Even if the police officer is a racist ... REMEMBER they carry a gun and you must put yourself in the safest situation possible and do your best to comply with the officer's requests. In a situation where the police officer makes an unreasonable request ... make sure you get yourself in public view while complying. Citizens always have the option of submitting a formal complaint when dealing with a police officer that is somehow offensive.

    Bottom Line ... Do everything you can to avoid being arrested or even worse ... getting injured or killed. Read the above mentioned book ... and learn how to deal with the police with the proper, safest perspective.

    July 28, 2009 at 10:52 am |
  17. C. Mercer

    I believe that all parties involved here behaved poorly. Just because the professor is a notable scholar does not justify his arrogant behavior with the police. I believe his ego was bruised and he lashed out. The rest of us in the "general" population are quite accustomed to the typical domineering behavior of police and we accept it. After all they must command respect in order to do their jobs effectively. The professor is probably accustomed to being the one who commands respect. Quite simply, his ego could not handle having to bow to authority. Had he kept his cool I believe this situation would never had gone any further than his front steps. As for the police, I believe they could have diffused this situation if they had kept their egos in check also. After all, they must deal with this regularly and if this is the best they can do perhaps they need more training.

    July 28, 2009 at 10:47 am |
  18. J. Frazier

    After hearing the 911 tapes and the comments by Lt. Rogers, it is clear that Gates over-reacted. Maybe he was insulted that the police didn't recognize him. Not everyone watches PBS (or even CNN). Or maybe he was just cranky from his long flight home. Whatever the reason, it's disappointing that he immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion. I am even more disappointed in President Obama's reaction. He spoke without knowing all the facts – something his predecessor did daily – and surely he doesn't want to start doing that!

    July 28, 2009 at 10:35 am |
  19. Fred dean weaver Oklahoma city, Oklahoma

    The tape of the one called to report a breakin reinforce Obama statement that policeman did act stupidly. The tape said 2 men went in Professor Gates home. When the policeman went in only Gates was at home witch if there was a robbery the policeman put both him and Gates in danger. If police did standard operating standard they need to change it or one day the policeman and homeowner will be dead, We need to hear from the man who help Gates inside his home. Obama is right police acted stupidly. police should wait for backup, surroud the home and called the person or persons out of home. That should be standard operating standard, I am white male in Oklahoma city.

    July 28, 2009 at 10:35 am |
  20. CHUCK

    Here are some unanswered questions that are still bugging me-–Why did the cop stick around after professor gates showed him his ID? Why did the cop enter Gates's house without a warrant? Why did the cop ask Gates to step outside his home after he was shown his ID and then arrested him? Why was the statement" two black men" appearing in Crowley's report after the Attorney for the caller said her client never said "TWO BLACK MEN"? Why did the cop drop the charges if he was certain he was doing the right thing? Why would the cop not admit that he made a gross mistake? Are the cops bigger than an apology? How would Sgt. Crowley have reacted if he was on the other end? Why ,only in America?

    July 28, 2009 at 9:56 am |
  21. Wren

    I am white, in the south the police treat me with some semblance of respect. But those of color here, who do nothing in either action, talk, words, even eye contact get treated completely different.

    For this Lt, Rogers to say the President and probably the rest of the country will pull them up on something they are not guilty of is a ball faced lie. One cannot make up lies like this and make them look like truths. This police officer and this Lt. Rogers 'may' have fellow officers of color, but it does not retract from the fact that when a crime is committed the first color our of their mouth is "black, Hispanic or white.

    The Professor had every right to be offend if his house had been broken into before and the police had responded before. They would have known who "he" was! The police cut their own throat with this disclosure alone. If I was treated this way on 'my' property I would be rather pissed and have every right to it. Are they failing to teach some basic things now at the police academy now? Respect being the top and foremost?

    Where I live the Mayor has spoken out against the police for doing actions such as this, and she NEVER said she was sorry for calling them idiots. Seems to me being pulled up for what you are is wrong, and being praised for what you aren't is right. We have just summed up the mentality of the police force then?

    If you can be praised for your actions by the President then you should be ready to be scolded also by the President when you mess up big time. It is called facing your mistakes.

    July 28, 2009 at 9:46 am |
  22. Joel Fitzer

    Do you want this man (obama) the man who will get that phone call at 3 in the morning? Our "commander and chief" who admits to not knowing all the facts, yet makes a decision concerning the Gates issue.

    July 28, 2009 at 9:19 am |
  23. Dawn Jackson

    After the office heard Dr. Gates explanation for breaking into the home, and examined Dr. Gates identification, with his name, and indicating he lived in the home, why didn’t the interrogation end and service begin? Dr. Gates, angered by his predicament, likely was abrupt with the officer. He’s human. Unfortunately, the officer didn’t see his humanity or just didn’t care. Too often, it is not enough that a black person has not broken any laws or is crimeless. At some point it stopped being about the 911 call, serving the public, or anything else that makes sense, and became a battle of wills. I agree with the President, how stupid.

    July 28, 2009 at 9:06 am |