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Guest commentary: Reexamine Henry Louis Gates’ arrest

Guest commentary: Reexamine Henry Louis Gates’ arrest

By Nancy Murray, Brigitt Keller, King Downing, Bishop Filipe C. Teixeira and Jamarhl Crawford
Wicked Local Cambridge
Posted Feb 24, 2011 @ 10:28 AM

Cambridge — As advocates who have closely monitored and participated in community oversight of the Cambridge police department, we were pleased to read that City Councilors Denise Simmons and Ken Reeves have called on the city to take a closer look at the Henry Louis Gates arrest in 2009 (“Cambridge city councilor calls for deeper look into Henry Louis Gates arrest,” Cambridge Chronicle, Feb. 8, 2011).

We support the councilors’ suggestion that the Cambridge Civic Unity Advisory Committee review the report “Missed Opportunities, Shared Responsibilities” by the Cambridge Review Committee.  The CRC is the committee, which was specially appointed by the City to review the arrest of Professor Gates in his own home.  We agree with Councilor Reeves’ assessment that the CRC report presents a missed opportunity of its own, as it fails to address the two critical issues: 1) the racial implications of the incident, even though race and racial profiling were issues that ranged prominently in the national and local conversation; and 2) the issue of police abuse of authority, by falsely suggesting that the Gates arrest may have been justified and that civilians bear the same responsibilities as police officers to de-escalate an encounter.

These are astonishing propositions.  The First Amendment protects even angry speech, and the Fourth Amendment requires probable cause for arrest.  As the police reports themselves show, Prof. Gates did not do anything that would have justified an arrest.

Considering the composition of the CRC, these faulty premises may not be surprising.  The committee did not include a single civil rights advocate and the majority of its members represented the law enforcement perspective.  The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a membership organization of law enforcement chiefs, took a prominent role: its Executive Director Chuck Wexler chaired the committee and PERF was paid to author its final report.

Impartiality of the committee was further compromised by the presence of current Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and US Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer. Ramsey and Gainer previously served as Police Chief and Executive Assistant Chief in Washington, D.C. and their tenure was marred by police misconduct and mass false arrests related to free speech activities.  Consequently, both men were named defendants in two civil rights class actions, which recently settled for several million dollars – hardly a qualification to serve on this committee.

In its review, the Civic Unity Advisory Committee and the City Council should further pay close attention to the financial implications of this ad-hoc committee.  While we believe that the severity of the incident justified an investigation, city manager Robert Healy should have to explain to Cambridge taxpayers why a separate entity was created at their expense instead of charging the already existing Police Review and Advisory Board (PRAB) with the task.

It seems that neither Healy nor police commissioner Haas had any confidence in the capability of the PRAB to look into an incident of national magnitude.  This is particularly ironic given that information we gathered through an open records requests and by regularly attending monthly PRAB meetings suggests that the work of the PRAB has been systematically undermined by the city manager.
We support Councilors Reeves and Simmons in their efforts to finally turn this missed opportunity into a “teachable moment,” put an end to speech- and race-based arrests and bring transparency to the city of Cambridge.

The authors are Nancy Murray, Cambridge resident and education director of the ACLU of Massachusetts; Brigitt Keller, executive director of the National Police Accountability Project; King Downing of the New York-based Human Rights-Racial Justice Center; Bishop Filipe C. Teixeira, Diocese of Saint Francis of Assisi, Brockton; Jamarhl Crawford, Boston Black Men’s Leadership Group.

Read more: Guest commentary: Reexamine Henry Louis Gates’ arrest – Cambridge, Massachusetts – Cambridge Chronicle http://www.wickedlocal.com/cambridge/archive/x1623571855/Guest-commentary-Reexamine-Henry-Louis-Gates-arrest#ixzz1EzGCtan1

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