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article imageOp-Ed: What are the learning dimensions in Gates-Crowley?

By Carol Forsloff     Jul 30, 2009 in Lifestyle
President Barack Obama has welcomed Sergeant Crowley and Professor Henry Gates to the White House for a dialogue. He hopes it will be a teaching moment. But will the Gates-Crowley incident give good, lasting and useful education on the issues?
The answer is likely a wait and see, but experts have opinions. They also wax wisely on the constitutionality of the various arguments involved. It is perhaps those notions the public might need as opposed to anecdotes given on personal experience, since science maintains empirical evidence trumps subjective judgment in the reliability of information.
The incident was related well in the Harvard Crimson and need only be encapsulated briefly, given the many narratives already available. Gates had just arrived home from a long trip and couldn’t get his door open. A woman called the police, thinking this might be a break-in, something that had occurred in the neighborhood before. The Sergeant came to investigate, was called racist by Gates, a heated discussion ensued, and Gates was charged with disorderly conduct, a charge later dismissed. Then the stories in the press unfolded as the participants in the drama each, in turn related a case. The President weighed in, and based on his own experience as a black man, considered police actions at fault. So this is the skeleton story where experts can provide education.
In analyzing a case like this, the Supreme Court, has used a decision made about 25 years ago as foundation for opinions. The interpretation of whether the Fourth Amendment relevant to illegal search and seizure is based upon two terms: phrases like “reasonable belief” and “reason to believe” This sometimes presents ambiguity when there are situations involving law enforcement searches. The determination is based upon whether the entry and search would be considered minimally or highly intrusive and the determination of “reasonable belief.” Sometimes the Court has associated “reasonable belief” with “probable cause,” but most of these decisions have had to do with domestic abuse cases and those cases where police had reason to believe contraband was being hidden. So the specific case appears to be the test for any given decision, according to the experts.
The issue has come up not only on cases like the Gates – Crowley incident which raises issues regarding the Fourth Amendment but also in cases many people would scarcely believe related to the issue. This may bear further examination, given the fact when people believe one side is either right or wrong, the belief can change when the situation becomes personal. So the matter of parents and possible child abuse is relevant given the issues and the public concerns.
A case describes how this is relevant. Child Care workers demanded entry into a home because they believed the children inside the home were at risk of harm because of allegations of abuse. The mother, Mrs. DeSantis, allowed them in to inspect her home. The rest of the incident is described as this:
“The social workers then pushed through the gate and marched into the house. Inside the home, the 30-month- and 18-month-old children were strip-searched. While the 6-year-old daughter was being interviewed in private, however, she raced from the house in tears, explaining later to her mother that she had been asked to show her private parts. Even though the case was closed by CPS, Mrs. DeSantis and her children were traumatized by the incident. Now, six months after the event, this mother still breaks into tears as she recalls the story. A lawsuit against the individual workers and San Bernardino County CPS is to be filed.”
Just three years before In its Calabretta opinion, the Ninth Circuit court maintained the “reasonable expectation of privacy of individuals in their homes includes the interests of both parents and children in not having government officials coerce entry in violation of the Fourth Amendment and humiliate the parents in front of the children.”
These cases show the issues involved, both in the need to protect the public, this case innocent children from abuse, and also the rights of the individual whose home is invaded.
These are the legal issues relevant to Gates – Crowley, but what do psychologists, who are also scientists, say about human behavior and how people respond in a crisis?
First of all, it has been demonstrated in research of various kinds that police officers have very stressful jobs. It is not uncommon for police officers to respond inappropriately or angrily when intimidated or threatened, no matter the status or training of the officer.
Secondly, psychologists have found people who feel threatened may respond aggressively, especially when fatigued. Stress can bring unique psychological responses the individual has to deal with during crises, and these are not always able to be controlled precisely during a threatening or critical incident.
An assessment of the Gates – Crowley case both in terms of legal and psychological issues involved Ralph Richard Banks of Stanford Law School, Paul Butler of the George Washington Law School, Lorie A. Fridell, criminology professor, University of South Florida, Samuel R. Sommers, psychologist, Tufts University, Peter Moskos author of “Cop in the Hood” and Frank Askin, Rutgers Law School and Phillip Atiba Goff, psychologist, U.C.L.A. in the New York Times, following the incident. The article is entitled: Room for Debate.
And if the experts consider there is room for debate, it appears that beer conversations might need to continue because as experts have revealed there are many facets that can allow people to learn and grow.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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