Most everyone by now has heard of the arrest in his home of Henry Louis Gates, the very prominent Harvard Professor who is African-American. Some people say it’s racism. Some say the cop was out of control. Frankly, I’m not sure it’s either of those things.
I think it’s simple: a cop thought he was getting a lot of lip from a loudmouth. So he decided to be a hardass. On the street it’s called “contempt of cop”. It’s punishable by beatings, hassle, and lies. Cops beat you, hassle you and then lie about it in court. Problem was, this cop picked the wrong guy to hassle.
Now I don’t know what actually happened. But the apparently uncontroverted facts are that the cop a) walked into the house uninvited and b) demanded that Dr. Gates “step outside”, and refused to give Dr. Gates his name and badge number. Now the first would upset me no end. There is no right to invade my privacy and do a search of the premises. Maybe I can make the case that the cop could follow Dr. Gates back to the house while Dr. Gates got his ID. But maybe not too. But the 2nd is offensive and I don’t blame Dr. Gates for refusing to leave the safety of his home while armed police are there and hassling him. Finally, a cop refusing to identify himself is *always* a problem and indicates to me that at that point the officer had decided to teach Dr. Gates a lesson.
BTW: the police officer’s written report is so completely different from Dr. Gates’ statements that I have to wonder if they were even involved in the same city.
So what should *you* do? Be respectful to the police. Never raise your voice. Always say “sir” and never, ever, ever talk to them. If they insist on talking to you, never answer a question. It will only get you in trouble. The only thing you should ask a police officer is “am I under arrest?” and then leave if the answer is “no”. If the answer is that you *are* under arrest, shut up.
Finally, if the cop decides that you are being a smartass for not talking to him, there’s nothing you can do. Talking only makes it worse. and get a lawyer.