Reginald Lyles: Obama wrong to backtack

I met Reginald Lyles in September, 1998 when I was Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Kansas City, Kansas, a mostly white church in an ethnically changing neighborhood. We had called Marcus Goodloe, a young Black man, as Associate Pastor for Community Outreach and Children and Youth Ministry. Marcus was a member of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, California, where Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr. was pastor. Dr. Smith came to Kansas City to speak at the installation service for Marcus.  Several Allen Temple members came along, Reggie among them. I got to know Reggie over that weekend, and to appreciate his heart for racial reconciliation. So I sit up and pay attention to anything he has to say regarding race relations.

Charles Kiker, Friends of Justice

As a retired 30 year cop (Captain) I was offended by our President’s backtracking in the latest example of racial profiling that occurred to Dr. Henry Louis Gates. I understand the politics.  I realize the track the President is currently pursuing may be best for his political goals.   However, I am still offended that he is being forced to backtrack on his original statement that the Cambridge police officers acted stupidly. 

The officer who decided to arrest Dr. Gates did act stupidly.

Only a Black man can be accused of disorderly conduct (actually insulting a policeman) in his own living room and end up in jail. Dr. Gates, a Black man, eventually identified himself (whether quickly or slowly is immaterial).  That identification proved that Dr. Gates was Dr. Gates, he was in his own home and he was employed as a professor at Harvard University. Yes, Dr. Gates was talking loud and was possibly insulting to the police. That may not be the wisest thing to do on the streets, in the wee hours of the morning, in an isolated area.  But Dr. Gates was in his own living room! Not to mention, Dr. Gates is 58 years old, he has a degenerative hip and he walks with a limp and a cane.

Dr. Gates, while attempting to get the name of the investigating officer, was baited to come onto his own porch.  Ah ha! Once Dr. Gates was on his porch he was not in his home but, in theory, in a public area where he could be arrested for disorderly conduct.

You see how totally disengenous the police officers were acting?  How do you act disorderly in your own home?  How do you disturb the peace in the middle of the day? According to the police officer, Dr. Gates was not disturbing the peace of the community, he disturbed the peace of that particular police oficer. Who in the neighborhood complained of disorderly conduct or of their peace being disturbed? No one!

Fortunately, the law doesn’t have a statute on insulting a police officer. A police officer’s peace cannot be disturbed. That is why the case was immediately dropped.

It is interesting that we do not hear of episodes where Black police officers are accused of arresting White folk for disturbing the peace in their own homes?  Every Black Police officer knows there is no defense for arresting anyone for disturbing the officer’s peace. Nevertheless, Black officers must go along with the decision of this partcular Cambridge officer in order to keep the peace for themselves and to protect their own careers.

The President is a law professor and he was initially right. It was momentarily refreshing for me to hear, for once, a Black male being validated for experiencing the racial profiling we all have to endure.  Unfortunately, by backtracking the President has left American Black males in a worse position. Popular culture now believes that police officers can arrest someone in their own home for disorderly conduct when only the peace of the officer has been disturbed.  If an officer is offended for any reason any action he takes is justified, if not by law then by some street morality.

The police officer in the Dr. Gates matter should apologize and Dr. Gates should consider civil action against the City of Cambridge.

Reginald Lyles

6 thoughts on “Reginald Lyles: Obama wrong to backtack

  1. “Only a Black man can be accused of disorderly conduct (actually insulting a policeman) in his own living room and end up in jail.”

    I can authoritatively contradict this statement: there is no such monopoly. It is very unfortunate for race relations in America that a reasonable person can genuinely hold this belief. It is only for lack of information. I am white, and well know that if I insulted an on-duty policeman in my Lake Charles, Louisiana living room (and they have been there), that I would be arrested by the average local police officer of any race. And I have in fact seen my wife treated this way, all 100 pounds of her and as white as they come, after an intoxicated third party saw her strike me and called the police. Good Cop said, “She need not be arrested if you don’t wish it.” Of course I didn’t. Bad Cop said, “Your wife is handcuffed and in the back of my unit. She will be held for 48 to 72 hours after which she may be bonded out.” Blah, blah, blah. Jerk. Good Cop was embarrassed, but could do nothing.

    Yes, that is a little different from “merely” insulting a policeman, but I know them well enough, and have practiced law long enough to have seen not just one or two but numerous actual cases refuting Mr. Lyles’ claim that this can happen “only [to] a Black man.” That is not correct. I guarantee you that if I had insulted Bad Cop, I’d have been taken in too. It has happened to plenty of people around here who are not black, and would certainly have happened to me on at least one or two occasions if I had not had the sense to refrain from insulting the unpleasant on-duty officer in my living room.

    But then, I have lived most of my fifty-four years in Louisiana. Some say the police here are a different breed. And it may be that despite all this, Mr. Lyles is correct in his ultimate opinion, that the officer acted stupidly. I am deferring judgment on that until all the facts are in, as the President should have done if he had to comment at all.

    My point is that to speak in such absolutes, with such conviction, in an attempt to persuade others about what can “[o]nly [happen to] a Black man,” is not a good idea, because it will lead one to make statements that are not true, thus alienating those who know better, and doing harm to the greater purpose of healing race relations.

  2. Little joke here: Bubba gets pulle over for speeding. He is irate. He asks the patrolman if it would be against the law for him (Bubba) to call the cop an SOB. “Yes,” the cop assures him, “that would be against the law, and I would take you in cuffed.” “Well,” Bubba asks, “is it against the law for me to think you’re an SOB?” “No,” the patrolman replies, “you can think whatever you want to.” To which Bubba responds, “I think you’re a son of a bitch.”

    Seriously, to both King and Reggie, Is it against the law to insult a police officer? Can I be legally arrested for insulting a police officer in my own home? And even if it’s legal, I think it would be behaving stupidly for one to do so except in most extreme circumstances.

    Charles Kiker working from Alan Bean’s computer

  3. the President is caught up in a triangular affair: blacks, whites and illegals. he will, possibly, be back-tracking while changing his mind until his term or terms reach concluding stages. we are such a disoriented nation of people. we are, perhaps, some of the most abundantly supplied people but each with his or her own agenda. somebody asked the question, why can’t we just all get along?—an enormous universe awaits exploration. we are NOT at its center. in comparison with other planet sizes, the earth appears invisibly small. we have so much to conquer. if the racists would only move aside and let us pursue our dreams, what a wonderful world this could BE!

  4. Charles, funny joke, which I’ve heard and it still makes me smile.

    In my opinion, no, it is not legal for an officer to arrest a person solely for insulting a police officer in a one-on-one exchange in one’s own home. (The factual qualifications are important: in public and in the presence of other people there are additional considerations and the officer is on better ground). Yet it happens.

    The book-in report will always say something else, such as “resisting an officer” (misdemeanor), “battery of a police officer” (misdemeanor), “disturbing the peace” (misdemeanor), “entering/remaining after forbidden” (misdemeanor), “obstruction of justice” (felony), or “public intimidation” (felony). All of these are questionable in the premises and are often rejected by the prosecution, but at least they have a statute behind them, whereas there is no “insulting a police officer” law.

    We also often see officers abusing felony charges in cases when the misdemeanor was perhaps appropriate but the felony absolutely unjustified. They do it out of spite, and to assure that the arrestee doesn’t get back out the same night on a pre-set misdemeanor bond– the officer doesn’t want to see that person again on the same shift. In my state this can keep a person incarcerated, subject to bond, up to forty-five days for a misdemeanor and sixty days for a felony without the charge being accepted and filed by the prosecution. The bond amounts are often abusively high, and many people cannot afford them due to poverty.

    It gets worse. If the arrestee is a probationer or parolee, he normally has a probation or parole “hold” on him that will prevent his release even if he could otherwise bond out. If the prosecutor accepts the charge even though it is beatable at trial (charges are not well-vetted), the pretrial detention can extend for so long that often the person gives up and revokes himself, because the Parole Board will not give him credit for the time served unless he does so; otherwise it’s what the inmates call “dead time.”

    It’s a stacked deck all around, and no wonder Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in a nation that has the highest such rate among nations. A cowboy has a cutting horse, a lariat, and a corral; a Louisiana cop has a Crown Vic, handcuffs, and the parish jail: “Yee ha! Round ’em up!” That is, too often, the mentality.

    To Sanrucker: it was Rodney King who said, during the Los Angeles riots set off by the release of the video of his horrible nightstick beating, “Why can’t we all just get along?” If he can do it, anybody can.

  5. Yes, I too was saddened by President Obama’s backtrack in calling that particular police action “stupid.” It was a “stupid” act and perhaps an inelegant choice of words from Obama, but still on target. When any of us get home from a long trip we are near collapse when we get to our door just anticipating our bed, our bathroom, our tea, some rest…our minds are foggy. Isn’t it so very obviously what really happened at Dr. Gate’s front door? I know I would have acted as Dr. Gates did – maybe with less courage. I’m a white 69-year-old Southern raised grandmother with years of close experience with racial differences. We really need to put an end to race baiting; this hideous misbehavior. It doesn’t serve us well, and reflects our gross immaturity and hostility as citizens of “The Land of Free and Home of the Brave.”

  6. From everything I’ve seen and read, there needs to be a lot better training for police in general. Any idea where they are trained well to respect people, citizens, and to deal with us firmly but fairly?

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