White Cops Are Always Right


That's been my experience as a citizen and as a reporter. Back in the day, I used to write about the subject of racial profiling a bit, and and I'm reasonably sure, based on my reporting, that Sergeant Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department a) is a self-righteous man who was enraged when his authority was questioned, and b) set-up Gates for an arrest because of these feelings of rage. By set-up, I mean he that he made at least a semi-conscious effort to gaslight Gates, that he went out of his way to make sure that Gates would be so angry at his treatment that he would be, by Crowley's standards, a plausible candidate for arrest.

I don't know Crowley though, and since I have family members who are serving, or have served, in various police departments, I know I shouldn't generalize, but Crowley strikes me, after days of watching this story, as a type I've met over and over again. There is one specific cop -- a very good, if flawed cop, I once profiled who seems very much in the Crowley model. This is from a New York Times Magazine story I wrote ten years ago that was about, in part, a Maryland state trooper named Mike Lewis, who was a brave cop but one who was consistently sure that he was right, and consistently sure that any complaints directed against him by black people were rooted in prejudice against white cops. He was so sure, in fact, that even when black people didn't accuse him of racism, he knew that they were thinking he was a racist:

As we drive, Lewis watches a van come up on his right and pass him. A young black man is at the wheel, his left leg hanging out the window. The blood races up Lewis's face: "Look at that! That's a violation! You can't drive like that! But I'm not going to stop him. No, sir. If I do, he's just going to call me a racist."

Then Lewis notices that the van is a state government vehicle. "This is ridiculous," he says. Lewis hits his lights. The driver stops. Lewis issues him a warning and sends him on his way. The driver says nothing.

"He didn't call me a racist," Lewis says, pulling into traffic, "but I know what he was thinking." Lewis does not think of himself as a racist. "I know how to treat people," he says. "I've never had a complaint based on a race-based stop. I've got that supercharged knowledge of the Constitution that allows me to do this right."

In the old days, when he was patrolling the Eastern Shore, it was white people he arrested. "Ninety-five percent of my drug arrests were dirt-ball-type whites--marijuana, heroin, possession-weight. Then I moved to the highway, I start taking off two, three kilograms of coke, instead of two or three grams. Black guys. Suddenly I'm not the greatest trooper in the world. I'm a racist. I'm locking up blacks, but I can't help it."

His eyes gleam: "Ask me how many white people I've ever arrested for cocaine smuggling--ask me!"

I ask.

"None! Zero! I debrief hundreds of black smugglers, and I ask them, 'Why don't you hire white guys to deliver your drugs?' They just laugh at me. 'We ain't gonna trust our drugs with white boys.' That's what they say."

Mike Lewis's dream: "I dream at night about arresting white people for cocaine. I do. I try to think of innovative ways to arrest white males. But the reality is different."
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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, Goldberg also writes the magazine's advice column. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. Previously, he served as a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward, and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

His book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. Goldberg rthe recipient of the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism. He is also the recipient of 2005's Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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