Pro Se Chicago's Weblog

July 31, 2009

A Teachable Moment and Freedom of Speech


Further explanation of Constitutional law that applies to the case of Harvard Prof. Gates’ arrest last week that prove that the arrest by Sgt. Crowley was illegal is explained by law school Prof. and constitutional scholar Amar at:

http://writ.lp.findlaw.com/amar/20090731.html

He explains that since Sgt. Crowley admitted in his report that Prof. Gate’s words that he considered “disorderly” occurred after he had concluded that no burglary had occurred (the investigation was over so there was no obstruction of justice), whatever Prof. Gates said was protected by the First Amendment right to free speech per the U.S. Supreme Court holding in Houston v. Hill two decades ago. Justice Brennan in that case stated “Speech is often provocative and challenging…[But it] is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest.” Therefore, Prof. Gates comments were  protected by the First Amendment and were not “disorderly.” That clearly is a reason why the charges were dropped. Constitutional rights always trump State law.

The vague disorderly conduct laws cannot negate a person’s right to free speech unless there is a “clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil” , like yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theatre or interfering with a police investigation of a crime.

I believe the arrest had nothing to do with race but everything to do with ego. Sgt. Crowley was annoyed by Prof. Gates’ words and didn’t want to appear weak as a Sgt. in front of the other officers. He therefore acted more like the top dog in a dog pack and bit Prof. Gates’ who was alledgedly acting like an uppity overeducated and arrogant nerd who did not show the proper “respect” to an officer. The “teachable moment” should be in regards to constitutional rights and the fact that it is unlawful to arrest someone simply because they are insulting an officer.

Yes the public doesn’t always give officers the respect they deserve for putting their lives on the line every day and yes racial profiling still exists, however, I don’t believe these two issues have much to do with this case. Talk about these topics appear to me simply to be red herrings that the media are using to sensationalize this case, at the expense of the real teachable moment..

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