Sunday, July 26, 2009

Disorderly Conduct: Disfuses a Fight, or UnConstitutional?

Chicago Tribune writer David Savage should be credited for actually broaching a fascinating topic. That doesn’t happen often in major media. What constitutes disorderly conduct? Should some changes be made to allow some steam to be released without ending in an arrest?

For some defense lawyers, the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was less about racial profiling than about how persons can be arrested simply for speaking angry words to a police officer. The laws against "disorderly conduct" give police wide power to arrest people who are said to be disturbing the peace or disrupting the neighborhood … courts have said the "disorderly acts or language" must take place in public where others can be disturbed.It is probably not a crime of disorderly conduct for a homeowner, standing in his own kitchen, to speak abusively to a police officer.

According to his police report, Sgt. James Crowley said the professor was "yelling very loud" and "accusing me of being a racist." Complaining that the "acoustics of the kitchen" made it difficult to communicate, the officer said he "told Gates that I would speak with him outside." Once on the front porch, the officer arrested Gates for being loud and abusive in the presence of several neighbors who had gathered on the sidewalk.

"You might think that in the United States, you have a right to state an opinion, even an offensive opinion. But prosecutors like to say you don't have a right to mouth off to the police," said Boston defense lawyer Samuel Goldberg. "Gates was saying, 'You are hassling me because I'm black.' I understand how that's offensive to a police officer. "It's astounding to me to call it criminal."

"I would say it is not constitutional to arrest someone in his home just for being loud and abusive to a police officer," said Boston University law professor Tracey Maclin. "That's why the cop asked him to come outside, where he could be arrested for being disorderly in public."

It seems we need to change the way we look at disorderly conduct.

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