In a NY Times Opinionator Blog Post, Eric Etheridge starts an interesting discussion on the question: How to talk to a cop? Should Profr. Gates have zipped his lip, or was he within his rights to mouth off?
GATES (speaking across the threshold of his front door):
“Yes, all right officer, I understand the situation. A neighbor has reported a break-in and you are doing your job by checking the situation. I have now assured that you I am the legal resident of this home, that I forced the side door only because I have misplaced my keys. I am Prof. Henry Louis Gates of Harvard University and my legal ownership of this residence is a matter of public record, which you may verify at your leisure.
Now, officer, as to your request for my ID, although I understand what you are trying to do, I need you to understand that as a scholar of racism and African-American history, and given the extremely unfair history of racial discrimination by police officers against black people in this country, I am extraordinarily sensitive that my constitutional rights be protected at all times.
As I am sure you are aware, the 4th amendment prohibits you from entering this house without a warrant even if you have probable cause that I have committed a felony. If you cannot enter, a fortiori you cannot demand my identification. An American is not required to carry identification at home.
If you don’t believe that, you can discuss it with my attorney, Prof Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law School, who will be here shortly. If you wish, he can teach not only you about the 4th amendment, but perhaps we could also arrange for a seminar for the Cambridge Police Department, to make sure you fellows clearly understand what you can and cannot do.
What I am going to do now, very slowly and politely, is close this door on you and request that you leave my property. Obviously, you are strong enough to force your way in here, but you must understand that if you do so you will be ignoring an explicit request that you respect my constitutional rights.
If you are really still worried that I am a burglar, which I sincerely doubt, you may post officers at my front and back entrances until you return with a warrant. However, you will find that a warrant extremely difficult to obtain, because the judge will ask you if you have made even the most minimal verification of my identify, and you will have to answer that you have not.
If you go on Google for 2 minutes you will see that I am a very famous professor and I am sure that your police network can verify my address without my further assistance.
I wish you good day, sir.”