Interview: City can move beyond Gates incident without investigating, committee member says
Cambridge Day had the chance to speak last week with Marian Darlington-Hope, a member of the Cambridge Review Committee — the 12-member panel known informally as the “Gates committee.” It was formed after the internationally discussed July 16 arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. by white police Sgt. James Crowley, at Gates’ home, on charges of disorderly conduct. The charges were dropped.
Darlington-Hope is a professor at Lesley University, city human services commissioner, and member of the Area 4 Coalition and of the Margaret Fuller House Neighborhood Board. She was kind enough to talk at length; some of what she said was used in an earlier article, and those comments are not repeated here. Also, her responses and the interviewer’s questions were cleaned up minimally. In general the structure and casual language of the interview have been kept intact to help ensure the transcription doesn’t change the meaning or context of a reply.
Unfortunately, that makes for a somewhat long post, albeit one with much of interest to be gleaned from it.
Occasionally “[unintelligible]” will appear in the text when a word or two could not be deciphered from a digital audio recording of the Wednesday interview. (Permission to record was granted by Darlington-Hope.) The interview starts with a question from Cambridge Day:
The committee has been instructed to look beyond the Gates incident, but I’m not sure how you look beyond the Gates incident without first looking at the Gates incident. Am I correct in thinking that —
Uh, sure. We heard the original tapes, read all the documents, so we did do all that kind of work up front. The reporting that was done, all of it. Then later, we did meet with Sgt. Crowley, though the conversation was not about his interpretation or his view of what happened. That was sort of the understanding, because we weren’t trying to find who was at fault; that wasn’t the focus of this. We were really just trying to have an understanding, a general understanding that we were all on the same page about the incident and that what we [unintelligible] to look at where do we need to go from here?
So you did not ask Sgt. Crowley what happened July 16.
No, we didn’t. For a couple of reasons. One, I think we really want to understand what [unintelligible] meant for him, and what we’re interested in is his sort of sense of policing in Cambridge, because we are so diverse. We didn’t want to get caught up in his story and then professor Gates’ story and then decide which story was the better — we didn’t want to do that.
Then why talk to Sgt. Crowley specifically?
Well, he was the one who was involved in the incident. We want to get his perception of the challenges around policing in a diverse community like Cambridge. So that’s we don’t ask specifically what happened, but obviously it had an impact and we wanted to get his sense of what it means to police in Cambridge, some of the dynamics of race, class, all that.
I guess I’m just confused because, barring the July 16 incident that sparked the need for the committee, it seems as though any police officer in Cambridge would have as much to say on that topic.
Yes, but he was one that was very specifically involved in one. And so we wanted to have him — and he didn’t even have to come. We wanted to give him an opportunity to address the committee and to get his take on policing in Cambridge. That’s what we did.
Well, that pretty much gets to a central conflict —
And we’re planning to have a conversation also with professor Gates. We’re trying to work out a schedule, because we imagine he’s quite busy.
What will you ask professor Gates about?
Well, we’ll ask him whatever he wants to tell us. We wanted to give him an opportunity, the same opportunity we gave Sgt. Crowley to talk to the committee. I mean, I know that he is concerned with issues of race and class. We want to hear what he has to say about that. Or anything he would like to share with the committee. We really want to give folks an opportunity to talk to us.
Will you ask professor Gates about the July 16 incident?
No. No we’re not.
What if he wants to talk to you about the July 16 incident?
Obviously if he wanted to, we wouldn’t say, “No, you can’t talk to us,” but our intention is not to ask him about that incident.
Was this approach determined by the committee members?
Yeah, actually, and maybe early on there were probably things that hadn’t been, that weren’t yet resolved, but I think early on — we didn’t want to do anything that would interfere with the Police Review and Advisory Board’s potential review. So we didn’t want to start doing the work they might be doing, because that’s what the Police Review and Advisory Board is, that’s their sort of mandate — they review complaints against the police. So we didn’t want to get involved in doing their work.
Even though they hadn’t announced there would be an investigation at that point?
Well, they didn’t have a director at that point.
So did you and the other members of the committee expect PRAB to start an investigation once there was a director?
We knew there would be an opportunity to do that once there was a director. But we didn’t want to put ourselves in a position of beginning to look like we were trying to do the work of PRAB, because it was really important to the committee that they get a new executive director. So we wanted to be clear that we wouldn’t take over their mandate and then that would push us into trying to figure out who was responsible, who was at fault, and we really didn’t want to do that.
So what were your instructions from — from who did you get your operating directive? Was it City Manager Robert W. Healy or [Police] Commissioner Robert Haas?
No, actually it was the commissioner. He invited us to participate and he laid out the things that were important in terms of going forward, how it might benefit the city.
What was his sort of sales pitch? And how did he describe the mission once people had actually gotten on board?
I think he fundamentally believed that we might be able to as a group give recommendations to the city. That’s why you have sort of a whole range of people on the committee, with all kinds of backgrounds, law, police … that as a group we would really be able to make some recommendations to the city about going forward.
What did he say about the July 16 incident itself?
Well, I’m trying to remember when we spoke to him for the first time — said that it was probably one of the most challenging experiences he had, that it was difficult, that it was hard on the police department period — you know, everyone wanted to camp out in the city. That it was difficult for the entire police department for the city to be in this kind of spotlight.
What did he say about the commission’s mission in regard to the July 16 incident is more along the lines of what I was wondering?
That he wanted us to actually look at what kind of recommendations to focus on where we might go with the incident and for Cambridge to be a — give Cambridge an opportunity to be a place where we can learn a lot from this incident and make recommendations that can take us forward.
When was your first meeting?
Okay, so you said the committee decided itself that it would not conduct an investigation into the July 16 incident …
Okay, but the announcement —
I don’t think the commissioner — I don’t think when he laid it out, he — I’m sort of going to think about this, because I’m not sure he said “You’re not allowed to,” I don’t remember those words being used, but I think from the very beginning, when the mission was laid out for us, that doing an investigation was not listed as being the priority, as being an objective. It was really for us to sort of use the incident as a place to let us, to help us, go forward, but not as a place for an investigation. And I think among the members, we certainly looked at it, but there wasn’t a desire on our part to investigate it in a way that would then direct us toward a resolution about who’s at fault. Or whether or not the arrest was warranted, or any of that. It was an emerging understanding that these things happen, we want to keep them from happening, so what might we do as a city in terms of police training, in terms of the work of the city, the organizations — we have a number of organizations that pay attention to human rights and PRAB, so that’s why we sort of took the direction that we did — and that means we could make recommendations both about the police but also about what the city might do, given its resources, to foster better communication between police, foster better communication among citizens, the police and City Council, all.
You’re saying the committee decided in October not to do a specific investigation of the July 16 incident, although you were —
In order to simply even understand what happened, because by the time we got to it people had heard different things about what actually happened, so we got together, together we listened to the tapes, together we read the reports, together we learned about what happened both before the arrest, at the arrest, after the arrest and then from there we moved on.
In asking you to be on the committee, did Commissioner Haas say if the committee wanted to pass judgment on the July 16 incident it would be allowed to?
No, he didn’t say anything like that at all, either way. Either way he didn’t say anything. In fact —
When you were convinced to be part of the committee, did it pass through your mind that you might want to do that?
No. First of all, because there is PRAB, and that’s what they do. And so why would we be doing that if the PRAB were to pick that up?
I’m confused by the fact that all the way back on July 27, City Manager Robert Healy said there would be this committee —
Right. But he didn’t say we would be doing an investigation.
No, he specifically said you would not be.
But you said you decided as a commission in October that you would not be.
Well, we didn’t meet as a whole body until October. By the time there’s we were probably being selected and being talked to, up until, yeah, I guess the first meeting was in October, early October. And as we were beginning to [unintelligible] well, we need to begin to think about what happened, to take a — so we were all in the same place, I think people were really, really clear, “Well, what is the value, we need to be clear on what the value is. We’re not going to be doing an investigation, that’s a different committee!”
But how did Robert Healy know you weren’t going to be looking at the July 16 incident if you didn’t decide it until October? I mean, that’s several months’ difference.
Well, yeah, it’s clear to me he probably decided we weren’t going to be doing it before we met. But when we met, I mean, there was never a conversation that we would, we would even, might do that. I hear what you’re saying. I think it was clear it wasn’t the intent for us to do that. We weren’t hired — hired! None of us were hired — we weren’t asked to do that when we were brought on. It wasn’t listed out as one of the objectives of the committee, and so —
So how did the committee decide not to, so many months after it had already been announced you wouldn’t be? Was there a vote?
Oh no, there wasn’t a vote. Let me give you an example. At our first meeting, as we were beginning to listen to the tape and you’re having discussions on what happened here and what happened there, and I don’t remember which committee member saying, “Well, we’re not doing an investigation. We really want to do is listen to this and have a good understanding of it.” It’s really easy to get caught into thinking about delving deeper, but that really wasn’t our understanding or our agreement to do that.
As a committee, as a committee member —
There was no vote, that was the understanding: We were not going to be doing that. No one raised it as, “Well, maybe we should do that.” That didn’t get raised by anyone. Chuck Wexler, who is the chair of the committee, in our conversation, talked about what we might do, how we might be able to help, but there was never a conversation or understanding about doing an investigation.
Do you know where the investigation into the July 16 incident is?
What I understand is that PRAB is launching an investigation, or proposing launching an investigation. I don’t know exactly the processes of doing it from PRAB’s end, what the processes are, but that’s my understanding.
What about an internal affairs investigation?
I don’t know. We haven’t even talked about that at our committee.
Does the committee that feel it’s important — and of course I understand I’m asking you to summarize the collective wisdom gleaned from conversation you’ve had within the committee — for a specific incident to be investigated? And I’m talking ever.
That I can’t answer. I can’t answer.
Well, the goal of the committee is to say, if an incident such as this occurs, how should it be handled? Am I summarizing correctly?
It was broader than that. Certainly part of it is how do you keep something like this from happening is one. What are the conditions that foster this, that foster incidents like this from happening. So it wasn’t simply, should it should not be — there’s a structure for that to happen. But are there some things we can learn for both the police and the city so that when we reduce the likelihood that it is going to happen that it may get handled differently. But not that sort of generalization that they should or should not be investigated.
I’m sorry, say that again? If there’s an incident between a police officer and a citizen, and it in this case it happened very publicly, is there a value in determining where fault lies?
Should there ever be an investigation to figure that out?
That’s one way to phrase it, yes.
There are mechanisms for doing that. There are internal investigations that can do that, we have PRAB that comes from citizens to be able to do that work. I don’t think our view is that there shouldn’t be an investigation when there’s an incident between the police and citizens, that there shouldn’t be an investigation. That wasn’t our goal.
Should there definitely be a Professional Standards investigation to determine if there was some unfairness?
I can’t speak for the committee for that, but I personally would expect that would happen.
Does it surprise you that there is none?
I’m not convinced there isn’t any.
There is none. I spoke with the person who heads Professional Standards a couple of weeks ago. There’s no investigation.
Right, but that’s a different question. If there isn’t an investigation is different from asking if there ever should be an investigation.
Well, how quickly do you feel an investigation should take place? Is there value to it taking place within, oh, I don’t know, six months of an incident itself?
So in terms of the Gates case, whether or not there should be an investigation? That sounds like that’s what you’re asking.
And I thought I heard you say yes.
I’m not sure I’m saying yes that there should be one in the Gates case. Wasn’t one being done — I really have not focused on the other processes which are potentially available for the police to engage in. But what I do know is that there’s not [unintelligible] one. I know that [unintelligible] answers your question the way you’d like to, but …
It seems like it’d be impossible to read the police report, listen to the tapes and not, well …
Not have an opinion?
It seems like it’d be difficult to not have an opinion.
Oh, yeah, I’m sure people have opinions. But what we’ve worked at, what we’ve worked on is what do we do about this, what do we recommend, so these things both don’t happen again or happen very few and far between, and can the city learn from it so that it can cultivate [unintelligible] policies at the city level, function that the city might take. Because it is a city where people are surprised it happened in many ways. I think they’ve been taken aback that it happened, not that people don’t get arrested or stopped by the police unfairly, it happens everywhere. But I do think that it’s taken us aback in — how do we deal with this? Because I think it brought up old feelings, even if it hasn’t happened in a long time, it brought up lots of feelings about police behavior in the community. I mean, people are obviously going to have a lot of views on this.
I would suggest it brought up current feelings.
Yeah, current feelings. Current feelings as well.
You’re aware that people of color in Cambridge have many, many stories to tell of police stops for no particular reason, stops that seem to be inspired by their color.
How do you characterize Cambridge’s race relations at the moment? Do you feel there’s a problem?
Race relations? I don’t think they’re a problem for Cambridge. I do think there are some problems that are much more a function of class and race. [Darlington-Hope may have said “more a function of class than race.”]
Have you heard many stories of people being stopped for, well —
Well, sure, you go to community meetings and even a couple public meetings and people tell you about being 13 and in 1968 they were arrested for vagrancy. But, and that — clearly if you’re in your late 50s, that’s a defining moment for you.
How about right now in 2010 in Cambridge?
What about 2010 in Cambridge? I think we have less than that now, but there were at least three that I heard in my attending some of the neighborhood meetings. People not arrested, but just stopped —
I’m surprised, because —
— and questioning whether it was because I’m a person of color. That’s often a question for people when you get stopped by police —
Because I’d heard —
— if you’re a person of color, and I understand that.
I’ve been talking to people and haven’t been hearing historical stories, I’ve heard been hearing stories about right now.
I haven’t heard that. I haven’t heard, I mean, I’ve heard probably three as I say in the past few months since I have attended meetings. Most recently I read about one with Bishop [Filipe C.] Teixeira, just a couple weeks ago, a week ago, he was stopped by police.
Yeah, that was one of them, and before that, the Rev. [Irene] Munroe and Imam Firman … it seems like, you know, talk to a black person and you’ll find a story about being stopped by police for reasons they don’t understand.
So my question, leading up to this is, do you feel it’s important for police to address this, this specific issue of who they stop and why, for the sake of the community?
Meaning if a person of color is stopped by a police officer who’s white, that the community should know whether that particular police officer, why that person was stopped in some sort of public way?
If people of color are saying this is happening all the time, they may feel it’s important that the public address that specifically, and I’m guessing the committee might be heading in that direction as well. But if the committee is not hearing these contemporary stories of police stops —
Well, we’ve heard some, obviously. We haven’t heard a lot of them, but we’ve heard some. We’ve had members of the community come to meet with us when we’ve met together. We’ve not just had people of color, but just a number of different citizens come and talk about their experiences with the police. Some of them are young African-American men, some were older women of color, some were white middle-age people, we’ve had a number of people who’ve come to talk about their experience with police. Sometimes they had experiences themselves, or experiences they heard about.
Let me just sum this up. My suspicion is that it’ll be exasperating or is exasperating to people of color if they perceive that an incident like this happens, happens all the time, happens July 16 right out in the public eye and there’s no accounting for it. There’s no internal affairs investigation and Police Review and Advisory Board expresses they seem to be stymied because neither Crowley nor Gates will talk to them, so, put very bluntly, there seems to be no action toward accountability and therefore no resolution for this specific, very public incident. In the committee’s view, again I’m asking you to express an opinion based on conversations you’ve had with the whole committee, what is the effect of that on the community?
To be honest, we haven’t had a conversation as you described it. I don’t think we have come — we have — we’ve heard that these are experiences that go on — that’s not what we’ve heard as we’ve gone to the public meetings and neighborhood meetings, we’re not going to say that they don’t happen at all, but that is not what we’re hearing.
Okay. Just having a conversation here, my feeling is that it is bad for something like this to happen so publicly and for there to be no accountability. Do you personally agree that without a resolution it really does — it could seem as though a white police officer got away with abusing his authority or it could seem this officer was unfairly castigated for merely doing his job. It seems to me some accountability would be actually beneficial. Am I off base?
No, I don’t think you’re off base, but I will say that was not the mandate of the committee. That wasn’t our mandate.
But as a member of the committee that is looking forward, taking a broad look at how exactly this incident, and policing and race in general should be approached, I’m thinking you have become pretty much of an expert on whether it is beneficial for a community to have some sort of accountability. Or is it in fact good for people to just walk away?
No, if they were going to walk away, we would have done that back in, they could have done that back in July. Right? It could have happened back in July.
Well, I don’t know. There’s no internal affairs investigation, PRAB seems stymied and your committee was specifically enjoined not to look at this specific incident.
If they had wanted to simply walk away they wouldn’t have bothered to have a committee to look at how we learn from this and go forward. They wouldn’t have bothered. The fact we even exist, I think, continues to raise …
But you’re not looking at the incident.
Because there is a place to be done, which is PRAB. And in fact at one of our meetings people were angry because they thought we were taking PRAB’s role.
So you feel that it’s important for PRAB to investigate?
If PRAB wants to take this on, they should. It’s within their purview. It’s not within the purview of —
That’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking you as an expert in this field, is it is important for PRAB to find some accountability?
Actually, I’m not sure. I’m really not sure.
Do you believe in the concept of legal justice?
I’m just surprised. It seems like there are a lot of questions around this particular incident —
And there probably always will be. Folks that are looking to lay blame, find blame, will not be satisfied unless particularly this officer is blamed and found in the wrong. And then I’m not sure what that would get us. It certainly wouldn’t heal the situation. I do think those feelings would exist regardless of any findings. And I do think there needs to be some healing that takes place, but I’m not convinced that finding blame does that. I think what we know from the incident is that there is work that needs to be done, so residents feel safe and feel good about their engagement with the police and the police department, but I’m not convinced finding blame somehow gives them closure so that they can go on.
When you invite Sgt. Crowley and professor Gates to talk, is it with the understanding you will not ask about July 16?
What was our understanding of that? I think that was the general agreement.
I’m sorry, I need to try to pin you down there a little bit. In the specific invitations —
I don’t remember anyone saying, “No, you may not ask them any questions,” but there was clearly a sense, I think an agreement that, I feel like we’re often walking on this fine line between doing an investigation and not. And so asking about the incident or deciding to have a conversation about the incident, particularly if I’m not sure everything’s been resolved, that might make people feel, “Maybe I have to have my attorney.” No one’s said that, but if it starts being an investigation, people want to be careful. We’re much more interested in where we’re going to go from here.