Thursday, July 30, 2009

Professor Gates, the Rule of Law, and the City of Cambridge, MA

Bob La Trémouille reports:

For the past several weeks, the national press has done a lot about a Harvard professor arrested on the porch of his home after he had been seen doing what looked like breaking in to his home. Professor Gates may or may not have been on the receiving end of a violation of his civil rights by the police officer who arrested him. He made national press by alleging racism as the cause of the civil rights violation.

The basic principle in the Gates battle is the rule of law. On this score, whether you believe Gates or the police, Cambridge looks bad.

A judge and jury recently found Cambridge deliberately violated a former employee's legal rights. The city is appealing a $5 million judgment concerning its retaliation against Malvina Monteiro because she claimed racial discrimination. One of the judge’s many points is that Cambridge is held to a higher standard because of the city’s duty to enforce the law. The judge and jury found Cambridge deliberately violated Monteiro’s legal rights.

A recent, telling example of Cambridge’s approach to the rule of law occurred at a public meeting after the Gates case broke. At issue was a Cambridge rule restricting use of specific playing fields to persons making advance reservations and paying a $90 reservation fee.

Neighbors of Russell Field in North Cambridge report kids have been thrown off the empty field when they tried to play informal, pick-up games without official approval. This rule is apparently the plan for Cambridge-administered playing fields on Department of Conservation and Recreation parkland at Magazine Beach as well.

Before the ongoing bizarre construction began, the Magazine Beach fields were available to all members of the public unless another use was specifically scheduled. The Boston Conservation Commission has now forced the DCR to post notices saying this is the rule at Ebersol Fields on the Charles River near Massachusetts General Hospital.

In Cambridge, however, the city’s parks manager told a North Cambridge public meeting on Wednesday, July 22, that he would continue to prohibit the use of Russell Field by those without official approval. However, he expected the Cambridge police not to enforce that rule against pick-up games. He seemed to instruct an officer in the room to that effect, in front of his boss, the head of the Department of Public Works, who did not object.

It is silly to call this position anything other than official contempt for the rule of law.

The judge in the Monteiro case condemned the City of Cambridge’s contempt for the law.

Throughout the country, no matter whom people believe in the Gates incident, people are condemning contempt for the law.

The Cambridge City Council should give Cambridge, MA a government with respect for law.

[Ed: An earlier version of the above was printed very prominently among many Gates letters by the Cambridge Chronicle in its July 30, 2009 edition. This version of the letter differs only to add explanatory material about the Gates debacle and to correct a couple of typos. The title used by the Cambridge Chronicle was: "Gates, the rule of law and business as usual in Cambridge."]