The LAPD officer who writes under the pseudonym Jack Dunphy and blogger and prosecutor Patterico have each put up posts taking issue with my Reason colleague Brian Doherty’s and my criticism of one of Dunphy’s posts at National Review Online. Doherty and I both summarized Dunphy’s post to say that Dunphy believes the lesson from the Henry Louis Gates affair is that anyone who asserts his constitutional rights when confronted by a cop risks being shot. Patterico and Dunphy both say Doherty and I misread Dunphy.
If Dunphy didn’t intend for that to be the point of the post, he should retract it. Because it’s difficult to interpret it any other way. Here is the meat of Dunphy’s post:
And now we are told, in a further attempt at damage control, that the Gates arrest can serve to educate all those mouth-breathing cops out there who may yet stumble into an unpleasant encounter with some other Ivy Leaguer. It’s our hope, said Gibbs, invoking that insufferable locution that one hopes will soon fade from common usage, that the Gates arrest can be “part of a teachable moment.”
So, since the president is keen on offering instruction, here is what I would advise he teach his Ivy League pals, and anyone else who may find himself unexpectedly confronted by a police officer: You may be as pure as the driven snow itself, but you have no idea what horrible crime that police officer might suspect you of committing. You may be tooling along on a Sunday drive in your 1932 Hupmobile when, quite unknown to you, someone else in a 1932 Hupmobile knocks off the nearby Piggly Wiggly. A passing police officer sees you and, asking himself how many 1932 Hupmobiles can there be around here, pulls you over. At that moment I can assure you the officer is not all that concerned with trying not to offend you. He is instead concerned with protecting his mortal hide from having holes placed in it where God did not intend. And you, if in asserting your constitutional right to be free from unlawful search and seizure fail to do as the officer asks, run the risk of having such holes placed in your own.
When the officer has satisfied himself that it was not you and your Hupmobile that were involved in the Piggly Wiggly heist, he owes you an explanation for the stop and an apology for the inconvenience, but if you’re running your mouth about your rights and your history of oppression and what have you, you’re likely to get neither.
Emphasis mine. Patterico and Dunphy argue that Dunphy’s “lesson” here applies only to the specifics of his hypothetical—that the only time he meant to imply that you risk getting shot for asserting your rights is in the limited circumstance that an officer is looking for an armed, dangerous felon, and you happen to fit the very specific description of said felon given to police. I can’t speak for Doherty, but I stand by my original characterization of Dunphy’s post, for several reasons.
First, if this was Dunphy’s point, it’s unclear why he would invoke it in response to the Gates case, where there was no armed robbery, no getaway car, and no specific description of any unusual characteristics. Either he meant for his “lesson” to be applied more broadly, or his entire post was a red herring.
Second, as emphasized in the excerpt above (a portion that Patterico neglected to include in his post*) Dunphy explicitly sets up the hypothetical by stating that its lesson should be taken to heart by “anyone else who may find himself unexpectedly confronted by a police officer.” In other words, not just people driving 1932 Hupmobiles.
Third, Dunphy was responding negatively to the idea that the “teachable moment” in all of this ought to be for the police to be more cognizant of our rights, and not make rash arrests or employ racial profiling (we now know of course that the latter most likely didn’t play a role in the Gates arrest). Dunphy’s counter to that sentiment clearly seems to be that if there’s a lesson in the Gates arrest, it isn’t for cops, it’s for everyone else, and the lesson is to avoid “running your mouth about your rights and your history of oppression” when you’ve been confronted by a police officer. Again, to say that Dunphy only intended for that lesson to apply in the very limited scenario in his hypothetical would completely ignore the hypothetical’s setup, as well as the national discussion that inspired him to put it up in the first place.
Fourth, even within Dunphy’s hypothetical, the innocent driver of the Hupmobile has no idea why he has been pulled over. He doesn’t know about the armed robbery, or that the getaway car resembles his own car. This is precisely Dunphy’s point. He’s arguing that you can’t possibly know what’s going on in a police officer’s head when he stops you or confronts you. You can’t know what circumstances led him to stop you. So you’d best just shut up and submit, even he asks you to do something that you aren’t obligated to do under the Constitution. Dunphy’s using his unlikely hypothetical to plant the threat that any noncompliance with an officer’s demands may end with him shooting you. Put another way, because you can’t possibly know the reasons why the officer has stopped you, giving lip about your rights may well endanger your life.
Finally, I’d add that I, Doherty, and L.A. Times editor Paul Thornton (also mentioned in Patterico’s post) were hardly the only ones who interpreted Dunphy’s post this way. Dunphy wrote something rash and provocative (and, frankly, pretty outrageous). He now wants to retreat to a very narrow interpretation of his hypothetical to attack the people who called him on it. The problem for Dunphy is that such an interpretation really makes no sense given the context in which he wrote it.
(*Note: Patterico insists he included this portion of Dunphy’s post in his initial post.)