Henry Louis Gates gets arrested in his own house (updated with video)

henry-louis-gatesOver the last month there have been a number of stories that have reminded Americans that we still have some racial issues in this country. Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich and other conservatives took a racial view of Sonia Sotomayor. In Philly, there was the pool incident that got national attention. Now, we have nationally known Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates, who gets back from a trip to China and can’t get into his own house. He tries to break in and his neighbor calls the cops. He reportedly shows his license and his Harvard ID. Here’s where his story deviates from the police’s version. The cops want more information. He says something. They think that he is belligerent and arrest him.

So, internationally known author and professor at Harvard is arrested at his own home for talking. Is this what we are looking at here? Really?

The Boston Globe has more:

Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., one of the nation’s pre-eminent African-American scholars, was arrested Thursday afternoon at his home by Cambridge police investigating a possible break-in. The incident raised concerns among some Harvard faculty that Gates was a victim of racial profiling.

Police arrived at Gates’s Ware Street home near Harvard Square at 12:44 p.m. to question him. Gates, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, had trouble unlocking his door after it became jammed.

He was booked for disorderly conduct after “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,” according to a police report. Gates accused the investigating officer of being a racist and told him he had “no idea who he was messing with,” the report said.

Gates told the officer that he was being targeted because “I’m a black man in America.” (more…)

Update from CNN.com:

Boris Kodjoe owns a mansion in Atlanta. But when he goes to answer his door, the black actor knows what it’s like to be an outcast.

“When I’m opening the door of my own house, someone will ask me where the man of the house is, implying that I’m staff,” said Kodjoe, best known for starring in Showtime’s “Soul Food.”

It’s a feeling some African-Americans say is all too common, even to this day in America: No matter your status or prominence in society, you’re still typecast. That’s why the recent arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., one of the nation’s most prominent African-American scholars, has stirred outrage and debate.

Jelani Cobb, an author and professor at Spelman College in Atlanta, says it’s troubling on many levels when “one of the most recognizable African-Americans in the country can be arrested in his own home and have to justify being in his own home.” (more… )

Very nice editorial in the Boston Globe.  High five and congrats to them.  Here’s the best part (emphasis is mine):

Gates told the Globe yesterday that the report is full of the officer’s “broad imagination.’’ Once the officer established that Gates was indeed standing in his own home, the encounter should have ended. Objecting to an officer’s presence in one’s residence should hardly be grounds for arrest.

Still, confrontations with police seldom end well, even if officers are in the wrong. If Gates believed he was being treated discourteously, he could have filed a complaint with the police department’s section for professional standards. Ultimately, though, it was the officer’s responsibility to de-escalate the situation, even by walking away. Police are trained specifically to ignore verbal provocations that come their way. (more… )

0 Responses

  1. like what? If you are at home and you have to break into your own house, you aren’t a happy camper. Then the police show up. Okay. You show them more than adequate documentation that you are who you say you are and they are still questioning you? I would have a problem with that also.

    Thanks for your comments.

  2. Why was he acting so out of control? The cops (some of whom were black) simply asked him to step outside and let them check his ID.
    That’s not racial profiling…they were just responding to a break-in call. If he would have just stepped outside and given them his ID they would have confirmed that he was the owner and left.
    Instead he acted like a fool, like everyone is out to get him because he’s black. It’s his own fault he got arrested. Just cooporate like a normal person and everything would have been fine.

  3. Professor Gates’s incident took place one day after my son (19) and I, both black folks, had just experienced a strange questioning by New Hampshire Police at a suspicious checkpoint. Last Sunday afternoon, on our way home, from dropping off a child at a soccer camp at Dartmoth College, a white cop in a green suit approached my son, who was behind the wheel and asked him if he was “a citizen of the United States of America”. Strange question, I said to myself.

    Very politely, obviously caught off guard, my son replied that he was a permanent resident. The police proceeded to ask him for his ID. My son reached in his pocket and presemted his driver’s permit. Without even looking at it, the officer asked to see his greencard.

    At this time, I became a little puzzled and replied to the police that I had it. I hand it to him and he let us go. Without a thank you, we drove off.

    While I was pondering what this whole experience meant, almost about to make a newsstory out of it, the case of Gates Jr. arrest came out, and gave me a partial answer to my puzzle.

    It is not a matter of being a rightful citizen of the United States; the black man does not have the right to move freely in America, period. There is no black identity without black representation in the American power structure.

  4. He had every right to be upset- the officer ENTERED his home without asking. Mr. Gates advised the officer he was the resident of the house and asked the officer for HIS identification since he was IN HIS HOUSE.

    The guy was NOT breaking in- his door was stuck.

    It’s a TYPICAL reaction from a large number of white folks, raised with strange bias’ and stream of thought- couldn’t possibly be a black guys house, it’s a mansion. It’s everywhere- like in the airport where I watched an Indian guy get pulled out of line so they could “check his ticket”….his white wife was not pulled aside. Or the black guy at the airport in front of me…pulled into security because they didn’t believe his same day trip to Seattle could be dealt with by info. from his blackberry. OR, my husband, a pilot, constantly being asked to “fuel up” someones plane. Or….pick a day- there’s an example.

  5. Big Ed –

    After Professor Gates showed the officers his drivers license and Harvard ID, they really shouldn’t be any more conversation. It shouldn’t be any more questions unless they thought his drivers license was not authentic or that his Harvard ID was a forgery. Any more questions are really… unnecessary. Sure, he could’ve been nicer. It is the police officer who is the one who is in control. He is the one who should have said, “Sir, I’m sorry for bothering you. Have a nice day.” What else needed to be said?

  6. The fact that he is “HARVARD” should not matter, He was arrestd for Misdemeanor disorderly. Maybe the officer should have had more patience or maybe the “Harvard” guy should have been more understanding. If the officer were out of line wait until he leaves and make a complaint dont make the situation worse. There are racial issues in our country but this story lacks any great substance or proof of “get the black man.”

  7. It’s funny all the people accusing the cops of being racist are showing how racist they are. The poor professor is totally innocent because he is black and therefore has to have been discriminated against. Maybe someone so highly educated should know to just talk rationally to the cops and it would be over in 2 minutes or less.

    Maybe I missed something. Does this officer make a daily habit out of arresting every black man that he comes across? I haven’t heard that so I guess he just likes to pick on wealthy educated black men?

    Would this have made the news if the man had been any other color? I doubt it. There’s an old saying that applies to people who make an ass out of themselves and get arrested for it. You may beat the rap but you wont beat the ride.

    If he wasn’t smart enough to keep from getting arrested then I doubt that I’d want to spend my money to be taught by him in any class.

  8. Exactly Eddy. there was no beating or physical abuse. Evidentally one or both sides let tempers flare and someone took a ride to jail. No big deal.

    This is not a Rodney King issue so why try to make it one?

  9. Actually, there is a reason that Harvard matters. He was in Cambridge. This is a small community. Harvard means something in Cambridge which it doesn’t in St. Louis or LA. Harvard means that there is a HIGH likelihood that he really does belong in and live in that neighborhood. It reinforces the information on his driver’s license.

    Thanks for your comments.

  10. i feel bad for the officer. yes, there are really bad cops out there that see a black man and take it from there. this officer did not pick this battle. it was a dispatched call. i truly believe that if the professor had been white, the officer would have approached and handled the situation the same way.

    i’m a liberal, a lefty, a big supporter of obama, higher education and so on. i even enjoy the professor’s PBS shows. perhaps gates was tired from just getting back from china. and then annoyed that his door was broke. he was probably not in his best of spirits. maybe he really did encounter someone at the airport that looked down on him for just his skin color. maybe his wife said something that upset him that day. whatever it was, i think that something internally was unfairly spewed onto the officer who was simply following procedure. i believe it went as smoothly as gates wanted it to…. not as smoothly as the officer would have liked.

    i feel really bad for the black males that really do deal with really bad cops. this is clearly nothing like that and yet gates is trying to create this “poor me, i’m a victim” story and ruin this poor officer’s life. the officer, wether or not he has the iq score of the professor, has saved lives, protected people, served his community without reward. if anyone owes anybody an apology, i think that both the professor AND pres obama owe the officer a huge apology for misconduct and slander. and maybe a thank you would be nice for responding so quickly to a call. what if it were an actual robbery while he was out of the county? isn’t it good to know you live in a community where the police respond quickly to protect your property?

    one more thing… gates should maybe get out and meet his neighbors.

  11. Why aren’t more people outraged about this?

    Why aren’t republicans outraged that someone can’t yell in their own house without getting arrested? What happened to a man’s home is his castle?

    I think the racism charge has polarized everyone and blinded them to the obvious police over reach.

    If I have prove I am in my own house, I should not be able to be arrested for yelling at a police officer. simple as that.

    Obama made perfectly sensible balanced statement calling such action “stupid”.

    All the back peddling from that is “silly”. I do not comprehend the other point of view. Get race out of the equation. I’ve proven I’m in my own house, you cannot arrest me for disorderly conduct. Period. End of story. Policy officer should apologize.

    Why isn’t anyone defending our rights?

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Errington C. Thompson, MD

Dr. Thompson is a surgeon, scholar, full-time sports fan and part-time political activist. He is active in a number of community projects and initiatives. Through medicine, he strives to improve the physical health of all he treats.


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