Archive for July 21, 2009

The Gates Arrest Proves There’s Still Much Work To Be Done

Posted in Black America, Black Interests, Black Men with tags , , , on July 21, 2009 by Gary Johnson

H. Louis Gates

By Gary A. Johnson

Question:  How do you get arrested in your own house?

Answer:  Be a black man in America.

The arrest last week of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on a charge of disorderly conduct is a sobering and chilling reminder that it really doesn’t matter where you live or what position you’ve obtained in life.  If you’re a black man in America, your risk of being arrested and not being trusted is greater than most.

The charges against Henry Louis Gates, Jr. were dropped five days later.  Gates who is Director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research have been dropped, and the city of Cambridge, Mass., has apologized for the “regrettable and unfortunate” arrest.

Regrettable and unfortunate?  Wow!  I’m speechless.  This episode is resonating all over America and not just with black people.  Right minded people are looking at this incident, many in disbelief.  Every time I hear about an incident like this, I’m momentarily stunned but never surprised.  This incident is reality.  It is a sad part of the American experience.

Let’s review what we know about Professor Gates’ side of the story:

    • On July 16, 2009, Cambridge police responded to a call that two black males with backpacks were breaking in to a two-story home near the Harvard campus.
    • Gates was returning from a trip from China.
    • Upon trying to enter his home he discovered his front door was jammed.
    • Gates successfully opened his back door with his key and tried unsuccessfully from inside his home to open the front door.
    • After some effort Gates and his driver eventually forced the door open from the outside.
    • Gates was comfortably inside his home for several minutes when a police officer, Sgt. James Crowley, appeared at his steps and asked him to step outside.
    • Gates told the officer he lived in the home and showed him his Massachusetts driver’s license and Harvard University identification card.
    • The officer followed Gates into the house and explained that he had received a report of a possible break-in.
    • Gates grew frustrated that the officer was continuing to question him in his home and asked for the officer’s name and badge number.
    • Gates was handcuffed and led away.

The official police report offers a different account of the incident.  According to the report:

· Gates refused to step outside to speak with the officer.

· When Officer Crowley told Gates that he was investigating a possible break-in, Gates opened the front door and exclaimed, “Why, because I’m a black man in America?”

· The report quotes Officer Crowley saying, “While I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence, I was quite surprised and confused with the behavior he exhibited toward me.”

· The report reflected that Gates initially refused to show the officer identification, but eventually produced a Harvard identification card, prompting Crowley to radio for Harvard University Police.

· Gates followed the officer outside and continued to accuse him of racial bias.

· Crowley warned the professor twice that he was becoming disorderly.

· Gates began yelling at the officer and was arrested for “loud and tumultuous behavior in a public space.”

Who do you believe is telling the truth?  There are conflicting accounts of what happened.  There is a section in the police report where the officer wrote:  While I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence, I was quite surprised and confused with the behavior he exhibited toward me. I have no doubt that Professor Gates was beyond irritated.  In fact, I bet he was pissed off to the highest level of pisstivity.  The fact that the officer was “surprised and confused” is a clear indication to me that the cultural conditioning and life experiences of these two men were miles apart.

There is a common sense element that is missing on the part of the Police Officer and a humiliating aspect to the entire incident.  To take Dr. Gates’ cane away from him and handcuff with his hands behind his back seems a bit over the top.

Below is a statement on behalf of Dr. Gates by his attorney Charles Ogletree

This brief statement is being submitted on behalf of my client, friend, and colleague, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This is a statement concerning the arrest of Professor Gates. On July 16, 2009, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 58, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor of Harvard University, was headed from Logan airport to his home [in] Cambridge after spending a week in China, where he was filming his new PBS documentary entitled “Faces of America.” Professor Gates was driven to his home by a driver for a local car company. Professor Gates attempted to enter his front door, but the door was damaged. Professor Gates then entered his rear door with his key, turned off his alarm, and again attempted to open the front door. With the help of his driver they were able to force the front door open, and then the driver carried Professor Gates’ luggage into his home.

Professor Gates immediately called the Harvard Real Estate office to report the damage to his door and requested that it be repaired immediately. As he was talking to the Harvard Real Estate office on his portable phone in his house, he observed a uniformed officer on his front porch. When Professor Gates opened the door, the officer immediately asked him to step outside. Professor Gates remained inside his home and asked the officer why he was there. The officer indicated that he was responding to a 911 call about a breaking and entering in progress at this address. Professor Gates informed the officer that he lived there and was a faculty member at Harvard University. The officer then asked Professor Gates whether he could prove that he lived there and taught at Harvard. Professor Gates said that he could, and turned to walk into his kitchen, where he had left his wallet. The officer followed him. Professor Gates handed both his Harvard University identification and his valid Massachusetts driver’s license to the officer. Both include Professor Gates’ photograph, and the license includes his address.

Professor Gates then asked the police officer if he would give him his name and his badge number. He made this request several times. The officer did not produce any identification nor did he respond to Professor Gates’ request for this information. After an additional request by Professor Gates for the officer’s name and badge number, the officer then turned and left the kitchen of Professor Gates’ home without ever acknowledging who he was or if there were charges against Professor Gates. As Professor Gates followed the officer to his own front door, he was astonished to see several police officers gathered on his front porch. Professor Gates asked the officer’s colleagues for his name and badge number. As Professor Gates stepped onto his front porch, the officer who had been inside and who had examined his identification, said to him, “Thank you for accommodating my earlier request,” and then placed Professor Gates under arrest. He was handcuffed on his own front porch.

Professor Gates was taken to the Cambridge Police Station where he remained for approximately 4 hours before being released that evening. Professor Gates’ counsel has been cooperating with the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, and the City of Cambridge, and is hopeful that this matter will be resolved promptly. Professor Gates will not be making any other statements concerning this matter at this time.

What do you think?

Gary Johnson is the Founder & Publisher of Black Men In a popular online magazine on the Internet and the Black Men In Blog. Gary is also the author of the new book“25 Things That Really Matter In Life.”

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