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


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

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4 Responses to “The Gates Arrest Proves There’s Still Much Work To Be Done”

  1. Absolutely no one should be surprised of how these types of incidents occur day in and day out in America. These people knew who Professor Gates was. It was merely an attempt to humilate him, ruin his reputation and belittle his dignity as an American Citizen and World Reknown Author, Lecturer and Professor.

    Recently, I personally have experienced extreme racism in Arizona when authorities continue to allow a buisness identity thief and copyright infringer to get away with peddling a counterfeit of one of my copyrighted sports photo-posters as white men earn millions from the sale and distribution of my creative work. I have been repeatedly to law authorities on every level for help and have been denied equal protection under the law by the FBI, Arizona Attorney General, The United States District Attorney in Phoenix and local, county, and state agencies and have been to the media as well.

    There is a double-standard in America that controls the way Justice is dispensed and who gets adequate legal representation. What baffles me the most, is that these things happen over and over and when questioned about their police abuse of power, they get amnesia, concoct lies, distort the facts, and look for scapegoats.

    Most white men are in denial about their crimes against humanity all across the globe, since the conquistadors set sail from Europe. We cannot continue to put up with this insanity like we have in the past. Either we live or we die in defense of our rights as American citizens or continue to get shafted, as we contribute to make this country live up to the true meaning of its Constitution.

    The United States are divided and will never be a true democracy unless White America truly repents and turns around from their evil and systematic racial double-standard behaviors. Furthermore, their denial of their racism borders on insanity and is a direct result of why this country is falling down into the abyss at a rapid pace. When they “man-up” to their ignorance and stupidity, maybe things will start to change, but until then, expect more of the same.

  2. Jeff the Interpreter Says:

    My TV in our bedroom is on a hiatus (broken), so for about a week I’ve gone
    to sleep and awaken without the benefit of opinions, infomercials,
    commentaries, ad-hoc diatribes, fair and balanced, and the all around main
    stream media. When I got a taste of “My” President’s press conference it
    was a deliberate effort, straight – no chaser. The last question posed to
    the First African/American President was about the arrest of Harvard
    Professor Henry Louis Gates. Would George Bush been given that question,
    Hell-to-da-No! Some how the degrees of separation between a Harvard trained
    law graduate and a African American Studies scholar was too juicy to pass
    up.

    So now let the feasting begin, Henry L. Gates had every right to respond to
    the police officers the way he did. The results of his out burst is his own
    personal business. He has every right to be upset and every right to react
    any way he pleases. Why? because he has paid his taxes, he owns his
    property and the police works for him and every tax payer. What??? the
    police works for Henry Gates? Yes! If the police can approach a White
    person with deference that perhaps this is a misunderstanding, a situation
    requiring their inquiry, a none threatening circumstances which by all
    observation it is. Then in fact Henry Gates desires and demands the same.

    The motto in some law enforcement logos are these words: To Serve and
    Protect. Noble enough concept unless they are serving others and they are
    protecting society from you. Henry Louis Gates was not, I repeat, NOT a
    threat. A seasoned police officer should have seen that from the time they
    pulled up on the curb. Don’t give me that perhaps their lives were on the
    line or feed me the line that police work is full of peril, police officers
    should live for the choice moments of non-confrontational events where they
    can approach as person as a public servant. If Professor Gates wants to be
    upset, give him his space and ask how they can be of help. If Professor
    Gates is irate, speak in a calm voice and stay the hell off his property
    unless invited. Probable Cause??? people please!

    Now to my President, Hip hip hurray. Less you get it twisted White America,
    President Obama is a Black man, born Black, lived Black and will I hope at
    the ripe old age of 999, die Black. His statement could be look at from two
    perspectives, an intruder gaining access into a building without the
    appearance of proper access or a Black man who knows that the first reaction
    will be suspicion and immediate force. You, White American choose the
    latter to be offended and ignore the reality of today just because we have
    collectively voted for a “President who happens to be Black” and that the
    rub for many folks. They want Barack Obama to “happen to be Black” kinda
    Michael Steele-ish. A necessary inconvenience. A footnote in the annals of
    power and authority. A tag line to assay fear and intimidation. “Oh don’t
    mind him, he’s one of the good ones”, “I don’t notice color”, “every one is
    equal”, “wow, he doesn’t act Black”.

    Whenever President Obama is confronted with a challenge to the office he now
    holds, anytime a perspective from the White media is brought to bear,
    anytime some Senator raise his eyebrows in question of his authority. My
    chest inflates a little wider, my head is held a little higher, my eyes
    twinkle with these words from Barack Obama; Yet, I am the President of the
    United States.

    Ladies and Gentlemen as I close let me introduce to you a man who’s father
    is a native of Kenya and mother born in Kansas. He was born in Hawaii,
    educated in America and abroad, graduated from one of the most prestigious
    universities in the world, top of his class and editor of the Harvard Law
    Review. Went to Chicago to help displaced factory workers, ran for Senator
    and won and in less than two years ran for the President of the United
    States and won!

    Ladies and Gentlemen I give you Barack Hussein Obama, President of the
    United State, oops did I mention that he is BLACK!

  3. Bob Hunt Says:

    I am not going to ramble on but to the statements related to common sense and dealing with the public as a police officer. Policies and Procedures that apply to all people are in place to protect the officers, of all colors, and the public, of all colors, and social status.
    Respect is earned my pap always said, except in the case of police officers. Give them the benefit of respect and you’ll do better in all situations. Words to live by.

  4. What do I think?

    I think that you are (were) making the same mistake as President Obama and making judgment calls without being aware of all the available information.

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

    Gate’s own testimony corroborates this. . .

    All of a sudden, there was a policeman on my porch. And I thought, ‘This is strange.’ So I went over to the front porch still holding the phone, and I said ‘Officer, can I help you?’ And he said, ‘Would you step outside onto the porch.’ And the way he said it, I knew he wasn’t canvassing for the police benevolent association. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I realized that I was in danger. And I said to him no, out of instinct. I said, ‘No, I will not.’

    :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?”

    Gates testimony corroborates this except for the timing.

    It escalated as follows: I kept saying to him, ‘What is your name, and what is your badge number?’ and he refused to respond. I asked him three times, and he refused to respond. And then I said, ‘You’re not responding because I’m a black man, and you’re a white officer.’ That’s what I said. He didn’t say anything. He turned his back to me and turned back to the porch. And I followed him. I kept saying, “I want your name, and I want your badge number.”

    :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.”

    A Harvard professor was behaving in a rather uncivilized manner.

    :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.

    This is largely corroborated by Gates’ own testimony and the now released police recordings.

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

    Gates version is close enough – He turned his back to me and turned back to the porch. And I followed him. I kept saying, “I want your name, and I want your badge number.” It looked like an ocean of police had gathered on my front porch. There were probably half a dozen police officers at this point. The *mistake* I made was I stepped onto the front porch and asked one of his colleagues for his name and badge number. And when I did, the same officer said, ‘Thank you for accommodating our request. You are under arrest.’ And he handcuffed me right there.

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

    Gates makes no mention of this and makes it seem that he was arrested the second he stepped out on the porch.

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

    Other police officers, independent witnesses with no reason to be biased against Gates assert that he was shouting loudly. The photo of Gates on his porch with his mouth wide open looking very much like someone shouting at the top of his lungs tends to support that testimony.

    :Who do you believe is telling the truth?

    Both Sgt. Crowley and Gates are telling the truth for much of the above AFAIAC. Gates omits some details. In other testimony Gates says things that are misleading and possibly even outright false. For example he has repeatedly claimed that he was physically incapable of shouting and yelling on the day of his arrest.

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