Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Arrest: You're Kidding Yourself if You Don't Think Race Played a Factor

When I read the headline the other day "Harvard professor Gates arrested at Cambridge home" I was shocked. Here is a very bright individual, with a great job and national prominence being arrested. I quickly clicked on the link to find out what it was for and was even more shocked: it was for gaining entry into his own house. I knew what was coming next, and could not really blame Gates and others for saying it: race most definitely played a part in this incident.

I debated writing about this incident because I thought it was pretty clear cut. I knew the charges would not stick, and I figured people would chalk it up to what it is: a regrettable incident that most likely would never have happened had Gates been white. But some people are coming out and saying, "Oh, Gates should have just been polite to the officer and followed all of his commands, blah blah blah." Picture this scenario: you just get off a double-digit hour flight from China, you're exhausted, you get home and your front door is busted so you employ the help of your driver to help you get it open. You enter the back of the house (with your house key because, remember, you LIVE there), can't get it open from the inside and go back around to get it open from the outside. You call up the proper folks at Harvard to get your door fixed and you're probably pissed off at this point. Then a cop comes knocking on your door demanding proof that you live there.

Would this have happened if Gates were white? We'll never know, but looking at the pictures of Gates during his arrest he looks like my dad would on a day when he didn't have work, dressed in jeans and a polo. He's not dressed like a thug, nor does he look strung out or anything like that. So why did this mysterious passerby/neighbor (which, if it is a neighbor is a pretty shitty neighbor for not recognizing the resident of the house) call the police? Because she sees two black guys in the middle of a tony neighborhood trying to get a front door opened. Never mind that Gates is very well-known and highly recognizable (especially with his glasses on). Had Gates been white, at the very least this person would have thought twice about calling Cambridge Police if she even called at all.

*EDITOR'S NOTE: Having listened to the 911 tape, it seems that while the caller seemed to know that at least one of the potential intruders was not white, there is no indication that she was sure they were black, either. She also claims she was calling on behalf of a neighbor and she was merely a passerby, so while it is accurate that the caller seemed to not know the race of Gates and his driver (beyond the fact that she thought one of them might be Latino), the neighbor who apparently relayed her concern to the caller may or may not have been motivated by race.

Now let's go into the police action. Sergeant James Crowley shows up at the house, demanding ID and proof that Gates lived there, and then walked into the house uninvited by Gates. That alone would piss me off (nevermind the flight from China and the door being busted). Crowley stated in the police report, "I was quite surprised and confused with the behavior he exhibited toward me." There's nothing surprising about being pissed at the police entering your home unjustly. I take it Crowley does not have police knocking on his door demanding proof that he lives wherever he lives, so he would probably not know how it feels. Plus, the charges have been dropped and I can tell you from personal experience that when a DIS/CON is dropped it is usually because the arresting officer did not interpret the law correctly and unjustly arrested the defendant. So for Gates to be outraged that he got arrested is not far off; in fact, in my opinion, it is fully justified.

When you read the list of people coming to Gates' defense it reads like a who's who of some of the brightest intellectuals in general and in the realm of race relations (sociologically and legally) in today's world: Lawrence Bobo, Charles Ogletree, S. Allen Counter (who had his own incident with Harvard Police after being mistaken for a robbery suspect). This means that folks like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton can keep quiet because the professionals have this one. Let's recap the facts here quickly: Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested for disorderly conduct after some anonymous witness thought he was breaking into his own home, a verbal confrontation with a police officer ensued (which is not illegal), Gates was arrested for said confrontation, the charges resulting from said confrontation were dropped. Now you tell me who is in the wrong here, the person unjustly arrested or the person doing the improper arresting? Peace.

Photos - Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Harvard), Gates' arrest (Boston Globe)


  1. "Nevermind that it's the middle of the day and break-ins tend to occur at night."

    Actually, according to the FBI's crime statistics for 2007 (the most recent year for which there is a complete report) "...more residential burglaries (63.6 percent) occurred during the daytime..."