No explanation but racism

Edited 7-23-09 to add:

I'm scratching my head at why the majority of commenters seem to purposely miss this fact:

Professor Gates was ARRESTED - not warned, not admonished, but ARRESTED - IN HIS OWN HOME AFTER DISPLAYING THE IDENTIFICATION REQUESTED BY THE POLICE. There may or may not be racial overtones to the fact that someone called the cops on him, but that's not the point. The point is that in spite of the fact that he had proved to the police that he was in his own home, they arrested him.
I've been trying to put myself in a similar situation, but it's hard. Because I'm white, and have never been questioned about my place in my neighborhood, I don't know if I'd immediately turn to anger as a response. But I do know it's out of the realm of my reality that a cop would arrest me once I'd proved my place there. An admonishment or warning - yes; an arrest - no.

Another commenter said this: "If a suspect, be they black or white, gets in the face of an officer, he's going to get arrested, no matter who he has proven himself to be." For which crime was Professor Gates a suspect after he provided his ID, which is when the arrest took place? At that point, decorum and decibels were irrelevant and the police should have apologized and gone on their way. Richard Weinblatt, director of the Institute for Public Safety at Central Ohio Technical College, points out on his blog:

Bottom line: while the officer was justified in investigating a crime, he stated in his report that he was satisfied that the occupant, Professor Gates, was legally allowed to be there and that no further danger was present. That, from a law enforcement perspective, is THE key phrase. It was at that point he should have left. This became a battle of competing egos.

I think a refresher of Peggy McIntosh's White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack is in order. To those of you who are trolling for posts that share my opinion onto which to drop your comments: read that first.

* * * * * * *

Just back from a short vacation, but while I'm catching up, please go read this, along with the other reports on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University and PBS documentarian.

The charge: "loud and tumultuous behavior in a public space." Only Gates was in his own home in broad daylight.

The catalyst for the charge: "a call about a potential break-in at his home that was phoned in by a white woman."

I don't have the energy to read all the (mostly stupid) comments following the article, because I'm just plain sick to death of people rationalizing situations like this. This is racial profiling. Period.

Attention KAAN Conference attendees: Don't miss the session White Privilege: A User's Guide with John Raible, Jen Hilzinger and Mark Hagland.


johnrj08 said…
This was clearly NOT a case of racial profiling, because the caller told police that the suspect was a black. The area where this incident happened is a fairly liberal, upscale community. I find it difficult if not impossible to believe that this was a case of two racist, rogue cops deciding to harass another black man. It makes a lot more sense to me that Professor Gates was tired and cranky after his long trip, and he took it out on the police officers who had been sent to investigate a possible burglary of his home. If a suspect, be they black or white, gets in the face of an officer, he's going to get arrested, no matter who he has proven himself to be. This is a case of an angry man who felt inconvenienced and put upon by officers who were just doing their job, so he decided to turn it into a racial incident in order to get at them.
Nathan Weyer said…
This type of thing does indeed happen to white people too.

If you are abusive to a police officer who has come to make sure everything is ok, you will get in trouble. Being black does not exempt one from repercussions for one's behavior.

A simple 'yes officer, I had to break into my own home, here is my ID' would have been sufficient. If the officer had just turned around at 'oh, this person is claiming to be the owner of the house that was just broken into but does not want to show me ID', then I would be pretty pissed as a homeowner.

He should also be thanking the neighbor who called the cops for him. That person was trying to do a strange a favor and instead is being vilified as a racist.
dan said…
For me, this extremely distasteful occurrance is evidence of how quickly things can spin out of control. I've read the accounts of why there was concern of a break-in, and of the nature of the police response. Who misunderstood whom? When did somebody stop listening and being responsive and responsible? There's no doubt in my mind that racism is still pervasive in this country and that people are judged or categorized by their appearance, though I'm not sure that happened here. What I do know for sure, is that this could and should have been resolved quickly and calmly, but instead became a national embarassment.

Lesson for me: ears open, eyes open, mind open. And if someone makes a mistake about me, I need to understand why it was made and how I can help resolve it. That is true whether I'm the cop in this scenario, or the homeowner.
David said…
No explanation but racism? Of course there is. The comments so far explain it very well. Mr. Gates was being a jerk and showing attitude, for whatever reason,and would not show police his ID which would have cleared the whole thing up. The original article at CNN was inflammatory and irresponsible. If he had treated them with the respect they deserved, and had not created a scene, he would not have been arrested for causing a disturbance. He brought it on himself. Maybe the trip to jail in handcuffs taught him to be more respectful toward police.
Margie said…
Just a couple of observations:

Johnrj08: I see racial profiling in this situation because of the way the police handled it. The police have an obligation to identify themselves, and this officer refused to do that. As much as you find it difficult to believe this was a case of rogue cops, I find it difficult to believe the cops would have handled the situation the same way if the individual in question had been white.

Nathan: First, I'm going to presume here that you are white. If I'm correct, then I would simply respond and say that it's very easy for white people to take evaluate situations like this as discrete events because they aren't the norm for us. But if you are African American and you know that encounters with the law even when you are innocent can present a real threat to your security, then Professor Gates' heated reaction becomes far more understandable. You may want to check into the case of Amadou Diallo to understand what I mean.

Dan, thank you. Always wise, you are :)
Margie said…
David, consider the charges pressed against Professor Gates - "disorderly conduct" or some such thing - were made while he was standing on his own porch AFTER he had presented he identification, which clearly showed he was in his own home.

But the cops still cuffed him and brought him downtown. There's no question in my mind that they wouldn't have done that to you. They might have given you a warning, tried to calm you down, but no way would you have gone downtown from your own home.
Anonymous said…
Third Mom,

You are pretty darn foolish. Apparently, you have never been to Cambridge, MA, or as we Bostonians refer to it, the People's Republic of Cambridge. They are not only attune to racial discrimination and profiling; they are scared to death to incur the label of a racist. The Professor was not acting appropriately in the face of a police response. The fact that the charges were dropped was completely appropriate, and the issue should and would have been a nullity if the press didn't get a hold of it and stir the pot.
Addie Pray said…
As a nice white lady, I'm pretty sure that was racism. The police would never have done that to me in the same situation. Not even if I was "acting inappropriately" (which I might have been if accused of breaking into my own house).

That's the test of this thing.

The police would have waited for me to calm down after I proved I lived there, then apologized for making my day difficult. Trust me.
David said…
Margie, I don't mean to be rude, but how can you possibly honestly believe that the 'white' officers arrested him because he was 'black'. Not only that, after Mr. Gates asked the officer who he was, which was evident, the officer identified himself, and said they where there investigating a possible break-in, at which time Mr.Gates flipped down the race card, and while opening the door said, "why, cause I'm a black man in America?" Oh, and by they way, from your comment about how you think in a similar situation that I would not have been arrested, you must be assumming I'm White. Is that correct? If so, why would you? Mr.Gates needed to be humbled. Mr. Gates showed attitude from the very beginning. He had no reason to ask the officer for his name and badge number. Then when the officer didnt give it to him when he wanted it, he accused the officer of being a racist. As far as I'm concerend Mr. Gates is an arrogant jerk. The police made the right call. Maybe next time the police asked for his ID, he will say 'YES SIR, here it is sir.'
Anonymous said…

Your ability to declare this racial without gathering all the facts shows your bias, and your inability to critically think about an issue.

It had nothing to do with race.

The professor was belligerent and smearing the police officer with unwarranted accusations of racism; thus, the arrest for disorderly conduct.

The police officer was taking the proper steps to ensure the identity, which is logical since he was answering a report for a breaking and entering.

The professor's playing the race card is shameful, and detracts from others who have truely had to deal with racial biases.

Havard should take action against the professor for drawing such negative attention to their school.

One final note.....President Obama admitted that he didn't have all the facts, but that the police "acted stupidly".

When he gets all the facts, I hope he is humble enough to give the police an should you.

Very respectfully,
Margie said…
I'm scratching my head at why the commenters seem to purposely miss this fact:

Professor Gates was arrested IN HIS OWN HOME AFTER DISPLAYING THE REQUESTED IDENTIFICATION. The racial overtones (and in my opinion they're pretty darned obvious) stem less from the often-repeated comment made here that someone called the cops on him (although that puzzles me, since the call was made by a neighbor) or from his loud disagreement with the police; THEY STEM FROM THE FACT THAT HE WAS ARRESTED AFTER PROVIDING THE REQUIRED ID.

Anonymous: I have been to Cambridge. And YOU are pretty darned foolish if you think being in a liberal environment stops racial harassment.

Anonymous Carl: "The professor was belligerent [IN HIS OWN HOME] and smearing the police officer [Smearing? Are you suggesting that Americans are expected to welcome uninvited police intrusions into their homes?] with unwarranted accusations of racism; thus, the arrest for disorderly conduct [IN HIS OWN HOME AFTER HE PROVIDED THE REQUESTED IDENTIFICATION. REGARDLESS OF HOW LOUDLY HE MIGHT HAVE PROTESTED, HE MET THE LETTER OF THE LAW AT THAT POINT. THE ARREST WAS UNWARRANTED AND WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED HAD HE BEEN WHITE.]

Do you think for one moment that a cop would have hauled in a white man from this affluent suburb after he provided the requested ID? Do cops make it a regular policy to haul in white folks from loud parties in neighborhoods like that? No, they leave their warnings, break it up, and tell them to go home. You're viewing what happened to Professor Gates through privileged white eyes. I think a refresher in Peggy McIntosh's "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" is in order. Have you read it? Please do - critically.
BWaters said…
This was not racism. Read the police report, after seeing ID and proof of residence.THE POLICE WERE LEAVING when Gates followed them outside and made insulting comments to the officers that were there to make sure his property and or life was not in danger. This was not the first time Gates' house had been "broken into". The call was first made when a neighbor saw him "jimmying" the door and forcing it open with his shoulder. Turns out that the door was still not repaired from a previous burglary.

Why has Gates not said that the police are lying in the report that states he was disturbing the peace? Or maybe its just easier to cry racist than to admit fault or even be greatful for the concern of neighbors and police that were looking out for him. Atleast now he can make a fortune on talk shows and book deals, what a perfect scenario for a professor of African American studies to be the "victim" of a race crime.

Did he even care to mention that by the time he was arrested there were numerous bystanders (witnesses) and other non-white officers on the scene that would and could have backed the professors story?

If the police came to my house to check the well being of my family I would happily show ID, tell them if anyone else was home and invite them to check the property without hesitation.

Thats the other part nobody on these sights mentions, Gates was UNCOOPERATIVE from the start. Not showibg ID and NOT telling police if anyone else was in the house. How is Gates just the victim when by all accounts by everyone else Gates was the agressor
BWaters said…
Margie, you couldn't be more misinformed. The officer was in uniform and identified himself as a police officer. It was Gates that refused to identify himself as the owner/resident of the house. The police were leaving after he finally showed ID and that there was no burglary. Gates followed them outside into public view taunting the police like a child. Thats why he went to jail. Get the facts right first.

By the way, notice the BLACK officer in the picture leading Gates away.
Larry said…

It amazes me that you can make statements that directly conflict what was reported to have actually happened. You start out saying "he wasn't warned" which he was numerous times.

His neighbor called the police and reported there were two men possibly breaking into a home and he responded in uniform to the scene. The police sargent was the first officer arriving and he was alone. He's also married with two young children and needed to make sure he was safe. Asking Gates for ID and if he was alone (remember the neighbor reported TWO people) was most certainly nothing out of line. You seem to be painting a picture of a rogue police officer who just pulled up in front of Gates' house and decided to roust him.

Did you know the officer was hand picked by a senior black police official to teach a racial profiling awareness class??

Did you take the time to read that when the police placed him in the cruiser, they asked him how they could secure the front door and he said that due to a recent break-in the door could not be secured???

Here's an idea for you.

Read some on it. Factual accounts from witness's. Not foolish crap you feel like spewing. There have been countless victims of racism in many walks of life and societies. To equate this incident in any way with what those poor souls endured is a irreponsible insult.

Please, get a clue!
BWaters said…
Sgt Crowley was also the first person to respond performing mouth to mouth CPR on Reggie Lewis (who was black) of the Boston Celtics when he had heart failure on the court at Brandeis University
rosemary said…
BWaters, just because a cop performs their sworn lifesaving duty on an African American celebrity in a crowd does not indicate they are not working through latent issues of racism. Racism is not the failure to give someone air when they are suffocating - that is another charge altogether. Racism is when a situation is handled differently than it would have been if the person involved is of color instead of white. I refuse to believe that this situation would have been handled in this manner had Professer Gates been white.
BWaters said…

What do you think would have happened if Gates had answered the officers basic questions like "do you have ID" or "is there anyone else in the house" without attitude and cooperated in the first place?

If any person white, black, red, orange etc... had behaved in such an ignorant way they would be arrested too.

I have seen white people taken away for far less than what Gates did. By all WITNESS accounts the police were leaving when Gates followed them out the door taunting police and talking about Sgt Crowleys mother in a bad way.
Nice way for a Harvard professor to make a spectacle of himself looking for a confrontation.

I guess what I'm trying to say is... pull your head out of the sand and get the facts right before you project your prejudice response on other people too.

Its so sad that anytime a person is accused of being a racist its final and its true no matter what the facts may support. Its igorant self-righteous people like Gates that keep the race issue going by crying wolf when the police were trying to do their jobs.
Larry said…

For your information, EMT's and emergency personnel such as fire and police have rarley administered mouth to mouth since the discovery of AIDS in this country. SOP is to use a breathing bag and not risk getting blood or other bodily fluids in your eyes and taking the risk of getting AIDS or Hepititis.

Does this prove someone is not a racist? Not neccessarily, but the police report on the Gates situation speaks for itself and I've seen no one, including Gates dispute what was reported.

Gates is a senior Staff member at Harvard and he no doubt feels a sense of entitlement. He acted like a fool by many of the accounts we've heard and read about.

It doesn't matter what color you are, if a Police officer asks you to come outside and you tell him "I'll see your momma outside" you're looking for trouble.

It's an idiotic thing to do. It's much like yelling at a cop for pulling you over for speeding and saying "I'm a taxpayer and I pay your salary". It's moronic.

Considering that neighborhood had experienced 9 breakins so far in 2009 and Gates' house WAS ONE OF THEM just a couple of weeks ago, what were the police supposed to do? Ignore the call?

Gates should grow up and stop watering down actual racism with his foolishness and Obama should issue an apology for the damage he's caused.
Larry said…

I was supporting your comments but when I read the "for your info" part in my post, I see how it may not blook that way.

We are in total agreement on this issue.
BWaters said…
No offense taken Larry. I said mouth to mouth because I heard Sgt Crowleys interview live on WEEI Boston I think Tuesday or Wednsday and he said he did not have a breather mask or anything else available at the time. You can hear the entire interview at
Margie said…
A couple of clarifications; a response will follow in a separate post.

To commenters who take from this post that I have called Sgt. Crowley a racist: read again. I have made no statements at all about Sgt. Crowley, his racial attitudes or his character. For the record, I do not buy the charges of "rogue cop" that some have made. What I said and what I believe is that this is a case of racial profiling, which can occur because of institutionalized behaviors, as well as individual racism.

At the moment, I'm not sure my use the term "racial profiling" is accurate, which I'll post about separately. Regardless, my point remains the same:

Race was a factor in this arrest. Had Dr. Gates been white, the situation would have ended differently, and not with an arrest.

Re Larry's comment regarding warnings: when I say "warning" or "admonishment," I mean a formal warning, e.g. a citation or ticket.
Margie said…
One additional thought:

BWaters demands that I dig for the facts. He puts forward the accounts of "witness's" [sic] and chosen statements from the police report (here's a link to the report so readers can form their own opinions, but he doesn't even mention that Dr. Gates might have a different perspective.

Here's a link to Dr. Gates own account:
BWaters said…

Whether you have a different perspective than an officer or not you still must do as they ask for your safety and theirs.

How should they approach a possible B&E? Should they have brought coffee and the newspaper? An officer must be assertive and suspiscious of everyone.

I've seen plenty of white people taken away for far less than what Gates did. If he had just let them leave and not followed them out, by Gates' own admission he would not have gone to jail. He did nothing more than make a bad situation worse. What if Sgt Crowley was black? Would an African American studies professor still cry racism? Or is it just Prof Gates trying to make a big deal by saying " look what happens to the black man in America" to anyone who will listen. Bottom line is if you mouth off to a police officer you are gonna get cuffed. White, black or whatever you are.

But for Obama (who I voted for and still support) to say in one breath that "police were stupid" and in the next breath to say " I don't know all the facts" is totally irresponsible as President of the United States and did nothing more than make this even worse.
Margie said…
BWaters, just read Dr. Gates account and think about it. I'm too tired right now to argue with you, and I'm sure as heck not going to tolerate any more of your misattributions. Nowhere in this or any other post have I suggested that I disrespect the police, nor do I say that Dr. Gates' behavior was exemplary. And I certainly haven't defended Obama's comment. All I know is that after having responded to all your comments, I expect him to invite me to the White House for a beer, too.

That last line is supposed to be a joke.

This isn't though, it's a useful tool in developing anti-racist behaviors - adding this for everyone:
BWaters said…

I never suggested anything about your opinions about police.

I did take the time to read the links you sent back of Gates' account and it still seems to me that he was the one looking for a race related confrontation. I understand that we are not going to change each others opinion on this issue[
Larry said…
Yeah BWaters, I heard the interview that morning too. What I meant (and did a poor job conveying) was that he performed mouth to mouth and that indicates at least a "caution to the wind" attitude when trying to save Lewis' life. It is (in the age of AIDS)risky when you don't know what a person could give you.

He said in that interview that he responded and had know idea it was Reggie lewis, only that it was someone who needed dire help.

As stated earlier, the cop was hand picked by the former Police Commissioner WHO IS BLACK and has taught and lectured as AN EXPERT in racial profiling. There were other black Officers and neighbors interviewed and no one disputes the officers version.

Gates hasn't even disputed the story.

Now Obama's invited them both to the White House.

Hey Mr President, "wanna get away?".

It's refreshing to see most people understand this and sad to see someone trivialize the victims of actual racisim while, at the same time smearing the reputation of someone who works to help fight against it.
LilySea said…
Ugh. Sorry Margie. I'm getting some nonsense for my strollerderby post on this too.
Margie said…
Larry, pointing out subtle instances of racism doesn't trivialize more egregious and obvious examples of it. Racism exists in many forms and on many levels. Additionally, you hold up Sgt. Crowley's OTJ training on racial profiling of as proof positive of his benevolence, but dismiss Dr. Gates, who is a black man who has lived racism, as well as a professor whose entire career has focused on its study.

Larry, I really do want to hear your explanation for your Reggie Lewis comment, though. When you do, you will no doubt bear in mind that HIV isn't transmitted through saliva "Please, get a clue!"

But I'll give you this: if your goal here is to use every dialog-derailing tactic in the book, you're on a roll; see Derailing for Dummies to see what I mean

Popular Posts