Monday, July 20, 2009

Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s Arrest: Wary of White Cop at Door

See all H.L. Gates posts at this blog through this link, including President Obama's response and my thoughts on Officer James Crowley's reasoning that he's not a racist because he gave a black basketball star CPR once.

News of Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s arrest came to my attention in email today from another blogger via a story:
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. (
The first thing I thought about after hearing the news was the incident in which the white Oklahoma state trooper choked the black EMT against the side of the ambulance while he and his partner were taking a woman to the hospital, Choked for Challenging.

And then I thought of what fellow blogger RevvyRev said on my first post about the EMT being jacked up:
I don't know yet whether this is another police gone wild issue or if it is the manifestation of the rapidly expanding "Negroes have no titles, positions, authority, competencies, or professional designations or duties" club that is becoming more and more visible in this country. (RevvyRev also blogs at The Certain Sound)
I hadn't really thought of the choking incident in terms of black men being slapped down for having titles and authority until I saw his comment in May, which I quote for the second time in a post.

My take on the choking incident was that black men, no matter who they are or what their status, aren't allowed to challenge white police officers, which I suppose is similar to saying black people aren't allowed to have titles, authority, or clout. My thoughts on the Gates incident are the same, that some police officers feel the need to put black people, black men in particular, "in their place." Uppity Negroes in particular must be squashed and humiliated:
He (Gates) 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. (
I imagine Gates was mad as hell at being ordered out of his residence, and as some of us have realized, black people are not allowed to express anger or disappointment. We're supposed to express only undying gratitude for the success we've been allowed to achieve after having been brought here in chains. See Michelle Obama as angry black woman lambasted for not being "really" proud of America until she saw how people of all races embraced her husband on the campaign trail.

It seems the Gates incident started out as an investiagtion of a potential break-in reported by a white neighbor at Gates's home near Harvard Square, according to the police report and other sources. And if the officer's version of the incident can be trusted, he asked Gates to step out of his home and answer some questions. Gates, without provocation, according the officer, accused him of being a racist police officer.

If the officer is telling the truth, then it sounds like Gates was possibly behaving like someone with paranoia based on personal experience. At first glance, most people would wonder why didn't Gates just step outside and answer the questions. However, if you've been worried about how police treat black men, you'd resist stepping outside to talk to a police officer. You might assume if you step outside, you'll be treated not like a witness but like a suspect. Did the police officer then validate Gates's beliefs by how he handled the situation, eventually arresting Gates even after he knew Gates was an elderly Harvard professor at his own home?

The weirdest thing is the officer seems to have arrested Gates at his own home for loudly voicing his opinions even after the officer was convinced Gates was who he said he was. It seems he arrested Gates for making a scene and calling him a racist police officer.

Read the police report obtained by and the full story. I'm short on time today, and probably have a lot more to say, but can't right now. As usual with these sorts of stories, don't read the comments section at unless you have Valium or shots of vodka nearby.

Update: Field Negro has posted part of the statement from Prof. Gates's attorney, Charles Ogletree, as posted at with a much more detailed account of the Gates incident. Gates is also The Root's editor-in-chief. Here is part of the statement:
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. (Gates's statement from his attorney at
This story is very different from the police report that I linked to earlier, as would be expected.

But even if the police officer were telling the truth, the officer's story attempting to justify himself is still weird. He arrested a man at his own house for expressing anger by the officer's account, which is the justification the Oklahoma trooper clung to, saying the EMT made a hand gesture at him.

You may also read the tweets on this topic using the Twitter hashtag #skipGates, where another professor commented that had it been Cornel West, who is a professor at Princeton and used to be at Harvard, ... maybe ...

Gates doesn't have the reputation of loud protest.


ByJane said...

Shit! And other deleted expletives. Gates will probably be able to get some sort of apology, because he is Gates. Just imagine the guy who has that experience who isn't a known public figure.

Mildred said...

I must object to the tweet.

These officers knew nothing of Cornel West's or Skip Gates's reputation. And even if Gates had a "reputation" and they knew about it, how would racial profiling be justified? If this unnamed colleague believes that reputation had something to do with this,he or she might want to consider that reputation clearly didn't insulate Gates.

I can't let the insinuation that these things only happen to bad - loudmouthed, nonsubmissive, defiant - Negroes stand. Even if meant lightheartedly, there is too much history.

Harold Michael Harvey said...

I hope Dr. Gates stand trial for this unfortunate incident. We need another Rosa Park to put the issue of racial profiling on the front burner.

Dr. Gates has a First Amendment right to express his outrage at being disrespected in his home.

I know it is hard for white boys to be lectured to by a Harvard History professor.

I'm planning to be in Cambridge for the trial of Dr. Gates. I hope he takes the police and this issue and place them both at the forefront of the American conscience.

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

Thank you, Mildred. The colleague is named. That's her picture with her tweet. Melissa Harris-Lacewell is Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University.

She is not saying that she doesn't believe it happened or that it would be justified if it were Cornel West or if Gates was loud and protesting. She's saying that she doesn't believe the police officer's story of how it went down. Period.

Nobody is saying it only happens to loud-mouthed defiant Negroes. What's being said, in my post at least, is that black men/women are not even allowed to speak up for themselves in the eyes of some officers. Whether you do so respectfully or not, they don't think you have a right to object. And also, we have the same right as anybody else to be loud-mouthed and defiant if we want to be, especially in our own homes, which is where Gates was, minding his own business. The officer admits he knew Gates had not broken into his own home and that it was Gates's house. Sounds like he arrested Gates because Gates showed he would report him to the Chief of Police. Would he have done that to a white Harvard Professor who questioned his actions?

This was strictly a cop thinking a black man had no right to threaten to report him. Straight up old school racism with a heavy dose of testosterone poisoning.

Thank you, Harold. Yes, I think it doesn't matter what Gates said. He's allowed to show his anger, if he did in fact show anger, just like anybody else in this country. I believe Gates's statement from his lawyer. I think if Gates called the officer a "racist," he did so after the officer refused to give his name and badge number, and he had a right to his opinion. I think the officer is lying to protect his own rear end.

I wish Gates could sue for defamation of character.

Jane, You're probably right. He'll get an apology, but this happens to black men repeatedly who never get apologies. The assumption is, well, you didn't do this crime but you must have done something else.

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

Could be the officer is not only racist but also mad at all "uppity Negroes" at Harvard. Michelle and Barack Obama, after all, graduated from Harvard Law. Could it be backlash from one officer resenting black Ivy Leaguers being the White House?

Blue State Cowgirl said...

THere's an epidemic of this going around. White Male Rage? I see this incident as the same as the Sotomayor hearings where a McCain supporter felt he could talk to this accomplished woman as if he were dressing down a teenager, telling her to get Anger Management. She answered him with calm and dignity, which was the best way to put him in his place. But a part of me wanted her to haul off and slap him.

RiPPa said...

I loved the way you tied in the Oklahoma EMT story in this post. I think it's significance in relation to the Gates story is profound. Profound in that we don't even know that broter's name but we know Gates. It's enigmatic when you think of how these two worlds can be and were subjected to such an abuse of authority with the common denominator being the color of skin. said...

Hi Nordette!

I am glad that I read this post because I was just discussing this at another blog and there was a different version of events that was being discussed!

The officer was NOT permitted to enter his home without permission of the owner. Gates should have closed the door and then went to the kitchen. When Gates knew that the officer had stepped into his home, he should have stopped him.

Aren't there laws that police officers HAVE to wear a police badge? Why didn't Dr. Gates just look at the badge on his uniform?

I am not sure WHY the reputation of Gates matters at all...any person deserves fair treatment. Many people seem to express outrage that this happened to a "prominent" black... AS IF they are more entitled to respectful treatment than the random black?


Also...why does a black man have to PROVE where he works? It's not a crime to be unemployed! All Gates needed to do was prove that it was HIS home!

Secondly... this incident....the report is accurate reflects how foolishly black men are with police. If Gates was smart, he would have saved the "you are racist" speech for the report that he was filing with the sargeant who he should have called to the scene...rather than wasting his time informing a peon about his opinion of him!

Any black person has a legal right to call 911 and say "I am here with an officer who refuses to identify himself and I am requesting a supervising officer to arrive on the scene while I wait." This call will be recorded.

After THAT no further conversation should have occurred. Gates should have just stood there WITH his cell phone on so that all background noise would be on tape.

Do we take this approach? No. We do not.

I just presented last week about how black folks do not know how to address racist incidents... I am not blaming the victim... I am just wondering WHY we still don't know how to handle racist cops!!

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

Morra said...

No one should have to apologize for his behavior in his own home.
Boston Police have a long and checkered reputation-- but a newcomer to Cambridge, I can't believe this happened.