Monday, July 20, 2009

Worse than Ben Lyons: Cambridge police

"Driving While Black" is a "crime" for which many African-Americans are pulled over. To this we can add the "crimes" of "Swimming While Black" (from a recent incident in Philadelphia) and "Breaking into your own house while Black." To make matters worse for the Cambridge police, the victim of this racial profiling is Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a highly respected Harvard professor.

BOSTON — Police responding to a call about "two black males" breaking into a home near Harvard University ended up arresting the man who lives there – Henry Louis Gates Jr., the nation's pre-eminent black scholar.

Gates had forced his way through the front door because it was jammed, his lawyer said. Colleagues call the arrest last Thursday afternoon a clear case of racial profiling.

Cambridge police say they responded to the well-maintained two-story home after a woman reported seeing "two black males with backpacks on the porch," with one "wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry."

By the time police arrived, Gates was already inside. Police say he refused to come outside to speak with an officer, who told him he was investigating a report of a break-in.

"Why, because I'm a black man in America?" Gates said, according to a police report written by Sgt. James Crowley. The Cambridge police refused to comment on the arrest Monday.

Gates – the director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research – initially refused to show the officer his identification, but then gave him a Harvard University ID card, according to police.

"Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him," the officer wrote.

Gates said he turned over his driver's license and Harvard ID – both with his photos – and repeatedly asked for the name and badge number of the officer, who refused. He said he then followed the officer as he left his house onto his front porch, where he was handcuffed in front of other officers, Gates said in a statement released by his attorney, fellow Harvard scholar Charles Ogletree, on a Web site Gates oversees,
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He was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge after police said he "exhibited loud and tumultuous behavior." He was released later that day on his own recognizance. An arraignment was scheduled for Aug. 26.

Gates, 58, also refused to speak publicly Monday, referring calls to Ogletree.

"He was shocked to find himself being questioned and shocked that the conversation continued after he showed his identification," Ogletree said.

Ogletree declined to say whether he believed the incident was racially motivated, saying "I think the incident speaks for itself."

Some of Gates' African-American colleagues say the arrest is part of a pattern of racial profiling in Cambridge.

Allen Counter, who has taught neuroscience at Harvard for 25 years, said he was stopped on campus by two Harvard police officers in 2004 after being mistaken for a robbery suspect. They threatened to arrest him when he could not produce identification.

"We do not believe that this arrest would have happened if professor Gates was white," Counter said. "It really has been very unsettling for African-Americans throughout Harvard and throughout Cambridge that this happened."

The Rev. Al Sharpton is vowing to attend Gates' arraignment.

"This arrest is indicative of at best police abuse of power or at worst the highest example of racial profiling I have seen," Sharpton said. "I have heard of driving while black and even shopping while black but now even going to your own home while black is a new low in police community affairs."

Ogletree said Gates had returned from a trip to China on Thursday with a driver, when he found his front door jammed. He went through the back door into the home – which he leases from Harvard – shut off an alarm and worked with the driver to get the door open. The driver left, and Gates was on the phone with the property's management company when police first arrived.

Ogletree also disputed the claim that Gates, who was wearing slacks and a polo shirt and carrying a cane, was yelling at the officer.

"He has an infection that has impacted his breathing since he came back from China, so he's been in a very delicate physical state," Ogletree said.

Lawrence D. Bobo, the W.E.B Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard, said he met with Gates at the police station and described his colleague as feeling humiliated and "emotionally devastated."

"It's just deeply disappointing but also a pointed reminder that there are serious problems that we have to wrestle with," he said.

Bobo said he hoped Cambridge police would drop the charges and called on the department to use the incident to review training and screening procedures it has in place.

The Middlesex district attorney's office said it could not do so until after Gates' arraignment. The woman who reported the apparent break-in did not return a message Monday.

Gates joined the Harvard faculty in 1991 and holds one of 20 prestigious "university professors" positions at the school. He also was host of "African American Lives," a PBS show about the family histories of prominent U.S. blacks, and was named by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential Americans in 1997.

"I was obviously very concerned when I learned on Thursday about the incident," Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust said in a statement. "He and I spoke directly and I have asked him to keep me apprised."

Originally posted at The Huffington Post


Anonymous said...

Your are such an idiot. Think rationally for a second and wait for the whole story. Don't let the white guilt get you down, their are plenty of terrible white's for you to hate, and please do, they are terrible.

Scott said...

Cambridge has dropped the charges and said that the arrest was "regrettable and unfortunate." Can't say I was jumping to any conclusions by posting this.

confused girl said...

So was this posted as worse than Ben Lyons because of the professor or the police? Or both?

Scott said...

As the title of the post suggests, the Cambridge police are worse than Ben Lyons.

Brian said...

If I ever move to Cambridge and the police see me breaking into my own home, I'm going to:

1. Tell them it is my house.

2. Show them an i.d. with my address on it.

3. Thank them for looking out for my property.

Anonymous is right, that was not one of your more enlightened posts.

Scott said...

From what I have heard, Gates did in fact:

1. Tell the cops it was his house.

And, after a little bit of arguing and maybe some shouting,

2. Show him his ID with his address on it.

He did not, as you say, thank the officer. Perhaps the cop was even treated rudely. But after returning home from a very long flight from China to find that your stupid front door is stuck and you have to break it just to get in, and then having to deal with a cop, you just might be really annoyed, too.

Last time I heard, shouting at somebody from inside your own house when you want them to go away is not a crime. But the cops still handcuffed him and dragged him to jail.

Frankly, if this happened to me, or somebody I knew, I would be pretty annoyed, regardless of the race of the people involved.

TCS2013 said...

Oh come on. Are we still on this whole thing about black people being targeted and unfairly treated by police? At this point, it's nothing more than a tiresome cliche.

Inspector Clouseau said...

We have three observations about the Harvard professor incident:

1. We find it interesting that the fact that this was the professor's home was evidently not established early on way before the dispute escalated;

2. We find it fascinating that the versions of two members of society, who most would ordinarily view as responsible and honest citizens (this obviously does not include politicians), would vary so dramatically from a factual point of view.

3. Finally, considering that the reading and viewing public were not present at the scene (and thus have no first hand knowledge), and that there is no video tape to our knowledge of the sequence of events and what was said, how so many have formed conclusions, and made assumptions, about who did what and who was wrong.

There are some things which Professor Gates might have considered upon the arrival of the police, no matter how incensed he may have been.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I should not have called you an idiot. Should have taken my own advice and took a second to be more articulate.

Anonymous said...

Well, you look like a big idiot on this one right now, don't you?

Scott said...

If you really believe that, then you should read the police report on the arrest:

The officer admits that a) he believed Gates lived in the house when he arrested him, and b) when he found out that Gates worked at Harvard he called the Harvard police for assistance! It is not at all clear why that was necessary.

On the other hand, it is not at all clear in the report that Gates broke any laws, which is why Cambridge dropped the charges.

Jason said...

It's old news by now, but keep in mind that under Massachusetts state law, police officers are *required* to give someone their badge number if asked. Also, the 911 caller didn't mention race until prompted by the operator - and even then she never said the two men were Black.