Henry Louis Gates arrested for Being In His House While Being Black

i-f875c0b07d9b3cb6229668554781b35a-alice.jpgI cannot even believe this happened. Henry Louis Gates - Harvard professor, scholar extraordinaire (pdf), race theorist, PBS series host on African American Lives, most famous contemporary American black academic before Obama (maybe) - was arrested on July 16 for breaking and entering.


Read the story here. The police EVENTUALLY dropped the charges, AFTER questioning him for 4 hours at the police station.

I just don't even know what to say. I am so freaking appalled I can hardly blog this. But to all those idiot people who think we're in a post race society? Yet additional evidence of NOPE.

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I was flummoxed when I read this - at the very, very least, how could his neighbors [especially the one who called the police] not even know who he was? Gates spoke at my graduate university several years back - we camped out for hours to get the limited number of free student tickets, and the largest theater on campus still wasn't big enough to hold the SRO crowd. His talk was awesome. And this situation is crappola.

By studyzone (not verified) on 21 Jul 2009 #permalink

Gee Alice, could you have found a more biased source for what transpired than the statement of Gatesâ lawyer? The police report on the Boston Globe site yesterday painted a somewhat different picture â I suspect that the truth lies somewhere in between. Iâve seen my share of police with big egos that seem to enjoy bullying citizens â I myself have been on the receiving end at times, even though Iâm white. But it seems that Gates has a pretty big ego himselfâ¦.

I suspect that charges are being dropped by the Cambridge police and that Gates will not file a law suit because both parties in this case realize that theyâve behaved like asses.

I agree that people who say that racism is dead simply because we have a black president are nuts. But this kind of incendiary, knee-jerk post should be beneath you.

GREAT point Hope. If only he hadn't been so darned...uppity, this whole mess could have been avoided.

By DrugMonkey (not verified) on 22 Jul 2009 #permalink

Really, this is a case of paranoid neighbors, bored cops, a tired guy trying to get back into his house after a who-knows-how-long flight from China, that was made much, much worse by said bored cops' racism. They probably weren't trying hard to be racist, but it probably made them act much more aggressively to the prof, who, being tired among other things, got pissed, and then things escalated.

You would think the Cambridge cops would have had their brains plugged in a bit more after the last big news story at Harvard, but that might be asking a bit much.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 22 Jul 2009 #permalink

@DM: I wouldnât use the word âuppity,â but âarrogant,â âimmature,â and âinsultingâ spring to mind. Of course, I wasnât there and donât know exactly what happened, so Iâll refrain from actually calling Gates any of these. For that same reason, I refuse to call the arresting officer a racist.

I do realize that Iâm hopelessly out of style. These days, itâs much more fashionable to say things like âI havenât read the book, but hereâs my opinionâ¦.â Or, âI donât know all the facts, but the Cambridge police acted stupidlyâ¦.â But I understand that itâs just so boring, waiting for all of the facts to emerge â who has the patience for that anymore?

One more thing: perhaps Iâm not being as forbearing with Gates as I should be. But frankly, I expect a little more from him than I do from your average cop. And the way Alice blogged this really irked me â we really donât need any more Al Sharptons.

Policemen, especially small town cops, carry a bigger ego than city cops. I and my daughter, Asians, were on the receiving end. He threatened to put us behind bar just because we did not know the boundary of the city line. We thought we did the right thing reporting a hit and run. I immediately apologized so we did not get "lock up".
And, racial bias is still alive and well ! Not post.


"Obama has said the Cambridge officers "acted stupidly" in arresting Gates last week when they responded to his house after a woman reported a suspected break-in.

Crowley, 42, has maintained he did nothing wrong and has refused to apologize, as Gates has demanded.

Crowley responded to Gates' home near Harvard University last week to investigate a report of a burglary and demanded Gates show him identification. Police say Gates at first refused, flew into a rage and accused the officer of racism.

Gates was charged with disorderly conduct. The charge was dropped Tuesday.

Gates' supporters maintain his arrest was a case of racial profiling. Officers were called to the home by a woman who said she saw "two black males with backpacks" trying to break in the front door. Gates has said he arrived home from an overseas trip."

Ok, so which one is lying?

That is shameful. I am open-mouthed and hardly know what to say. Yes I know that the election of Obama didn't mean racism is over, but I find this utterly bizarre.

Like Alice, I'm freaking appalled by the treatment Dr. Gates received in his own freaking home, as well as by the responses of many so-called educated and progressive people in the blogosphere to this incident. FSM forbid that Dr. Gates should have a big ego, what with all those books and scholarly articles and documentaries. How dare he respond impolitely to to a police officer who confronts him in his house, while he's calling Harvard property management to fix the front doorlatch (that's what all burglars do, right?)! And, in distinct contrast, nobody, absolutely nobody, in the blogosphere has a big ego at all ... that's the unique territory of Harvard professors who are, well, UPPITY, as pointed out by DrugMonkey. /sarcasm

WTF is up with the neighbor taking photos of handcuffed Gates on his front porch, anyway? $$$$?? It's apparently provided some with an "excuse" to call Gates "red-faced", "angry", "yelling" (translation: uppity), when to me he looks like a frightened and exhausted version of a typical male American academician. Middle-aged, grizzled beard, glasses, dorky preppy traveling-to-study-section clothes; like a younger, African-American version of my dad. Makes me inexpressibly sad just to look at the photo.

I suspect that if this exact scenario had played out at the home of any prominent white male blogger, the response would be rather different. Oh the humanity! Oh, the righteous indignation! The fans would swarm out of the large intestine (or wherever it is they live ... must have WiFi in any case), peer over the top of the dorky trousers, and exclaim "OMGWTF! Do you not recognize the famous Bloggeur in his own home, officer? Abuse!! Righteous indignation11ELEVENTY!!11"

Maybe the problem is that the genuine, real-world injustice of Dr. Gates' treatment and arrest makes all the manufactured, ego-driven outrage and spectacles in the blogosphere look rather ridiculous and petty.

@Hope: Well, the police report also claimed he said "ya, I'll speak with your mama outside". Does that strike you as something a person with Gates' background would say?
Or does it strike you as something a racist pig ignorant cop would think a black person would say.
I'm amazed the report didn't claim he flashed gang signs at them.

Besides, I'm automatically very wary of a disorderly conduct charge. Disorderly conduct has pretty much come to be associated with cops shutting down silly people that think they have "rights".

By JThompson (not verified) on 23 Jul 2009 #permalink

"GREAT point Hope. If only he hadn't been so darned...uppity, this whole mess could have been avoided. "

So, DM, now it's all about the HISTORY is it?

And the RACISM.


But when it comes to cannabis prohibition, which is somehow supposed to relate to the absolute horrors of pot addiction (it's as bad as cigarettes!) it's all about the SCIENCE. No racism, history or ethics to worry about there! Anyone who thinks so is obviously paranoid!

Nice compartmentalization job DM. You would have made such a nice, compassionate Nazi doctor, experimenting on the handicapper perhaps, collecting data for SCIENCE, with no concern for Ethics. After all it's science, obviously for the good of humanity!

sorry that was handicapped. But reading handicapper cracked me up, hope I didn't offend anyone:)

I am so freaking appalled I can hardly blog this.

Oh noes! And deprive the intertoobs of yet another uninformed and ideologically smog shrouded opinion? Heaven forbid!! You go girl! Don't let messy things like "facts" and "reality" stand in your way. Shout your ignorant outrage to the mountaintops!

Seriously, this "protect the fellow academic, facts be damed" is making ScienceBlogs the laughingstock of the Internet today. This is seriously damaging the reputation of a site that claims to believe in scientific methodology and factual appraisal of reality.

But this kind of incendiary, knee-jerk post should be beneath you.

Why? Because she works at a university? I have a couple higher degrees and work with scientists every day in my job. Professors and scientists are just as human as anyone else. This whole mythos of them being above the fray is propaganda, kid. Sorry to break the news to you. In fact, I find they can be even less immune to things like ideology and just general weirdness than average folks.

That being said, this blog entry was really pathetic, Alice. You hardly got a single fact correct. Absolute fail. I'm sorry, but Gates did everything he could to escalate this encounter.

Very interesting comments! Having just listened to *both* sides of the story, we find two things to be true:

1) When the charge is racism, the accused is immediately and certainly guilty until (and possibly after) proven innocent, and the charges will be shouted from the hilltop and echoed as an example long after the incident passes.

2) A confrontation, two stories, the truth somewhere in between. Yes, a Harvard professor who is back from a long trip and surprised with this event in his house may behave as a (gasp) human, and become upset, maybe even disruptive, no matter what his race.

He was put in a terrible position, and so were the police. Those arrogant, power-hungry, ego-driven cops risk their lives on a day to day basis and are willing to dive into a situation if you are in trouble. Are some racists / ego driven / stupid? No doubt. Cops, clergy, professors, burger flippers: still human. Race differences gone in this country? No, but improving... maybe too slowly, but improving.

Remember - there are two sides to the story, and reading the statement of Dr. Gates attorney as absolute "fact" is wrong. He is a black man, he is a professor, but he is a human that went through a really bad experience, and it's possible he lost his cool.

Wow, the trolls seem to be particularly active on this post. I can't believe people are more horrified about my biased post than the actual arrest.

"Wow, the trolls seem to be particularly active on this post. I can't believe people are more horrified about my biased post than the actual arrest."

This comment doesn't even make sense. If they disagree with your interpretation they are automatically trolls? What does that have to do with caring about the situation?

Alice you are a complete idiot. If you're going to comment on something, make sure you at least get your facts straight. Gates wasn't arrested for burglarizing his own home, you moron. He was arrested for disorderly conduct. Gates was arrested on the disorderly conduct charge because he acted like a complete ass and created such a disturbance that citizens began gathering in the street pn front of the house to see what all the commotion was.

This case had nothing to do with race other than Gates being the racist--i.e. making a sweeping generalization that all white police officers are racists. This incident wouldn't even be an issue had Gates cooperated, gone outside to the porch, and then show his photo driver's license with his address on it to the officer from the very outset. Instead, he acts like a pompous ass and tries throwing his weight around by attempting to call the police chief or commisioner. Eventually Gates shows the officer his Harvard University ID card, which doesn't have his home address on it. Gates' comment, "You don't know who you're messing with," says it all. In other words, "I'm Henry Gates, the revered and highly respected black Harvard academician who is close personal friends with President Obama. I don't acknowledge your authority, whitey." Gates tried pushing the issue because he thought he was better than the officer. By the way, Gates' comment to the officer, "I'll talk to your mama on the porch," really demonstrates that he is a quite a mature and highly educated individual. The officer was there investigating a break-in and had no clue if the person(s) inside was the resident or the suspect. I guarantee you Gates would be bitching like crazy if an unknown black male was found inside his house while he was away in China and the officer decided to let the guy go because he lived there just on his word alone.

When a police officer is investigating a possible crime, is it so hard to shut up, cooperate, and just answer some questions? Don't we pay our cops to be suspicious and want them to check things out if something seems not right? I was stopped one night after dropping something off on a friend's front step because they weren't home. The officer who stopped me said it looked suspicious because I had ducked down behind a car in the long driveway. I had actaully dropped a DVD and the case went partially under the car. I had to crawl under to get it. When stopped I didn't get pissy and cry harassment, I didn't demand identification from the officer, and I didn't turn the encounter into something it wasn't. From the officer's perspective, it looked like I was possibly trying to break into the car. I understood this and realized the officer was just doing his job. I explained and identified myself, he verified the car wasn't broken into, and I was gone 2 minutes later. Apparently cooperating was beneath Gates. Racism has become an all too frequent excuse for many black Americans when something doesn't go their way. You don't hear Asian Americans crying that they can't achieve success in our country. Look, there's no doubt racism exists in this country, but it goes both ways. Gates' case demonstrates this. Until black people stop crying racism every chance they get, our country will NEVER get beyond this divisive issue.

Lastly, Obama had no business commenting on this issue and putting a racial spin on it. Last time I checked, Obama is 50% white, yet he continues to portray himself as an oppressed black male to black voters. By his own admission, Obama commented on the issue before he had all the facts. To me, that is the definition of acting "stupidly." In the process, Obama drove blacks and whites further apart and then had to back pedal like hell. Congratulations Obama. I thought only Biden put his foot in his mouth. Obama's true colors are surfacing yet again....just like his 20-year association with the racist and hate mongering Rev. Wright. One last point. Obama already had an axe to grind with the Cambridge Police Department. Obama accrued countless parking tickets over several years while at Harvard. Obama didn't pay a cent for any of those tickets or late fees for years. Amazingly, he got a conscience and decided to pay them two days before he launched his candidacy for President. This says a lot about his character and his respect for the law.

Hi Sara:
Lots of 'info' has crossed the media outlets since your original post. I think this Reason Online piece http://bit.ly/crm0F nicely explains how easily law enforcement rights/powers can be abused. I think that is part of why the possibility/hint of racial profiling is something NO person of color takes lightly. Although Officer Crowley may be a policeman with qualifications to teach others how to avoid profiling, that doesn't mean he would never mishandle a politically and socially sensitive situation (involving issues of institutional hierarchy and town/gown conflict). Although Prof Gates is a world recognized scholar in American History, specifically African American History, it doesn't mean he could not over react in a specific situation under extenuating circumstances (jet-lag, frustration over concern about the security of his home). I hope the 2 individuals make peace and I hope this country is willing to examine both abuse of police powers and racial relations because of this incident. I am proud the President expressed himself, foot in mouth disease y inclus! Scholars, scientists, police, journalists etc are all humans and make errors. Great people, true leaders are willing to eat crow and make peace, in essence they are willing to BE teachable.

once he said he lived there and showed id -the police should have left----not only did they not leave but upon hearing the officers call to the station; he requested more cars keep coming and even harvard police to come---as if he need them to identify him.
wasnt mr gates word and identification good enough? more cars..how many officers are needed, for one man?

i believe 90% of officers are good but theres that 10% , that really spoils it for the rest of them and make you feel negatively. the other night i walked to the bank 10 mins from my home w/ my 6lb dog- stpped 2 officers to make them aware on a certain sreet all the lights were off-cld be potentially dangerous--1st cop was nice the other out of nowhere started to give a dressing down because my dog was unleashed, thought he was going to give me a ticket! walked away thinking..what an asshole! next morning went to report him another officer said no big deal--he gets a lot of complaints--why is nothing done about cops like these! then one of the officers i spoke to kidded saying he hated people! i reminded him that the patch on his sleeve said"protect & serve"...the people!
so while i cant help that stupidity had a big part to do w/ this incidentand perhaps just a smidgen of racism-would a white prof been treated like this! it not that people of color think all people are prejudice- but mostly all have experience a slight of some type, at time in their lives.

im hispanic, born & bred in ny, someone younger than me told me i spoke good english!i replied,"gee. thanks ive been speaking it longer than you've been alive!" had an asian co worker have a white coworker-out of the blue tell her he had chinese food the night before!? after he lft ,she grimaced and said"does he think he supported my family by doing so!"
so racism is alive--sometimes its just born of stupidity than maliciousness!

By mary denis (not verified) on 28 Jul 2009 #permalink

as for obama's comment- as a blk man-he cant help but feel this way! maligned, upset but not surprised.so dont mention he 50% white...because from where im standing hes black. if you saw him walking down the street , you think blk man...didnt he make history for being first black president...never heard it was for being the 1st biracial pres.
sotomayer recieved alot of heat for her"being a latina gave her more sense to judge comment than white men.
but she was right, becuase as a judge in the bronx-the majority of deffendants she was judging more blks and hispanics- and she could judge them in a way than perhaps a white judge w/ mid or upper class background could , she escaped from the life of poverty/public housing, that most of them still live in. so she can identify to the lack of education/strife and life lived that motivated their stupid action- but still must act accordingly within the law
now the idea of obama,cop and gates having a beer together..stupid! last thing i'd want to do is socialize w/ a cop who falsly arrested me!

I love the attitudes we're seeing here. Oh no, what Gates may or may not have did was wrong, but hey, he's a human being and that shit happens....the cops, on the other hand, MUST be racist monsters, otherwise, why would they get angry at someone who was screaming at them that they were racists?!

The main problem is that most of the facts in this case are unclear, yet everyone is making assumptions about what his actions were, what the cops' actions were, and the time line during which they occurred, despite conflicting stories. Did they check his IDs? Yes. Do we know for sure if he started accusing them of being racist AFTER they decided to check his ID's and then decided to stay around and badger him? I don't know, but I haven't seen anything to indicate it and it makes all the difference. It's also notable that one of the IDs he gave them had a different address on it which could have added to the confusion. If he started ranting and raving prior to showing them his IDs it makes the situation quite a bit different, and no one seems to be clear on what actually happened given all the conflicting reports.

That said, I don't think the cops should have arrested him for disorderly conduct (I tend to think that's a bullshit charge, anyway, unless a person is going extremely far out of hand and obviously very near to committing a violent act), and the fact that the charge was dropped after four hours indicates this pretty clearly. Are the cops racist? Possibly. It's also possible that they're human beings and don't take well to a person ranting and screaming at them that they're racist for doing their fucking job (I think this qualifies as more than being 'uppity') and over-reacted.

As is, we don't know enough about the situation to determine anything for sure, but I find it pretty goddamn interesting that everyone is choosing to declare that the cops are racist and ignore that some of the details indicate that Gates himself might have a racial chip on his shoulder and that this is a quite reasonable conclusion if we don't assume that the cops stuck around for a while after checking his IDs to harass him.

By Thomas M. (not verified) on 29 Jul 2009 #permalink

I guarantee you Gates would be bitching like crazy if an unknown black male was found inside his house while he was away in China and the officer decided to let the guy go because he lived there just on his word alone.

... or a white male.

As the story becomes more clear, is it possible that some people overreacted?

The evil, racist neighbor talked of two men; when only after being asked what they looked like, said one "might be Hispanic." (source: actual 911 tapes...)

The racist cop - who dared call for backup - got a call about a possible break-in, and asked for ID, got someone argumentative, and called for backup. Is it possible this might be standard procedure?

Dr. Gates was probably tired, then couldn't get in his own door, then confronted... of COURSE he was argumentative! Who wouldn't be?

Obama gave his opinion before he knew the facts, now tries to sooth it all over ... good! A president that is human? Personally, I like it.

Is anyone in this story a racist? I don't know - do any "harbor an a belief that inherent differences among races determine cultural or individual achievement, involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others?" This is a state of mind, so I don't know.

It seems clear that Gates may have played "the race card" (or more accurately, the "Don't you know how famous I am?" card), but it is NOT clear the cops behaved any differently because Gates was black, and it is clear that the neighbor didn't.

Racists in the U.S.? Unfortunately, yes. In the police? Sure. In the black community? In academia? Sure.

Gates is a famous black human. He may not have been arrested because of the "black", but is it possible because he reacted as many "humans" would react to this bad situation? Sometimes, it just isn't about race, even if it would make a great story.