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Old 07-21-2009, 11:03 AM   #1
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Why-Because I'm A Black Man In America?

Is this police abuse or racial profiling?

Racial talk swirls with Gates arrest
Harvard scholar taken from home

By Tracy Jan, Boston Globe Staff | July 21, 2009

His front door refused to budge, which is why Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., just home from a trip to China filming a PBS documentary, set his luggage down and beckoned his driver for help.

The scene - two black men on the porch of a stately home on a tree-lined Cambridge street in the middle of the day - triggered events that were at turns dramatic and bizarre, a confrontation between one of the nation’s foremost African-American scholars and a police sergeant responding to a call that someone was breaking into the house.

It ended when Gates, 58, was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct in allegedly shouting at the officer; he was eventually taken away in handcuffs.

But the encounter is anything but over. Some of Gates’s outraged colleagues said the run-in proves that even in a liberal enclave like Harvard Square, even with someone of Gates’s accomplishments, a black man is a suspect before he is a resident.

“It’s unbelievable,’’ said Lawrence Bobo, a Harvard sociologist who visited Gates at the police station last Thursday and drove him home after Gates posted the $40 bail. “I felt as if I were in some kind of surreal moment, like ‘The Twilight Zone.’ I was mortified. . . . This is a humiliating thing and a pretty profound violation of the kind of trust we all take for granted.’’

Neither Gates - who was named one of Time magazine’s most influential Americans in 1997 and now directs the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard - nor police would comment on the incident yesterday.

Gates’s lawyer and Harvard colleague, Charles Ogletree, said what angered his client was that the police officer stepped inside Gates’s Ware Street house, uninvited, to demand identification and question him.

Gates showed his Harvard identification and Massachusetts drivers license with his home address, Ogletree said, adding, “Even after presentation of ID, the officer was still questioning his presence.’’

Said Bobo: “The whole interaction should have ended right there, but I guess that wasn’t enough. The officer felt he hadn’t been deferred to sufficiently.’’

The Cambridge police report describes a chaotic scene in which the police sergeant stood at Gates’s door, demanded identification, and radioed for assistance from Harvard University police when Gates presented him with a Harvard ID. A visibly upset Gates responded to the officer’s assertion that he was responding to a report of a break-in with, “Why, because I’m a black man in America?’’

“Gates then turned to me and told me that I had no idea who I was ‘messing’ with and that I had not heard the last of it,’’ the report said. “While I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence, I was quite surprised and confused with the behavior he exhibited toward me.’’

When the officer repeatedly told Gates he would speak with him outside, the normally mild-mannered professor shouted, “Ya, I’ll speak with your mama outside,’’ according to the report.

Gates was arrested after “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior’’ toward the officer who questioned him, the report said.

Gates, who came to Harvard in 1991, was “shocked and dismayed by what happened to him,’’ Ogletree said.

“What we hope is the charges against Professor Gates will be dropped, because he certainly didn’t break the law while entering his own home,’’ Ogletree said yesterday by phone.

He would not say whether he thinks racial bias played a role in Gates’s arrest.

Harvard president Drew G. Faust said yesterday that she was “obviously very concerned’’ when she learned about the incident. “Professor Gates is not only a colleague but also a friend,’’ she said in a statement. “He and I spoke directly, and I have asked him to keep me apprised.’’

Harvard has grappled with the issue of racial bias in recent years, even appointing an independent commission last fall to look into how the university could create a more welcoming environment after some black students and faculty complained of unfair treatment by the university’s predominantly white police force. Faust said in the spring that she hopes to implement some of the report’s recommendations by September, but it is unclear what they would be.

The arrest of such a prominent scholar under what some described as dubious circumstances shook the campus.

“He and I both raised the question of if he had been a white professor, whether this kind of thing would have happened to him, that they arrested him without any corroborating evidence,’’ said S. Allen Counter, a Harvard Medical School professor who spoke with Gates Friday. “I am deeply concerned about the way he was treated.’’

Counter has faced a similar situation himself. The neuroscience professor, who is black, was stopped by two Harvard police officers in 2004 after being mistaken for a robbery suspect as he crossed Harvard Yard.

“This is very disturbing that this could happen to anyone, and not just to a person of such distinction,’’ Counter said. “It brings up the question of whether black males are being targeted by Cambridge police for harassment.’’

Police say they were simply responding to a call from a woman who suspected a crime was taking place.

When the front door would not open, even with the driver’s help, Ogletree said Gates walked around to the back door, unlocked it, shut off the alarm system, and tried to open the door from the inside. It still did not work, so he went back outside and, with the driver, pushed it in.

Gates immediately called Harvard’s real estate office to report the broken door. While he was on the phone, police Sergeant James Crowley arrived and asked Gates to step outside, said Ogletree. Gates, indignant, refused, telling the officer that he lived there and that he works at Harvard.

When Crowley asked for proof, Gates initially refused, according to the police report. But Ogletree said Gates cooperated fully, walking into his kitchen for his wallet. The officer followed.

Gates “did ask him some pointed questions, like: ‘Is this happening because you’re a white cop and I’m a black man? Is this why this interaction is still taking place?’ ’’ Bobo said. “Who’s not going to feel upset and insulted when a police officer won’t accept the fact that you’re standing in your own living room?’’

Gates asked the officer several times for his name and badge number to file a complaint as the officer left the house. The police report said that when Crowley walked out of the home, Gates followed and continued to accuse the officer of racism. Crowley then handcuffed him.

Gates initially resisted, according to police, asserting that he was disabled and would fall without a cane. The officer reentered the home to fetch a cane. Gates was then taken in a police cruiser to department headquarters, where he remained for four hours, Ogletree said.

Gates is scheduled to be arraigned on Aug. 26.

Al Sharpton has become involved

Henry Louis Gates Jr. Arrested After Racism Charge - ABC News

"This is outrageous to us," Sharpton said. "It's either a clear case of police abuse or racial profiling," he said. "This happens every day, but to have it happen to one of the most prominent black academicians is unbelievable."
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Old 07-21-2009, 01:35 PM   #2
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I figured this might happen

By MELISSA TRUJILLO, Associated Press Writer

BOSTON – Prosecutors dropped a disorderly conduct charge Tuesday against prominent black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., who was arrested at his home near Harvard University after a report of a break-in.

The city of Cambridge issued a statement saying the arrest "was regrettable and unfortunate" and police and Gates agreed that dropping the charge was a just resolution.

"This incident should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department," the statement said.
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Old 07-21-2009, 01:49 PM   #3
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Gates, 58
America what is wrong with you?


This guy slipped through the cracks for 58 years?
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Old 07-21-2009, 02:19 PM   #4
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Next up is Kevin Garnett
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Old 07-21-2009, 08:00 PM   #5
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Letting yourself lose your temper with the police is a bad idea, however understandable the feelings of defensiveness or indignation as to their possible motives for suspecting you might be. I really can't judge from the article whether the officer was in fact acting unreasonably, at least not until the point where he brought out handcuffs.
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Old 07-21-2009, 09:43 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by yolland View Post
Letting yourself lose your temper with the police is a bad idea, however understandable the feelings of defensiveness or indignation as to their possible motives for suspecting you might be. I really can't judge from the article whether the officer was in fact acting unreasonably, at least not until the point where he brought out handcuffs.
There was a small piece on this on NPR today and they were saying that 'Disorderly Conduct' charges are often joked about amongst law enforcement as 'Insult a Cop' charges that can't ever stand up in court.
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Old 07-21-2009, 10:18 PM   #7
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Yeah, wouldn't surprise me. In the big picture it makes sense to empower police to act more forcefully with someone who's being highly resistant and uncooperative, but inevitably that's going to open it up to 'Insult a Cop'-type judgment calls, which aren't really what the charge is there for.

I once made the mistake of mouthing off to some customs officials who were raising a rather absurd amount of fuss over one slightly smeary country stamp in my passport. I still think they were being both unreasonable and unnecessarily rude, and I still suspect that perceptions my surname and appearance suggested 'Middle Eastern origin' had something to do with the whole thing, but suffice to say as a result of my response I wound up getting out of there several hours after I could have. Stupid. If, after getting through customs and giving myself some time to calm down, I'd still believed something seriously inappropriate had happened, I could always have filed a complaint at that time. By getting mouthy with them I undercut any claims I might've had to being treated unfairly, plus I handed them a reason to feel validated in their suspicions that I'd perhaps done something shifty which might explain what they were finding wrong with my passport. Thankfully, I'm not famous by any measure, so at least I didn't have to worry about it winding up in the papers...

I can't claim to fully understand what the situation in question would've felt like from Gates' point of view, and I really doubt his feelings were unreasonable; I just think it's regrettable that he allowed himself to respond in that way.
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Old 07-21-2009, 10:40 PM   #8
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There was a small piece on this on NPR today and they were saying that 'Disorderly Conduct' charges are often joked about amongst law enforcement as 'Insult a Cop' charges that can't ever stand up in court.
Or, for a minor, a great excuse to interrogate them to test if they've been drinking alcohol, I can tell you.
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Old 07-22-2009, 12:51 PM   #9
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I guess not being sufficiently deferential to a police officer can also be called disorderly conduct. I would imagine he was very tired after just coming home from a trip to China, and with his age and he uses a cane and all that..And that combined with allegedly showing two ids and still being questioned by the officer, he probably became somewhat unglued and couldn't suppress his emotions. And with feeling any racism that he may have felt in the situation, real or perceived.

I just don't understand how a neighbor who works for Harvard Magazine and her office is right down the street did not recognize him. He is a fairly famous person in Cambridge. I don't know what the racial makeup of that street is, but I do start to wonder how things might be different if two white men were doing the same thing-in the neighbor's behavior and in the whole situation.If you're going to call the police you call white or black, regardless. I don't know the officer so I could never say it applies to him in particular, but I do also wonder how much more deferential African Americans have to be in some situations.

There's driving while black, maybe sometimes there's being locked out of your house while black too. Both sides could have behaved differently and cooler heads could have prevailed, but it does make you think about other dynamics too.

I have never forgotten being in a car accident when I was a kid and the officer actually gave me a hard time because I wasn't capable of answering a question the way he wanted or fast enough, whatever it was. I was very scared, it being my first car accident. Some police officers are on ego trips and use that badge to get people to treat them accordingly. It does happen. They lose all sensitivity to the situation. Like I saw an officer say on CNN last night, you have to have a circuit breaker.
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Old 07-22-2009, 07:50 PM   #10
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^ All good points...I don't disagree that the actual arrest sounds totally unwarranted and like a pretty transparent case of 'insult-a-cop' wristslapping, as BVS put it. It's not that anyone deserves that, just that it's always been my experience that when people let loose and start yelling back at the police, it rather dramatically increases their chances of being hauled down to the station. It's also always been my experience that if anything police in college towns are more likely to act like that, so all the 'how could this happen in Cambridge' responses were a bit of a puzzler to me. Granted, that perception on my part more applies to students, and the fact of being black quite possibly was the only reason why that 'option' got exercised against a 58-year-old professor here. Maybe I'm just too cynical, but I know I had pounded into my head as a kid to always stay calm if the police stop you for something, never hand them a reason to feel confirmed in suspecting you to be anything less than a 'nice law-abiding citizen,' because some of them will be only too happy to take that opportunity, and from what I've seen that was good advice.

Are there grounds for legal action on Gates' part here? Perhaps that's the 'ego check' this particular officer needs. Or perhaps the public response to this case has already served that function.
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Old 07-23-2009, 04:26 AM   #11
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Obama was asked by reporters today about the Gates arrest. He's clearly a little fuzzy on the details (as he acknowledges), but it's a good response.
Obama on Gates arrest
Also, the New York Times' 'Room for Debate' blog had a good 'panel discussion' today where several law and criminal justice experts (white and black) offered their takes.

Prof. Ralph Richard Banks, Stanford Law School:
Quote:
...The officer approached Professor Gates not as a result of a racial profile, but based on a witness’s account of a specific suspect engaged in suspicious behavior, just as we should expect him to.

What happened next illustrates the complicated dynamics of race, crime and policing. Professor Gates would not have been arrested had he been a white Harvard professor, but for reasons that have as much to do with him as with the officer.

...The officer, rather than treat Professor Gates as a respected member of the Harvard faculty, probably expected more deference from him because he was black. Professor Gates, in turn, probably offered more defiance because the officer was white. Just as the officer may have presumed that Professor Gates did not belong in the upscale neighborhood, Professor Gates may have presumed that Crowley was a racist, intent on harassing him.
Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor, George Washington U. law professor:
Quote:
...In 1990, after graduating from Harvard Law School, I joined the U.S. Department of Justice, where I was assigned a high-profile case, the prosecution of a senator for public corruption. Shortly before the trial date, I was arrested outside my home for a crime I didn’t commit. It was a silly little misdemeanor, a Fred-and-Barney dispute about a parking space, but my real crime, like Professor Gates’, was being an uppity black man in front of a cop. When the police falsely accused me, I too got loud. One gets that way when he’s a black man who’s always tried to do the right thing and still ends up treated like a you-know-what by the police. I made the mistake of showing my arresting officer my Justice Department badge. He smirked and said “You probably know this already: You have the right to remain silent…” Then he put me in handcuffs and whisked me off to jail.

I insisted on going to trial; I wanted an official declaration of my innocence, which a jury took less than 15 minutes to provide. Years later, I joke that the experience made a man out of me—a black man. The joke still gets stuck in my throat.

...Professor Gates might not have been arrested if he’d been more submissive—let the cop win the masculinity contest. Every brotha has played that game as well: you don’t look the popo in the eye, you do say “sir” a lot, and maybe you won’t get locked up. Then you go home and stew in the stuff that gives African-American men low life expectancy in America.

Still it doesn’t take diversity training for the police to understand that some people—especially black folks—will get very angry when a cop enters their home and asks for proof they live there. After seeing the identification, the officer should have just left. Whatever Professor Gates said, the sad truth is that a cop hears worse things shouted at his squad car any random day in the inner city.

The real tragedy is this: Professor Gates and I, with our excellent lawyers and middle-class privilege, will be just fine. That’s not true with many of our young brothers.
Prof. Samuel R. Sommers, psychology, Tufts U.
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Whether the person who called the police or the officer who arrived on the scene consciously considered race is beside the point. What we know from scores of studies is that race influences our mental calculus—sometimes when we aren’t aware of it, when we don’t want it to, and even on the police force.
Several of my students had an impromptu 'debate' about this story during our break today, it was interesting. One student made the very good point that getting Gates to step outside may have been a deliberate attempt to complete a sufficient 'disorderly conduct' scenario (which requires 'public' disorderly behavior) on the officer's part. But it was noticeable that the white students tended towards a more hardnosed version of the response I had, to the point of suggesting Gates 'asked for it,' whereas the nonwhite students tended to focus on 'this would not have happened to a white man.'

I don't agree with either of those positions: angrily protesting an officer's questioning your presence in your own home simply isn't a crime; otherwise-innocent white people do indeed get slapped with 'disorderly conduct' charges for snapping and mouthing off to 'ego tripping' police (as MrsS put it) often enough. But on the other hand, most white people are probably more likely to trust that police won't charge them unfairly if they maintain 'deference' and gamely play along with a condescending cop. For many nonwhite people, that may not be what experience has taught them at all, and the conclusion drawn from that informs their perception of any encounters they have with the police.
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Old 07-23-2009, 04:49 PM   #12
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Seems like a case where both sides should have calmed down, taken a step back, and thought through their actions.
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Old 07-23-2009, 04:49 PM   #13
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The police officer in question is apparently a profiling expert.

Cop who arrested black scholar is profiling expert - Boston.com
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Old 07-23-2009, 09:27 PM   #14
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...I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence...
i see no reason why a citizen should not be able to tell a police officer to f-off if that's the case...
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Old 07-23-2009, 11:51 PM   #15
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^ Yeah, that's one of the main reasons why the arrest seemed unwarranted--if the officer really felt convinced that this was indeed Gates' house, then there was no reason for him to hang around for Gates to keep yelling at. Although, in the actual police report, that sentence comes before the mention of Gates having provided his ID (his Harvard ID only, according to the report; Gates says he provided both that and his DL). Technically, the grounds for the 'disorderly conduct' charge involved Gates having followed the departing police outside (thus making it 'public') while continuing yelling, which the report presents as something Gates chose to do wholly on his own.

Unsurprisingly, the officer's version of what happened and Gates' sound quite different:

the police incident report

Gates' lawyer's statement describing the incident


For some reason that link leads to another story altogether--I think this one is the story you wanted.
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