Harvard’s Henry Gates a Victim of Racial Profiling?

Funny, I blogged yesterday about racial profiling in law enforcement.  Now, reports of the Cambridge Police Department’s arrest of prominent African American Professor Henry Gates, who teaches at Harvard, for his “loud and tumultuous behavior” have sparked cries of racism and racial profiling.  For the latest in this story, click here.

Here is a “”Brief Statement on Behalf of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.” from Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree:

This brief statement is being submitted on behalf of my client, friend, and colleague, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This is a statement concerning the arrest of Professor Gates. On July 16th, 2009, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 58, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor of Harvard University, was headed from Logan airport to his home at 17 Ware Street in Cambridge after spending a week in China, where he was filming his new PBS documentary entitled “Faces of America”. Professor Gates was driven to his home by a driver for a local car company. Professor Gates attempted to enter his front door, but the door was damaged. Professor Gates then entered his rear door with his key, turned off his alarm, and again attempted to open the front door. With the help of his driver they were able to force the front door open, and then the driver carried Professor Gates’s luggage into his home.

Professor Gates immediately called the Harvard Real Estate office to report the damage to his door and requested that it be repaired immediately. As he was talking to the Harvard Real Estate office on his portable phone in his house, he observed a uniformed officer on his front porch. 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’s 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’s 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’s 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.

Professor Gates was taken to the Cambridge Police Station where he remained for approximately 4 hours before being released that evening. Professor Gates’s counsel has been cooperating with the Middlesex District Attorneys Office, and the City of Cambridge, and is hopeful that this matter will be resolved promptly. Professor Gates will not be making any other statements concerning this matter at this time.

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20 Responses

  1. Piper says:

    You linked to Gates’ statement— you should have linked the police report as well:

    Reading both suggests that the real problem was a contest over dominance or control, with Gates likely so adrenalized that he suffered “auditory exclusion.”

    “Auditory exclusion” is a well-known phenomenon, a side-effect of the “fight or flight” adrenaline response, by which very excited people do not respond to nor remember hearing speech or even loud noises such as gunshots during periods of great stress.

    Gates was obviously very excited and fearful as well as angry at the police officer and shouted at the officer repeatedly. Gates claims the officer never answered, yet the officer claims that he did answer and Gates ignored him. The two stories are not inconsistent, because highly excited people commonly fail to hear things.

    Furthermore, Gates was trying to dominate the police officer by shouting him down, repeatedly (per both stories) demanding the officer’s name and badge number (implictly threatening administrative punishment) and (according to the officer and other witnesses) calling the officer (with no evident basis) a racist.

    The officer, like all police officers, has been extensively trained that he must establish and maintain control in every situation for safety reasons. Gates was trying to take control away from the officer; he wanted to officer to kowtow to him. According to the officer’s training, anyone who tries to take control away from the officer presents a threat, possibly a deadly one. Even if the officer might have realized, in quiet contemplation, that Gates had a 1st Amendment right to shout, at the moment of confrontation the officer was faced with a man who was trying to strip the officer of the authority he had been trained to maintain even at the price of violence.

    Note that Gates’ and the officer’s stories agree that the officer decided to retreat from Gates’ premises, that Gates did follow the officer out, and that Gates did keep berating the officer until the officer finally arrested Gates.

    As I pointed out above, it is perfectly plausible that Gates did not hear the officer’s replies to Gates (self-admitted) badgering “What’s your name? What’s your badge number?”

    (If Gates thought the officer was a racist, then Gates had even more reason to be hyper-adrenalized, since Gates would feel that he was confronting an armed racist likely to commit violence on Gates.)

    (There’s certainly no evidence in any of the stories that the officer displayed any racism whatsoever. Investigating a report of a possible burglary with the citizen complainant standing by, bolstering her credibility by her presence and willing cooperation with the police, is not a “racist” activity.)

    Anyone who thinks police training with respect to “control of the situation” can or should be revised would do well to think very carefully about the limits of human behavior under stress. It may not be possible to effectively train police officers to manage violent punks without giving them reflexes that produce the “wrong” results when dealing with over-excited college professors.

  2. Piper says:

    Gates now claims he didn’t shout, but look at the photo!


    The cop to Gates’ left is clearly trying to calm Gates down.

  3. JReed says:

    A few years ago, I entered my home at night, but the power was disconnected so I couldn’t turn on any lights. A neighbor called police to report a break-in. An officer arrived and asked me to show it was my home. I did, and that was it. And, if Gates had been decent, he would have simply shown his ID and thanked the officer for helping keep the neighborhood safe.

    But, Henry Gates wanted to make this into a racial conflict and provoked the arrest. He’ll wear this arrest as a badge of honor for the rest of his days to convince his fans that racism is alive and well, and that he’s a bona fide victim.

    Yes, racism is alive, but Henry Gates is pointing the finger in the wrong direction.

  4. jaseme says:

    I think the police should be trusted to be custodians of the law. This case shows how Police is another extension of Americas dark side. The Attorney general should restore public trust in this matters by appointing and independent investigator to look into racial profiling by various police departments in the country.

  5. A.W. says:

    you know, i think the wisest thing to say here is we just don’t know what happened. i have seen some people jump to his defense without sufficient information and i have seen people attack him, again without sufficient info. the fact is we weren’t there, and there is the very real possibility that if we were there, we would have immediately recognized one side or the other is right, and without that perspective, we cannot know.

  6. anna says:

    Even with of all his proclaimed suffering, indignation, and self-importance, Mr. Gates is NO Nelson Mandela (although he would have us think so.)

    I am disillusioned by his behavior during and, especially, post incident. I believe Gates is undermining the real message, that racial profiling exists and is detrimental to many lives. But I do not see this incident as an example of racial profiling, it seems more an issue of control, power, and social class. Like smashing that proverbial butterfly wing on a grist mill, Gates advances some serious social artillery to justify his unfortunate, albeit very human, behavior. But claims of racism should never be used for armoring one’s pride, or for protecting one’s scholarly reputation. The cop was reactionary, yes he was. But Gates was too.

  7. Gipper says:

    This reminds me of the guy who goes to the doctor and says “my arm hurts when I do this” and the doctor says “then don’t do that.” The prof was apparently a jerk and was going to continue to yell if the cop was still there, so the cop should have just left.

    Police officers generally realize when they are breaking up a domestic disturbance. If there are two people arguing loudly and one lives there and one does not — is it necessary to sort out which one is being a jerk? Or are they more likely to just say to the one who does not live there — “you don’t live here, go home.” if the non-resident party leaves, disturbance ended. If the cop just left here, problem solved.

  8. JReed says:

    A.W., I do know what happened. Someone saw two men breaking into a house and called police. An officer responded and instead of simply cooperating as any decent man would have done, Gates’ desire to look like a victim caused him to go ballistic. He was appropriately arrested for disorderly conduct. Charges were dropped because of the public controversy.

    Gates exposed himself as nothing but a well-dressed punk.

  9. Fraud Guy says:

    Anecdata, with contrafactual:

    My wife, caucasian, was moving from her mother’s house to an apartment (prior to our engagement). Because she was trying to avoid further argument, as well as suffering from a sleepless night, she did this at 2 am.

    About 15 minutes in to moving items to her car, she was standing in her mother’s garage and heard “don’t move”, then, “turn around”, and found a gun pointing at her from the doorway. She was asked what she was doing, and explained the move. The person then identified himself as a police officer, and left after a brief conversation.

    What if she had panicked with an item in her hand, thinking that they were a robber or rapist before she saw the gun (or after). I feel there would be a high likelihood she would have been killed and the officer would have claimed that she had acted agressively after he had identified himself to her. Taking control of the situation is fine. Doing it properly is another.

  10. Guy Bauman says:

    As someone whose lived in Cambridge I know that the police are not racist. Most crimes are done by black people. Thats a fact. So why shoudent the police stop and question Gates?

  11. AYY says:

    I just read a report that the cop was the one who tried to revive Reggie Lewis when he collapsed.

    From what I can see so far, the cop is coming off of this looking good.

  12. Rose says:

    Police in this country are out of line. I live in Tucson and have had numerous problems with the police department. I own two duplexes and the police aided an ex tenant, with a locksmith, to break into one of my apartments. This occurred in spite of the fact that I called them and informed them that she no longer lived there and she was threatening to break in. They helped her get in and take everything she wanted. She had been living there with her boyfriend and they broke up. She called and wanted me to let her in and I told her she needed to come when the current tenant was present because I had known way of knowing who’s owns what. The police argument was that she produced a lease with her name on it. She could not produce a driver’s license but she had a lease. I told him then all I need to do is draw up a lease for anybody’s house and they will help me with six police cars and a locksmith to get into anybody’s home. Maybe I should sell this tip to robbers.

    I had another tenant that persisted to park on the private drive with a commercial vehicle. The lease clearly stated no commercial vehicle. She would not comply, I gave her three day noticed then blocked the drive. The police knock on the door and treat me like a criminal. The policeman’s first words out of his mouth after knocking on my door was “let me see your hands”. I said hey, you knocked on my door. He threatened me and accused me of taking advantage of a Spanish speaking only person. This woman had an interpreter and I went though each item of the lease. This officer then threatened to tow my car off MY property. I felt the argument rising and knew I would be arrested if it persisted. I went into my house and would no longer talk to him. I moved my vehicle and told him if she parks the vehicle on the drive again, I would tow it. This guy was a bully. I called the internal affairs and was given tips on how to handle bully cops should it happen again.

    I don’t know what happened with Mr. Gates. The mere fact there is a controversy means it is an issue in the country. Misbehavior by the police, racial profiling, and giving people a little bit of power over others creates these situations.

  13. Yes, without being there we’ll probably never know exactly how it went down but still, I’m much more disappointed in Officer Crowley…because I expect more from a police officer than I do from a professor at Harvard.

  14. M brown says:

    The fact is that Officer Crowley was responding to a 911 call in fulfillment of his duties which centered around protecting the persons and property at that address. His duties were to assess the situation and to secure the house, which he correctly did.

    Dr. Gates should have respected this, but rather chose to
    act in a manner unbecoming of his position as a college professor. In essence, had Dr. Gates acted properly instead of unnecessarily “showing his butt” this would have been history. Now, Dr. Gates has chosen to dodge his irresponsibility by creating and hiding behind “racial profiling” which never happened here.

    On another note- Our President chose to think with his emotions rather than his brains and tripped on himself. He owes an apology to the Cambridge law enforcement community and to Officer Crowley

  15. M brown says:

    The fact that Dr. Gates is demanding an apology is absurd – he (along with Pres. Obama) should be issuing an apology to
    Officer Crowley and the Cambridge law enforcement community.

    The fact is: Dr. Gates has chosen to deal with this encounter by hiding behind the color of his skin and as such has neglected the real source of error here- the content of his character.

  16. Jason says:

    I have HQ audio of the Henry Gates 911 call, Moderator, If you are interested


  17. George says:

    Sgt. Crowley had his uniform on and his badge. The badge number was right in front of Gates all he had to do was look. Gate’s is either stupid or lieing(again) OR BOTH!! Take your pick.

  18. HB says:

    As Crowley arrested Gates for causing a “public disturbance,” the action is improper on its face due to the fact that Gates was in his own home. Additionally, Napolitano said, it was illegal for the police to enter the house to begin with, as the source of the report did not pass legal muster to constitute probable cause. Also, under federal law Crowley had no right to enter Gates house without his permission. That stands even if Crowley believed something was wrong. According to Judge Napolitano the police officer has to actually see a crime being committed or have a search warrant to enter the house. If the police report is correct Crowley violated Mr. Gates Fourth Amendment Rights.”The law says, unless witnesses a felony…or unless he has a piece of paper from a judge—a search warrant or an arrest warrant—saying “you can go in that house,” he can’t go in the house. So when Professor Gates said “no you can’t come in,” and the police went in anyway violated the federal Constitution.” Napolitano added that because of the violation of Gates’s constitutional rights, he would be eligible to pursue legal action against the police department.

  19. HB says:

    so George, M Brown, J Reed, now who is either stupid or lying?

  20. HB says:

    Will those same talking heads question the fact that the words black and backpack appear in Sgt. Crowley’s police report although the 911 caller never mentions those words in her call?