July 20, 2009

Nation's pre-eminent black scholar arrested, claims racism

Harvard's Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested last Thursday after trying to pry open the [locked] front door of his home:

Cambridge police were called to the home Thursday afternoon after a woman reported seeing a man "wedging his shoulder into the front door as to pry the door open," according to a police report.

An officer ordered the man to identify himself, and Gates refused, according to the report. Gates began calling the officer a racist and said repeatedly, "This is what happens to black men in America."

Officers said they tried to calm down the 58-year-old academic, who responded, "You don't know who you're messing with," according to the police report.

Gates 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 and arraignment was scheduled for Aug. 26.

I have a couple questions: 1) Why did Gates refuse to identify himself? I mean, come on. If I locked myself out and someone saw me trying to do what Gates did and subsequently called the cops, I'd gladly ID myself and show the police any sort of ID they wished. Because, after all, it probably appeared as if I was breaking into my house. Does Gates think he is that famous that he doesn't have to play by the rules everyone else does? 2) Why would this be a "pattern of racial profiling in Cambridge" as many of Gates' colleagues claim? Harvard is about as PC a place you can find in America today. Could I claim some sort of bias if I refused to follow police orders and as such they became even more suspicious?

Gates claims that police "did not believe him when he said that he was in his own home." Well, if I refused to show ID at first and became hostile, what would'ya expect? But since I wouldn't do that, I'd simply ask the officers to do something like knock on my neighbor's door so that they could verify my identity.

Sorry, Professor Gates, but I'd be much more willing to accept your claims of racial bias if you willingly complied with the officers at the onset -- and then they remained skeptical and suspicious, along with arresting you.

UPDATE: Steve Newton links to a different report of the incident that says the cops in question continued to question Gates after he produced ID -- inside his house. Which, despite Gates' apparent idiotic behavior at the onset really should have been the end of the story. (Then again, if you behave like Gates [apparently] did when the cops arrived, I don't think it unduly unreasonable to expect just a few additional queries.)

And Newton backs up Gates' claim of racism: "What's wrong with the arrest of Dr. Henry Louis Gates of Harvard is not just the racism... although that is a significant issue."

Where, precisely, is the racism, Steve? Police overreactions happen to anyone, and not just to folks who act like a**holes to the cops (like Gates) when they arrive to investigate a call.

UPDATE 2: Here's another view, including the actual incident report.

UPDATE 3: Jonah Goldberg offers up his view of the situation, which pretty much is in line with my own:

Lots of e-mail has come in since last night when I posted about Henry Louis Gates's arrest. The responses from readers are interesting in that they reflect a divide running through conservatives I've noticed before. About half the readers think Gates is hilariously in the wrong. The other half, give or take, think that the cop was transparently to blame for the whole mess. That's a gross generalization of several dozen e-mails, but I think it reflects how conservatives, like Americans generally, are of two views when it comes to cops. One side is inclined to distrust them, see them as potential abusers of authority mere men with badges and guns. Another side is deferential to police. That is not to say they condone abuse or sanction cops being above the law. But they give cops the benefit of the doubt for a host of reasons.

I'm more in the latter camp. I think being a cop is a very tough job, requiring a lot of patience and decency, with lots of headaches. And, I believe that citizens should err on the side of trying to make cops' jobs a little easier. Yes, I've had confrontations with police before and I don't think they were always in the right. But as a matter of instinct, that's where I come down. But I know plenty of conservatives including many relatives who instantly assume the cops are just taking advantage of a little power and are loathe to defer to them.

I don't think this divide is unique to conservatives. As I say, I think it runs straight through the American, and, no doubt, human heart. But it's interesting in this context because I think conservatives are expected to be far more deferential to law enforcement. And, when I read the Gates police report, I immediately sympathized with the cop who had to deal with a very high-status guy trying to bully the cop in part by accusing him unfairly, by my lights of racism. It's very interesting to read lots of conservatives offer good faith disagreements.

Posted by Hube at July 20, 2009 04:37 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

There are multiple problems with this issue. One is that upon receiving the call, the police automatically had access to the name of the person who owned the home via reverse directory. So they already knew--or should have known--that one of Cambridge's most famous black residents lived in the house.

The second is that the police report pretty clearly states that Gates--however angrily--refused to come out of his home to speak with the police officer (which he had no legal requirement to do); that Gates refused to provide ID only until the officer himself provided identification (Which is perfectly legal); that the officer at least in part arrested Gates for disorderly conduct within his residence (because Gates was angry that the officer just did not leave once he had provided ID); and that the officer basically arrested Gates because he was emabarrassed by the crowd growing outside on the street.

The use of the word "tumultuous" is misleading: there is no assertion by the officer that at any point in the confrontation did Gates ever offer or threaten physical violence, that Gates ever physically resisted; that Gates did anything other than berate the officer and attempt to place a phone call to the chief of police.

You may believe Gates reaction was poor judgment or the reaction of a man spoiling for a fight over perceived racism. Perhaps. But show me where in the entire incident Dr. Gates actually did anything illegal. At the point at which the officer determined that Gates was the legal resident he should have apologized and left.

One more note: the officer repeatedly asked Gates to leave residence, which Gates quite legally refused because to do so would have placed him at greater risk; in your own home you have rights that you do not have on the street. Once the officer got Gates out on the street he would have been far more free to detain him.

The issue is not so much racism (at least to me) as it is the issue of (a) the police officer's failure to leave the home after the identification had been provided (notice he did not return Gates' ID to him and instead carried it out into the street, forcing Gates to follow if he wanted it back); (b) why the Harvard U Police was called at all [Gates' residence is not on Harvard property and they have no jurisdiction there]; and (c) why being impolite to a police officer without offering the slightest physical provocation [and after having provided your ID] suddenly rises to the level of chargeable behavior.

Posted by: steve Newton at July 21, 2009 11:33 AM

1) Even if they did know it was Gates' house, how did they know (initially) that it was Gates (and his friend) IN there?

2) You're obviously of the "other" category based on my third update -- Jonah Goldberg's thoughts on the matter. What you say -- legally -- may indeed be accurate; however, if Gates was cooperative from the onset the whole matter would have been discharged w/no hassle. And what if the cops were seemingly uncaring about the situation? Would Gates have still charged them w/racism -- for not giving import to a possible break-in at a [famous] black man's house?

3) I've already conceded that the cops, once seeing Gates' ID(s), should have vamoosed.

4) I've gotten out of more "cop situations" than I can remember by being viscously polite to the officers involved, mostly speeding tickets.

Posted by: Hube at July 21, 2009 11:43 AM


A) Gates leases the property from Harvard. It doesn't makeit any less his home but it does make it more difficult for Officer on the scene to make that determination.

B) calling the University police to the scene is a common curtisy/cooperation in college towns.

C) the article you linked to on your site was basically a press release from Gates Lawyer.

Posted by: anoni at July 21, 2009 11:50 AM

lets review what we know (or atleast what we think we know)

The next door neighbor calls police after seeing two black men wearing backpacks trying to force the front door.

According to Gates's lawyer those two men were Gates and a friend.

No News Report mentions the friend

The police report makes no mention of the friend

any further speculation on who the friend is and why he hid and how that explains Gates bizzare behavior would unkind and not politically correct.

the guilty flee (or in this cased rant and rave) when none presue.

Posted by: anoni at July 21, 2009 12:07 PM