There is still an unfortunate reality in America when it comes to race: There are those who hold power and those who are forced to sub come to it. Although America  arguably has the best of race relations in comparison to many European nation-states that face ethnic tension, the dark reality of race is that of power. Before the 1990s, Boston had a reputation for being an anti-black community; it has been shaped by its eastern European migratorial base that shaped its quasi white heritage. Black athletes often complained about being bothered when driving their high-priced cars in town. But, Henry Louis Gates is no athlete. For the most part, he really is not a celebrity accept for those of us who follow quasi celebrity academics — which constitutes far less than 1% of academics.

I suspect Gates allowed his ego to be an issue when he was the victim of racial profiling. Still, it is not unusual for black males to face some type of confrontation from white male police officers, as noted here when Gates clearly had done what he was supposed to have done:

The arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates is an example of poor police work, to be charitable, and the vestiges of racial relationships between black and white men. The police officer, after having been presented with two valid identification cards demonstrating who Gates was and where he lived, should have simply moved on. He didn’t. According to the first-person account I read on The Root, the officer didn’t do that, ignored reasonable requests by Gates, and was joined by numerous police officers for backup. Gates, likely tired after a long flight from China only to be greeted by a front door that was disabled in what may have been an attempted break-in, was likely offended that the officer didn’t immediately bring the matter to a close. As a black man, I’ve been there and can easily believe that the officer thought Gates was insufficiently deferential and was looking to knock the professor down a peg or two.

Tension between  white and black men has been grounded in the historical. Paradoxically, it was white male teachings and preaching that launched the myth that black men prey on white women. Popular culture has used historical falsities to portray black men as sexual champions. Thus, the black man has been the secret fantasy of white women, when in reality – – it was the white male that served as the sexual predator. This, as well as the race for work, promoted a sense of competition between the two.

As Colin Powell stated, if you are a black male in America you have at some point in time been a victim of racial profiling. Colin stated that he too has been the victim of such profiling.


13 thoughts on “Gates

  1. This Gates debacle is something that has been on my mind since I first read about it. I’ve been hesitant to write about it because I know that not all the facts are out just yet and it’s touchy on all sides. I’ll agree with Pres. Obama that the arresting officer acted stupidly in incarcerating one of the best known scholars in the country, but I can’t say much more.

    I’m glad that you mentioned the fact that white men have always given identity to black men, rather than the greater portion of black society having the agency to create their own space. Reading Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin (yes, a touchy book too that can be thought of as too authoritarian and such but it works here) I was struck that so many of the white men he encountered expected and even forced him to be the uber-virile black man that they wanted him to be.

    Beyond that, I’m fairly sick of journalists and authors (both white and black) who have been blaming Gates alone because he did not show proper respect to the police. It’s much more complicated than that and they know it.

  2. “I suspect Gates allowed his ego to be an issue when he was the victim of racial profiling.”

    Based on what I have read on this, I would agree with the former, but not the later.

    The President could not have picked a worse target to accuse of stupidity on race than Sgt. James Crowley. The guy teaches at the police academy on how to avoid the pitfalls of racial profiling, and his fellow officers (Hispanic and black alike) are backing him up on how this situation unfolded. I have yet to hear the professor himself refute the official version of events!

    Surely Gates would not have a hair-trigger on his racial discrimination alarm…

    As near as I can tell, Gates went from 0 to 60 on the anger meter when he was asked to step outside his house. There are lots of other scenarios where it would be common sense from a safety standpoint for all involved to step outside and sort it out in the open that have nothing to do with race. That is why it is procedure.

    According to the police, Gates berated the officer(s) to the point that he ignored their warnings of an arrest if he did not calm down. Apparently, the President did not find that part of the narrative as “acting stupidly.” The radio transmissions between Gates house and police headquarters might be illuminating.

    Racial profiling happens, but this situation sounds inverse: a neighbor and the police try to protect the life and property of a black citizen, only to be accused of racism by the homeowner and ridiculed by the President.

    “Sometimes it’s not the color of one’s skin that is the problem, it’s the thinness of it.” — Dennis Miller

  3. It does seem that race was an issue. You cannot tell me that if Gates was white this cop would not have kept asking for more ID. I think that is the issue.

    Carson & Matt: I agree with you on the ego thing. I like what Powell had to say in that he cannot get that mad. But I am just some white person. I cannot relate to what he has gone through being in his mid 50s in age, a black man. I am sure there is much here.

  4. Here is an interesting article suggesting Gates and any other citizen has some rights to freedom of “rude” speech, even when dealing with police officers.

    “Deference and respect, of course, are much to be desired both in and out of government service–police want it, as do citizens in their own homes or on their porches or on the street. However, respect is earned and voluntarily extended; it is not required, regardless of rank.”

  5. Like you, I was unsure of what to write about until today. I think the most interesting angle is the call for legal reform of disorderly conduct laws that needs to happen. When we give officers such incredible discretion in undefined situations, we are openly consenting to abuse of police power.

    I don’t think there is much factual dispute anymore. But yelling at a police officer in any case is not a crime. It is even less of a crime when it happens on your own property and the officer is mistakenly sent there. When the officer realized that Gates was the owner of the house, he should have left and sucked it up. Instead, he wanted to get back at the guy who had been yelling at him, so he arrested him on disorderly conduct.

    That is the stupid part.

  6. – “Sir, would you remain where you are. Who are you?”
    – “Could I see some identification?”
    – “Would you please step outside with me while we confirm this?”

    Man, that officer must have been on a racist power trip…

  7. Pretty much what Obama said was “I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about but the Police were wrong.” Now, THAT is one arrogant SOB.

    Have you heard some of the past quotes from Gates? Now THAT is a racist but..wait…blacks cannot be racist, that’s right!

    I must say, and this will probably sound wrong, however, I do feel that too many minorities can be over-sensitive. Yes, I know…I’m not black and haven’t gone thru this and that..well, whatever. A fact is a fact. When a person can cry foul at the drop of a hat at every single solitary instance, that is just being over sensitive. End of story.

    On another note, if you are into robbing houses, there is a great one owned by a Mr. Gates. The police, I am sure, will take their own sweet time getting there.

  8. Roland, didn’t you used to have a blog? I think I remember reading obnoxious things from you before.

    @Matt S, nobody is saying that the officers did anything wrong by responding to the call and seeing what was going on. But once they realized that it was Gates’ house, then they should have left. Gates committed no crime by entering his own house, and being rude to police officers is not a crime. Do you really want to live in a country where cops arrest people who just piss them off?

    It doesn’t have to be racist to be stupid. It was stupid and petty for them to arrest Gates after it was clear that he was just a private citizen going about his business and the whole thing was a misunderstanding.

  9. David, what was obnoxious about what I wrote? Also, have you read the whole report? Have you heard from the other multiple officers on the scene? Now, I am one of the first to say I think Govco goes too far too often. The fact that Police can set up drunk driving check points is, to me, just flat out against the Constitution. So, I’m not really getting on the point as to whether or not Gates should have been taken away but just that far too often, race is thrown in to situations where it need not be. Every single time a black person is questioned by the Police does not mean there is something racist going on but we have been led to believe that by the hate-mongers of the left ala Jackson and Sharpton.

    The simple fact is that people like Gates can say the most hateful and racist things in the world and no one bats an eye but let someone call 911 because they think a house is being broken into and she is called a racist pig.

  10. David M,
    By the time the Officer realized that Gates was who he was, he was being berated with insults (Some pretty racial comments apparently). I don’t think he should have been arrested, but I understand the officer’s reasoning for doing so. This man verbally assaulted an officer and if he was not at his own home he could legally arrest the Professor. This could be argued in a number of ways, but I don’t think that this is an occurrence that deserves the media attention it has gotten.

    Btw Carson I miss visiting your site, I really need to get back in the habit.

  11. Per Section 6 of Chapter 209A of The General Law of Massachusetts which partly lays out the rights and duties of police officers in the field:

    “Whenever any law officer has reason to believe that a family or household member has been abused or is in danger of being abused, such officer shall use all reasonable means to prevent further abuse. The officer shall take, but not be limited to the following action: (1) remain on the scene of where said abuse occurred or was in danger of occurring as long as the officer has reason to believe that at least one of the parties involved would be in immediate physical danger without the presence of a law officer. This shall include, but not be limited to remaining in the dwelling for a reasonable period of time.”

    There are sub-points 2, 3, and 4 (as well as many other concessions that you can read at your own convenience). However, the first sub-point is the one that I wish to focus on.

    It is well known that on the night of July 16th, a Miss Lucia Whalen placed a call to the Cambridge Police Department to report what she thought to be a home invasion when she saw Mr. Gates and his Driver forcefully open his front door from both sides (which he later reported to campus maintenance as having been “jimmied”). The official Police report states that Mr. Gates became irate when asked to step outside of his own home after admittedly having produced sufficient identification indicating that the residence was his. He refused to calm down after repeated prompting (a fact backed up by the police call) which culminated in his arrest after having made a statement regarding his racial orientation and the fact that he was being arrested.

    Controversial statements made out in the lawn aside, I have a few questions that have left to be answered.

    (1) Mr. Gates stated that he would not leave his residence to stand on the porch because, as stated on an interview with Gail King, “that would have allowed the officer the chance to arrest him.” Question: Does Skip Gates have a functional brain after fifty-eight years of life?

    Sergeant James Crowley and Sergeant Leon Lashley did not need Gates to step out onto the porch to arrest him. They can arrest him at their own discretion any point in an investigation. As stated in the General Law referenced above, it is the civic duty of the officer to remain at the scene of an indecent as long as any party may be in danger. At no point could the officer have known whether or not a danger was present in the house because the men that Miss Lucia Whalen had described were “Hispanic” in appearance and therefore it was entirely possible that two other men were still in the house and could present a danger to Mr. Gates. When Gates became irate and hypocritically racial, it became a matter of him exhibiting disorderly conduct and presented reasonable grounds for him to be arrested.

    (2) Mr. Gates stated that he suspected that his front door had been “jimmied” in an attempted robbery while he was away working on a documentary about the cellist Yo-Yo Ma. According to his own reports, he entered through the back of the house and proceeded to forcefully open the front door with the help of his driver. He THEN called campus maintenance to come and inspect his faulty door for signs of attempted forced entry. Question: Why would the “exhausted” Mr. Gates take the time to work with his driver to open a door to a house that he had already gained entry to and then call campus security because it was broken?

    This makes me question whether or not the standards are higher for the students or the professors at Harvard. If the door to Gates’ home was broken, and entry to the home was already achieved, AND if he was going to call campus maintenance anyway, why would he bother making the task of fixing the door more painstaking for whoever would have to repair it by breaking it further? If he had simply used that noggin that he is so famous for, this whole incident could have been avoided. I suppose Einstein had to prove himself a genius from beyond the grave yet again though. I believe that he once stated, “The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.”

    (3) My final question deals with the issue of race. A request was made for investigation into a possible burglary at the home of Mr. Henry Louis Gates (a routine request that is required by the police department to investigate). Per the General Law of Massachusetts, it is required that the officer remain at the scene of a disturbance until he is certain that there is no harm possible for a residential inhabitant. Question: Why would Henry Louis Gates turn what should have been a routine investigation into a nation encompassing prolonging of racial tension?

    My theory is that Gates made his intentions clear during his interview with Gail King. He stated that he wishes to make a documentary of racial profiling in America. He saw this as the perfect opportunity to gain his fifteen minutes of fame and reignite racial tension in a country that rid itself of such tension largely in the ’70s and ’80s and most recently, and in the most prominent way, by electing a black man to the most powerful position on the planet. My bet is that the insolent little dolt saw an opportunity arise and struck before realizing that he had bitten a more staunch advocate of racial equality than even he was (go figure how someone could possibly want to have racial tension eradicated more than he 🙂 ). I just wish that he would let this go, admit that he tried to make a bigger deal out of this than it warranted, and let us all go back to the days when Britney, Lindsey, and Jon and Kate was all that anyone cared about.

    I would have something to say about our President but I think I will play the better man in this case. We cannot say “take it easy” to liberals about Bush and then suddenly expect leniency when we voice our own opinions about every uneducated and unsophisticated thing that Obama says. I hope that other conservatives will follow my example in the future on this.

  12. Patrick, I disagree with one thing,
    “…reignite racial tension in a country that rid itself of such tension largely in the ’70s and ’80s…” There is still racial tension out there, especially among police civilian relationships, and that is what this case boils down to. I personally think that both sides have there own misconceptions about the other and victim mentalities run rampant especially in the case of arrest.

    A victim mentality allows us to justify what we do while finding fault in our accuser. It feeds on arrogance, self rightiousness, and pride (things a Harvard professor no doubt has much of), and is released when a persons pride or beliefs are questioned. Discrimination is the first thing people are ready to claim when they feel their pride is being questioned.

    When the police came to Prof. Gates’ house, and asked for identification, something hurt his pride. Once he showed his ID the police officer asked him to step outside while he verified the information given to him. Gates took this as a questioning of his integrity. Gates’ victim mentality was ignited, and his own racial misconceptions came with it. It was quite Ironic to me. The way I see it Gates found himself being targeted racially, and responded with racial attacks. In my opinion victim mentalities perpetuate racial tension more than any other thought process or past event.

  13. First of all, President Obama put his foot in his mouth to step into this situation. He later realized it and had to back pedal to try to get out of it.

    I do believe it is a valid point that racial profiling does occur in our society. It appears there are some folks in the world that have a “Me against the World” attitude and send a vide of who is going to discriminate against me today. It consumes their every thought. Is this Gates? I don’t know. I do not know the man personally. I will say, according to the majority of his statements on record, he has been very pompous and coarse with his choice of words. Witnesses have also verified that Gates’s conduct to the officers were disrespectful and resistful. I’m not sure where Mr. Gates grew up, but my parents taught me to respect the law. About a year ago I received a speeding ticket for doing 40 in a 35. I was upset about it, but I took my medicine. The ticket cost me $170 and that was with saying a LOT of yes sirs. The law demands respect. He obviously wasn’t breaking the law breaking into his own house – just don’t shoot your mouth and give a “Me against the World” and resist. If the police show up at my door I would think, man, y’all are doing your job? Thanks, guys.

    The press have also slammed the person that called the police. She’s a racial profiler as well? Give me a break. She’s just going by what she can see. After the 911 call came out, we later realized that the operator gave her options for race. She said maybe ___________ race. This has made this lady’s life a living hell because everyone is calling her a racist, however, she was trying to be a good citizen. Do you think she will try to call in a report again? Do you think this will deter a lot of Americans from doing the same?

    I think a previous poster hit the nail on head. It doesn’t matter about the color of the skin, it’s more about the thinness of it. I’m not African American and I guess I can say that I have never been victim of being racially profiled – or maybe I have and didn’t know about.

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