Cambridge PD messes with the wrong African American

The Cambridge Police Department has arrested Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., after Dr. Gates entered in own home and produced proof of his identity. 

This story caught my eye because my daughter, Dr. Lydia Bean, recently graduated from Harvard and begins teaching sociology at Baylor next month.  Our family was recently in Cambridge for the graduation ceremony.  Gates’ attorney, Dr. Charles Ogletree, is a Harvard law professor who provided invaluable behind the scenes assistance in the Jena 6 case. 

Friends of Justice generally intercedes on behalf of low-status residents of small southern towns.  You don’t expect to find this kind of crude stereotyping in Cambridge, MA. 

Pasted below you will find Professor Ogletree’s statement on behalf of his client followed by the AP story


Statement on Behalf of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. — by 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 [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.

Black scholar’s arrest raises profiling questions

BOSTON – Police responding to a call about “two black males” breaking into a home near Harvard University ended up arresting the man who lives there — Henry Louis Gates Jr., the nation’s pre-eminent black scholar.

Gates had forced his way through the front door because it was jammed, his lawyer said. Colleagues call the arrest last Thursday afternoon a clear case of racial profiling.

Cambridge police say they responded to the well-maintained two-story home after a woman reported seeing “two black males with backpacks on the porch,” with one “wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry.”

By the time police arrived, Gates was already inside. Police say he refused to come outside to speak with an officer, who told him he was investigating a report of a break-in.

“Why, because I’m a black man in America?” Gates said, according to a police report written by Sgt. James Crowley. The Cambridge police refused to comment on the arrest Monday.

Gates — the director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research — initially refused to show the officer his identification, but then gave him a Harvard University ID card, according to police.

“Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him,” the officer wrote.

Gates said he turned over his driver’s license and Harvard ID — both with his photos — and repeatedly asked for the name and badge number of the officer, who refused. He said he then followed the officer as he left his house onto his front porch, where he was handcuffed in front of other officers, Gates said in a statement released by his attorney, fellow Harvard scholar Charles Ogletree, on a Web site Gates oversees,

He 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. An arraignment was scheduled for Aug. 26.

Gates, 58, also refused to speak publicly Monday, referring calls to Ogletree.

“He was shocked to find himself being questioned and shocked that the conversation continued after he showed his identification,” Ogletree said.

Ogletree declined to say whether he believed the incident was racially motivated, saying “I think the incident speaks for itself.”

Some of Gates’ African-American colleagues say the arrest is part of a pattern of racial profiling in Cambridge.

Allen Counter, who has taught neuroscience at Harvard for 25 years, said he was stopped on campus by two Harvard police officers in 2004 after being mistaken for a robbery suspect. They threatened to arrest him when he could not produce identification.

“We do not believe that this arrest would have happened if professor Gates was white,” Counter said. “It really has been very unsettling for African-Americans throughout Harvard and throughout Cambridge that this happened.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton is vowing to attend Gates’ arraignment.

“This arrest is indicative of at best police abuse of power or at worst the highest example of racial profiling I have seen,” Sharpton said. “I have heard of driving while black and even shopping while black but now even going to your own home while black is a new low in police community affairs.”

Ogletree said Gates had returned from a trip to China on Thursday with a driver, when he found his front door jammed. He went through the back door into the home — which he leases from Harvard — shut off an alarm and worked with the driver to get the door open. The driver left, and Gates was on the phone with the property’s management company when police first arrived.

Ogletree also disputed the claim that Gates, who was wearing slacks and a polo shirt and carrying a cane, was yelling at the officer.

“He has an infection that has impacted his breathing since he came back from China, so he’s been in a very delicate physical state,” Ogletree said.

Lawrence D. Bobo, the W.E.B Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard, said he met with Gates at the police station and described his colleague as feeling humiliated and “emotionally devastated.”

“It’s just deeply disappointing but also a pointed reminder that there are serious problems that we have to wrestle with,” he said.

Bobo said he hoped Cambridge police would drop the charges and called on the department to use the incident to review training and screening procedures it has in place.

The Middlesex district attorney’s office said it could not do so until after Gates’ arraignment. The woman who reported the apparent break-in did not return a message Monday.

Gates joined the Harvard faculty in 1991 and holds one of 20 prestigious “university professors” positions at the school. He also was host of “African American Lives,” a PBS show about the family histories of prominent U.S. blacks, and was named by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential Americans in 1997.

“I was obviously very concerned when I learned on Thursday about the incident,” Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust said in a statement. “He and I spoke directly and I have asked him to keep me apprised.”

11 thoughts on “Cambridge PD messes with the wrong African American

  1. What will it take for white folks and right wing pundits in America to stop making believe that the elephant has left the room? Racism is alive and well in the U.S. When this highly esteemed Harvard professor can be arrested in his own home for simply requesting the officer’s name and badge number we must at least be willing to admit there is a a real problem! This type of response by police officers happens everyday all around this country. The systemic institutional racism in police departments must be addressed head on. Enough is enough.

  2. This disgraceful incident demonstrates that racism is indeed alive and vigorous in a country that has an elected President who is in part African American. It also puts the lie to the oft-stated belief that “it’s not race, it’s class.” When an internationally known Harvard professor is arrested in his own home–it’s certainly not because of his class.

  3. At times I think there is nothing more that could totally shock me, and yet I sit here after reading the account of how Prof. Gates was treated in his own house by local police, and I am once again stunned by this clearly racist act of verbal violence. I am a white woman from the suburbs in a state many miles away who is presently considering attending Prof. Gates arranignment on the 26th of August. At the very least he is owed a huge apology from this police department and the officers involved, as well as the establishment of future conflict resolution departmental training. To say I am appalled by this incident is an understatement!
    Tommie Hutto-Blake

  4. I am white folks, but certainly not a right wing pundit or a right wing anything. And I think pinning a racist tag on me would be a stretch. Still I have some questions about this incident.

    Something did go very wrong here. But where/when did it go wrong. The police would have been guilty of dereliction of duty if they had not followed up on the neighbor’s call. And it seems to me the police were following good pracitce when they asked Gates for identification. If it had turned out that it was a burglar/burglars with one claiming to be Gates, then Dr. Gates would have cause to be upset with police for mishandling a home break in. Was the neighbor’s call in good faith, or was the call racial profiling in itself? What time did this incident take place? Was it dark or daylight? Could/should the caller have known that one of the “burglars” was Dr. Gates?
    But once Dr. Gates identified himself, which he should have done immediately, that should have been the end of the incident. And the policeman should have provided his badge number upon Dr. Gates’ request.

    I suspect there may be some town-gown hostility involved here. Claims of racial profiling will dissolve into he said/they said. Dr. Gates’ reputation and standing will make it difficult to just dismiss out of hand his claims. But the police will stand together.

    Cambridge Police Department should apologize to Dr. Gates for the way this was handled. Dr. Gates should thank the Police Department for investigating once they had the 911 call.

  5. I hope this will put an end to the myth that racism is over now that Obama is in the White House.

  6. If anyone was a racist here it was Gates.

    First off Gates refused to show his ID to the police, he even admitted that in his blog, plus the witnesses even said Gates refused to show ID. Gates said the only reason he asked for ID because he was black.

    Once he finally gave in and showed ID the cop started to walk away, until Gates started yelling at the cop, then the cop gave him three chances to calm down before he was arrested. Gates knew what he was doing and wanted this to happen once the cops showed up. But of course Obama wont talk about this fact.

    The funny thing is, the other arresting officer on the scene was black, you really think if it was racial profiling like its being claimed that the black cop would not have said anything or any of the other witnesses at the scene would have backed up Gates side of the story.

    I would be glad if i was trying to break into my own house and a cop asked me to step outside and show ID.
    Why cop an attitude with a police officer, he was just doing his job.

  7. I see in the NY Times this morning that President Obama has said the police in Cambridge acted stupidly. I agree with the President. The police should never have arrested Gates at his own home for disorderly conduct. Once Gates established his identity, that should have ended it from the police standpoint. Once Gates asked for the officer’s name and badge, it should have been provided.

  8. To the poster above me….How can any intelligent person actually make sense of what Obama said to millions of viewers, if that many watched?

    I mean, he opens with he might not be the best person to ask because he and Gates are friends—BIAS?

    He then states he does not know all-of-the facts surrounding the case, therefore he cannot say if it was racism—-fair-enough!

    He then states that he would be mad if he was arrested in his own home after they found out he lived there—-that is not what happend and he was not arrested inside his house.

    He then states the officer acted stupidly—–what? How can you preclude that the officer acted stupidly when just a few sentences before you said you are his friend and you do not know the facts of the case.

    Hell, someone with just a high school eduation can figure out how ignorant the “they acted stupidly” comment was.

    Gates made this about race from the begining and never let up. The officer did his job, responded to a call because while Gates was gone, someone did in fact try to break into his home.

    The Officer arrives, ask him to step outside because he was responding to a call of a break-in and then Gates decided to act like a jerk.

    The Officer did in fact say who he was and why he was there, but Gates was too busy YELLING (yes, there are witness to hiim yelling like a banshee) to hear the officer tell him his information.

    The officer called for back, which was when A BLACK AND HISPANIC COP ARRIVED ON THE SCENE.

    The hispanic cop wrote his report and concluded that GATES was out-of-control, disturbing the peace, and subsquently was arrested for disorderly conduct.

    You know, before we start racking people over the coals and labeling them as racist and the like, you might want to have all of the facts.

    In todays age, I am waiting for the first person who will sue someone for wrongly accusing them of being racist. This label can cause someone to lose their job, cause bodily injury and possibly even death given the right (or wrong for this point) circumstances.

    My point: Make it a point to know all of the facts before judging and labeling people and/or an incident.

    I am providing two links: one from Fox and one from Huffington Post. Both state that there is evidence to prove Gates instigated and made this incident about race:,2933,534687,00.html

  9. White people are usually very defensive regarding the race issue. They always have an EXCUSE for their behavior. Since they think we overeact, I doubt if any of them would like to trade places with us. Each day when a Black man leaves the house, he must remain conscious about how he presents himself and if stopped by the police… he could be killed. WOULD ANYONE LIKE TO TRADE PLACES WITH A BROTHER?

  10. Henry Gates is a “special” African American and deserves “special” treatment because he is a friend of the “Messiah” who was going to bring an end to the divide between black and white racial tensions…remember that? AHAHAHA! Riiiiight. The solution to this whole problem is easy. The next time someone breaks into Henry Gates’ house, and the police are called, the police should just ignore the call. Why? Because, if they respond and check it out, they’ll be called racists by Henry Gates and if they don’t respond, they’ll be called racists by Henry Gates. Basically, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t… so why bother?

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