Henry Louis Gates demands an apology

The Boston Globe reports that a District Attorney has decided not to press charges against Henry Louis Gates Jr.  

No surprise there.  As I said in my first post on this story, they picked the wrong man to mess with.  Gates is a highly respected professor and authority on the civil rights movement.  If he had been just another black guy in some small Southern town he would still be locked up.   (Please read this piece of analysis from AP writer, Jesse Washington.  Here is CNN’s take.)

If his first name was “Bill” he would have been treated with far greater deference.

Check out the story in the Globe and scroll down to the comments section.  Most of these people are residents of Greater Boston, but you would get the same range of comments in the Deep South.  Half the readers think Dr. Gates owes Sergeant James Crowley an apology.

An apology?  Really?  If a police officer saw me trying to enter my own home and I presented clear evidence that I owned the place his next move is very simple: offer an effusive apology and to clear off my property.

Had that been done this would be a n0n-story. 

Sure, the initial scene at the front door looked suspicious.  You can’t blame the neighbor for calling the police, nor can you blame the police for checking into the situation.  But don’t expect the homeowner to welcome your intrusion with open arms. 

No one appreciates having to prove that they own their own home.  I would get a bit testy if this happened to me.  I would certainly ask for the officers name and badge number.  If this information wasn’t provided with alacrity I would tell the unresponsive officer what I thought of his non-compliance.  It’s simple human nature. Police officers should understand that when they confront innocent citizens in their own homes a measure of pique is to be expected.

Treating an officer with contempt isn’t illegal.  Henry Louis Gates, Jr. may understand the racial context of this story better than anyone else in America, but to most readers he’s just another black guy playing the race card.  His comment to the Globe makes perfect sense to me:

“I’m outraged. I shouldn’t have been treated this way but it makes me so keenly aware of how many people every day experience abuses in the criminal justice system … No citizen should tolerate that kind of poor behavior by an officer of the law. . . This is really about justice for the least amongst us.”

This is also significant:

Because of his arrest, Gates said he plans to make racial profiling and prison reform central intellectual and political issues he wants to explore. He’s also considering a new documentary on racial profiling.

“Because of the capricious whim of one disturbed person . . . I am now a black man with a prison record,” Gates said. “You can look at my mug shot on the Internet.”

The Washington Post has recently published an in-depth article based on an extensive interview with Dr. Gates.   The final quote in the Post story sums up the central issue quite nicely:

“I’m glad that someone would care enough about my property to report what they thought was some untoward invasion.  If she saw someone tomorrow that looked like they were breaking in, I would want her to call 911. I would want the police to come. What I would not want is to be presumed to be guilty. That’s what the deal was. It didn’t matter how I was dressed. It didn’t matter how I talked. It didn’t matter how I comported myself. That man was convinced that I was guilty.”

9 thoughts on “Henry Louis Gates demands an apology

  1. Alan–This demonstrates, contrary to some of your occasional assumptions, that racism is just as alive in the Northeast as it is in the deep south. However, as a trial lawyer, I can tell you that people (black or white) who have encounters with the police are universally advised to keep their cool and remain polite–and I’ve seen many a white guy get cuffed and taken to jail because they argued with the police, cursed them, or insulted them, even when the accused was in the right. However, it is probably safe to say that the cop’s reaction was affected by Dr. Gates’ race–and that Gates overreacted because the very fact that he is a civil rights expert made him acutely sensitive to racial injustice. JCB.

  2. God makes good come out of bad for God’s people. If this moves Dr. Gates to do the indepth study of racial profiling and prison reform he is talking about, that will be the good. And it will be respectable because of his position and background. He’s not just some black supremicist crackpot or loudmouthed preacher.

    Meanwhile, police officers need to learn not to react personaly in professional situations and this kind of think is less likely to happen. If they can’t then we need a higher class of officer.

  3. This is twice in a week! What is happening to the “liberal north”. Could it have been that they were just as prejudiced as Southerners all along? Yes. I think so.

  4. Well, some of the worst anti-civil rights rioting in the 60’s was in the North, if you call Chicago North.

  5. Yes, Rhonda, I also hope Dr. Gates follows up on racial profiling, prison reform, and beyond prison reform into Criminal Justice reform. He could collaborate with Dr. Lydia Bean, Ph. D. from Harvard, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Baylor, and Friends of Justice Board member, in the research.

  6. Mr. Bean, I understand your concern in this blog but I am troubled that you, too, may be enjoying devisiveness. You statement, “If he had been just another black guy in some small Southern town he would still be locked up”. Is also an accusation of profiling. The South and Southern towns are changing by leaps and bounds toward equality. In my home town in central North Carolina, we are very proud of our police chief who is a black guy. He is a very able police officer. Just another black guy is not locked up without due process in the South. Their are many racial divisions in this country and we must solve them. Please, Sir, understand that many across the nation are just as sympathic as you and we stand with you for justice.

  7. I see anything past Kentucky or where snow is not a novelty as North. So yes Chicago is very much the North and our President is a Northerner. I remember cold wind blowing in Chicago right after Labor Day when it is still in the 80s-90’s in the South for another month or two at least. I was there for a professional conference. That is the only time I have been farther north than Washington D.C. It was 1979.

    Yes, I know there were riots up north. One of my more vivid news memories from childhood was a school bus carrying black kids across town (bussing) being rocked by demonstrators. I think that was in Boston. Children remember things that relate to their lives. It is just that the emphasis has always been on the South being prejudiced because we actually had laws against integration, because Dr. King was from the Deep South, and because a war started over slavery ( re-cast as state’s rights) which was allowed in the South but not the North after a certain time. (Interestingly enough there were black southerners in Louisiana who owned slaves. They were called Creoles.)

    Racist Southerners are open about it. Racist Northerners deny it. The portrayals on TV in the 60s always seemed to be about George Wallace and Bull Connor whipping up on Dr. King.

    We have come a long way as a nation but we still have a long way to go and now, with more African-Americans in the middle class, there is a classism that is just as bad as racism as reflected in the increasing numbers of black Republicans and opposition to universal health care.

  8. I somewhat agree with you on this because Southern law enforcement, especially white officers are very conscious of the perception of racism and the last thing they want is a CNN video of 5 white cops beating up a black person. I think that has lead to the hiring of more black officers including in the higher ranks and as chiefs. Jena 6 put a recent light on the question of unfair arrest and prosecution of African-Americans since that tiny town in the middle of nowhere found itself hosting a demonstration that brought in more people than would physically fit.

    I am rather proud of North Carolina going for Obama. I would have thought it would be Georgia if any Southern state.

  9. One other interesting “southern thing” is that even though Baton Rouge, the small capital of Louisiana has had a whole lot of murders lately, and most of them black-on-black, the news tends to equally report the crimes with white suspects, both murders, which also seem to be invading areas formerly considered low crime, and those meth dealers, who are almost overwhelmingly white. So you might get two or three black crooks on the news along side the same number or more white ones.

Comments are closed.