Historian and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested Thursday afternoon by Cambridge, MA, police as they responded to a reported break-in at Gates’ home. Gates and fellow members of the Harvard faculty are calling the incident a clear case of racial profiling.
Gates is best-known for his scholarship on Black American history, but has also been a strong voice supporting LGBT activists who claim a space in the civil rights movement.
According to the Boston Globe, who broke the story, and the Associated Press, Gates had just returned from a trip to find his front door jammed shut, and was trying to free it when a passerby called to report “two black males with backpacks on the porch,” with one ”wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry.”
When police arrived at Gates’ two-story home near the Harvard Faculty Club, Gates was already inside, calling the property’s maintenance company. Police demanded the professor show him identification, sparking an argument where Gates upbraided the police officer, accusing him of racial profiling. “‘Why, because I’m a black man in America?” Gates said, according to the police report.
Friends of Gates, according to the Globe, say the professor eventually gave him both his driver’s license and his Harvard identification card. Eventually, police arrested and handcuffed Gates, booking him for disorderly conduct. Gates was later released after paying a $40 fee. The Middlesex County District Attorney’s office has stated it will not pursue the charges against Gates.
“He and I both raised the question of if he had been a white professor, whether this kind of thing would have happened to him, that they arrested him without any corroborating evidence,” S. Allen Counter, a Harvard Medical School professor told the Globe.
These issues are not new to Harvard students, faculty, and staff. The Globe reports that Coulter himself had a similar run-in with University police.
The well-known neuroscience professor, who is also black, was stopped by two Harvard police officers in 2004 after being mistaken for a robbery suspect as he crossed Harvard Yard [the University’s central commons]. They threatened to arrest him when he could not produce identification.
Jimi Izrael at The Root calls this a “‘Crash’ Moment,” highlighting the way class and race played out in the professor’s arrest.
Based on his statement and looking at the police report, it looks like he had too much conversation for the po-po, and they felt the need to make a point. I can empathasize with Skip, but when the cops come to your house, it’s never a social call. Offer them coffee and a sweet roll, but this is no time to conversate. If they annoy you, get their unit number off the car and note the time, but there’s nothing to argue about because you won’t win any arguments with the police. The cops mishandled this situation. Even still, I’m no Harvard professor, but I know there is protocol when detained by the police–even Pookie knows that. In any event, maybe Skip’s experience is a Crash Moment for the rest of us who haven’t figured that out, even though we may have multiple degrees, live in big houses and we have a black president, class still doesn’t trump race. You and Cousin Pookie have more in common than you ever imagined.