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Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrested. Seriously, Cambridge? [Updated]

Henry Louis Gates Jr.


[Updated at 10:00 a.m.: Charges against Henry Louis Gates Jr. have been dropped, Cambridge officials announced in a press release today. The Boston Herald reports that the city and Cambridge police described the arrest as "regrettable and unfortunate."]

Preeminent scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., who holds one of 20 elite professorships at Harvard University and has hosted several PBS television programs was arrested in Cambridge, Mass., on Thursday at his home. According to an Associated Press report, police responded to a call about "two black males":

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 -- the 58-year-old director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research and one of the "two black males" -- was inside the house, which he leases from Harvard. He'd just returned from a trip to China, had found the front door jammed and entered through the rear. The police report says that he initially declined to come outside and show an officer his identification, allegedly saying, "Why, because I'm a black man in America?"

In his 1992 book "Loose Canons," which our reviewer said exhibited Gates' "stiletto wit," Gates wrote,

It's important to remember that "race" is only a sociopolitical category, nothing more. At the same time ... that doesn't help me when I'm trying to get a taxi on the corner of 125th and Lenox Avenue.

Nor, apparently, does it help with the police in Cambridge. Although Gates showed them identification, he was handcuffed, taken into custody and charged with disorderly conduct because, according to the report, he "exhibited loud and tumultuous behavior."

Gates' colleague and attorney, Charles Ogletree, questioned this description, telling the Associated Press that the scholar had "an infection that impacted his breathing" and was walking with a cane.

In his 1994 book "Colored People: A Memoir," Gates wrote:

Completely by the accident of racism, we have been bound together with people with whom we may or may not have something in common, just because we are "black." Thirty million Americans are black, and 30 million is a lot of people. One day you wonder: What do the misdeeds of a Mike Tyson have to do with me? So why do I feel implicated? And how can I not feel racial recrimination when I can feel racial pride? ...

I want to be black, to know black, to luxuriate in whatever I might be calling blackness at any particular time -- but to do so in order to come out the other side, to experience a humanity that is neither colorless nor reducible to color.

Our reviewer, Richard Eder, characterized Gates' perspective as "the new openness." "It does not fall along older left-right lines," Eder wrote. "It tends to strike a shifting center as it considers the ways in which quotas, government redress of economic imbalances, racially based politics and the like help and harm the advancement of African Americans."

More of Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s writing after the jump.


One of his first acts at Harvard was to hire Spike Lee as a guest lecturer; another was to lure Cornell West from Princeton. These bold moves, according to a 1994 profile of Gates that ran in the L.A. Times, were seen as dynamic and spirited.

Early in this century, Gates writes in ["Colored People: A Memoir"], black entertainer Bert Williams observed that "it's no disgrace to be colored. But it is awfully inconvenient."

Even at the very tip-top of the academic heap, Gates comes to much the same conclusion today. "Yes!" he railed. "It is inconvenient, because of white racism. When I walk into a room, people still see my blackness, more than my Gates-ness, or my literary-ness."

The question of what it means to be seen as black has continued to be one that Gates has addressed. In 2000, Gates, Ogletree and 21 other Harvard faculty members signed an opinion article that ran in the L.A. Times regarding the 1999 death of Amadou Diallo, who was shot by New York City police officers. The article said, in part:

Few of us are immune from the toxins of racial mistrust and misunderstanding, but law enforcement professionals must be held to a higher standard because they are public servants armed with the discretion and power both to destroy and to save lives.

That article praised the Boston Police Department for achieving "the dual goal of preserving and maintaining respect for communities of color and providing protection and policing." Maybe not so for Cambridge.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Top photo: Henry Louis Gates Jr. at home in 2008. Credit: Josh Reynolds / Associated Press. Lower photo: Cambridge Police Department / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (225)

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Wow, Racism in America is alive and well. Good thing Obama travels with the secret service or they might arrest him for coming to the White house late one night! !

It's not racism. It's just a crackdown on that horrible Tumultuous Behavior crime wave.



No one is above the law. Anyone can be arrested and Gate's race was not the reason he was arrested. Having listened to his diatribes over the years this 'arrest' must make him very happy.

Looks like something that could have been handled with some tact by the police. To arrest him for disorderly conduct in his OWN house is a bit much. A few words would have ended this on the spot - sorry, just responding to a concerned phone call. Welcome home. Good night. Instead of hand cuffs etc.

Wow. what a useless article, where are the actual details of the arrest? It sounds like the police showed up to his house to protect his home from intruders, rather than thank them and show his id he became confrontational and demonstrated racism.

Terrible! Naturally Mr. Gates would be upset. Once he showed identification the officers should have apologized for the inconvenience and left.

For someone allegedly that smart, to do something that foolish and provocative, just sayin'.

If you listen to the account by him, police followed procedure. Imagine if it was another balck male actually breaking into his house. Would it have been racism then? Plenty of people are racist, but not every time a black man is arrested by a white officer is it racist.

I think Mr Gates is an intelligent man with a chip on his shoulders. It seems to me the officer responded to a call by a concerned nieghbor, when arriving he asks for ID and Mr Gates right away assumes that the man is a racist. Well that is prejuding isnt? So now both side lose thier cool as niether thinks they are being shown respect. This escalated because Mr Gates prejudge the officers intentions instead of cooperationg. People do not respect one another anymore. What a ashame.

Initially Gates refused to show identification and then he more or less threw a temper tantrum. The police had no way of knowing, at first, that he was the householder, and they didn't need to be screamed at and verbally abused because they were doing their jobs, in response to a 911 call.

Perhaps Gates should be angry with the neighbor who called 911, though she may have been too far away to recognize him. Or perhaps he and she have never met. All she saw was someone who appeared to be trying to break into a house. I'd call 911 in those circumstances no matter what color the man was, and if I were breaking into my own home and someone called the police, I'd expect to be asked to show ID. And I would.

Racial profiling does occur, but in this situation, I can't be sympathetic to Gates.

Why is it that whenever something like this happens everyone automatically thinks the cops were lying like they are all part of some huge conspiracy towards minorities. They have a job to do with limited information on the situational circumstances.
I am a minority and if he refused to cooperate and threw the "because I am a black man" comment out there, then he deserved to be arrested.


sounds to me like a double fault. police not using common sense and a man looking for an excuse to accuse. not good on both sides.

Cops are scumbags. Plain and simple. Always looking to pin something on somebody. I'm white and I work in Cambridge. I was harrassed by a cop just the other day because I was in the vicinity of an incident. He was extremely rude while questioning me as to what I was doing, where I was going and how did nobody stop me; I must have been doing something wrong. Of course he took offense when I had an attitude about it, but I was just giving him the same attitude he was giving me. I work as an achitect building a large project in the city and at least 4 days a week I was stopped by the police at the site wondering what I was doing there, saying I didn't look like I should be there. Yeah well, I'm an architect and I work here. Just because I don't look like doesn't mean you can be rude. It's guilty until proven innocent in Boston.

Anyone criticizing the arrest should look at the arrest report, which was posted on the Drudgereport, I believe. According to the report, there were numerous witnesses to Gates being a totally arrogant, condescending punk who was baiting and disobeying the officer. If these witnesses back up the officer, that is what Gates was and he deserved to be arrested. If not, Gates has a good argument that he was selectively prosecuted because he is black. The Times article is not fair or thorough because it omits the officer's side of the story, which was surely available to the Times.

I think Michael Steele had something to do with this.

What a sad thing, I wonder what people think to themselves, both the police and people they question, but surely the point is not just about race, it should be as much about what kind of society we have created and continue to live in. Hopefully one day race will be irrelevant for how law enforcement (or anyone else for that matter!) thinks about other humans beeings. PEACE.









i am white. i voted for obama. race had noting to do with my decision. if i was breaking into my own house i would suspect neighbors would call the police. i would then have to produce identification, which makes logical sense. i'd want police to question anyone who may have broken into my house, in case it wasnt me.
yes some cops can seem fascist at times.
i've lost respect for this educator.

This man propogates racism. He is the one that made race an issue. The police received a call where someone believed there was a break in in progress. the police respond and ask the person inside the house that they suspect was broken into, for identification. Rather then show them his ID, he yells at them and throws race in their face. All the situation called for was for him to identify himself as the owner, and what he SHOULD have done is thanked the officers for their timely response and thorough investigation. What if it wasn't the owner in the house? what if it was being robbed or worse, what if Gates was in there and someone broke in to attack him. THEN would you want the police to leave without ensuring that the premises are secure? I applaude the police for arresting him. they should arrest more poeple (black, white, asian, hispanic, etc...) who don't cooporate with law enforcement.

I don't care where you are or what color your skin is, if you don't cooperate with police, you are asking for trouble. Mind you these details are not conclusive and very possible not accurate, however the comment in the article, "The police report says that he initially declined to come outside and show an officer his identification, allegedly saying, "Why, because I'm a black man in America?"" does not sound good. This is not how an innocent person with nothing to hide should react in a situation with police. Conversely the cuffs was likely a step too far once ID was presented.

MIA and Buddesatva, are you out of your minds? Our founding fathers would roll over in their graves to think the current state of race relations in this country have so confused you two citizens that you think it is proper a man might be arrested OUT OF HIS HOME because he was "confrontational." It is a longstanding principle of US and common law that a man's home is his castle. It is in fact a fairly strong defense for a homicide case, meaning that if his "confrontation" escalated to gunfire a strong case could be made the police were in the wrong.

The cops did just what they are supposed to do. Check out the possibility of a robbery in progress, ask for ID of the persons in side the house. Arrest any person who was robbing the place. Were I the home owner and this was me, I would be thankful that the cops were checking things out. Had it been a actually robber, black, white, brown, or green with purple poka-a-dots, the perp would have been caught and sent to jail. But nooooooooooo some idiot, and he is that, has to scream racial profiling and discrimination. Where is the United White man College fund, The National Association for the Advancement of White People, The white television network.????? Nooo that would be racist, Yet blacks have that, as do other races. So People are getting tired of being called racist when its idiots like him who are racist and scream discrimination any time a black man/woman/child gets arrested by a white cop, regardless of if the arrested person was committing a crime or not. Real Blacks do not do that! They understand that all people are created equal, and are treated equally now. Sure fifty years ago they were not but that was then and this is now.

I am not foolish enough to believe that racial profiling doesn't exist and I think it should be brought to light when it occurs, but this man is behaving poorly - I don't care what school he is a preeminent scholar at. If I battered down my own door and the police came to investigate (which they should) and they didn't ask for my ID, they wouldn't be doing their job. If I was beligerant and made the police's job harder by withholding my ID until I was badgered into showing it, then I am asking to be arrested and I certainly would be, white or not. He should be glad the police were on the job, because if it hadn't been him who broke into his home, the police would have apprehended criminals trespassing and/or robbing him! If the police decide it might be perceived as racial profiling so they better not interfere when a black person's home is broken into if the person who broke in was a black person, then that makes blacks less safe. Now that would be discrimination I would protest against! This is a case of an angry man expecting the worst and creating it for himself by his own inappropriate knee-jerk reaction. I am sure the anger came from actual bad experiences and is perfectly justified, but this wasn't one of those situations and his reaction is not helping the cause of equality.

The fault lies with Gates... he should have been respectful towards the police officers. My guess his behavior was not appropriate and the officers were within their rights. When someone protests loudly, they usually have something to hide.

I am tired of the media only providing one side of the story, just to have a juicy story....so much for professional journalism. You would think that the L.A. Times would be a bit more professional!

First uppity and now tumultuous! BUNA thinks that's an improvement----yea, us!

I only WISH people who lived near me would have noticed and called the police when someone broke into my house.

I yell in my own property too: in my home at my rotten luck, in my car at crappy drivers - I also get yelled at by a wife who is louder than me. Even though the Prof was renting, it was technically his property (unless the landlord complained, which it didn't), he should be able to yell and scream all he wants to. The police should have been more considerate and tactful in diffusing the situation with a man who was probably tired and cranky, instead they probably got wrongfully frustrated like idiots and put the Prof over the edge with an extremely sensitive issue. I remember something like this on a TV program once: racist white lady neighbor sees black man entering his own house and calls police reporting break-in, the police shoot the black man to death when he comes out because he was holding his garage door opener.

I'm white and last year when I hopped my fence to get in my house (because my garage door opener was in my car at the mechanic), the police came by and asked to see my ID. I gave them my driver's license and answered their questions and thanked them for checking up on me. Racism is only helped along in this world when one particular race demands that they be treated differently from every one else. I understand this Gates guy is absolutely LOVING this situation he has created, but he and others like him only promulgate racism in America (and the world).

If anyone is racist, it is the white woman neighbor who assumed he didn't live in that house. The police, while they are often racist, were merely responding to a call and didn't know who he was. The police followed procedure. His indignance at not being "known" and his narcissism took over. When they asked for an ID, he gave them his Harvard ID, as though that would carry weight, even though it didn't have his address on it. Why not just give them a normal driver's license with the address of the house, which is what the officer requested? He is entitled to be angry while entering his own house, but if anyone else acted like that, they would be arrested. Be angry at the woman who called.


Gates - is a lucky man- had he been in nyc - the capital of the world - we will be crying for him - given that the police appears to shoot and ask questions later -

i am glad he is at cambridge- scared, upset but above all ALIFE!!!

Where's Jesse and/or Al? It's only a matter of time. From the limited information of this article it sounds like the police were provoked into escalating the situation. I had something similar happen and I showed them my ID and we all went our merry way. Sad that people feel sorry for him really.

Let's see, I break into my house. The police show up and want to know what is going on. Instead of telling them why I broke in I go off on a tangent yelling at them and approaching them with a cane in hand and I get arrested? Gee ya think? How about just calmly answering an officer of the law when he is attempting to protect your own property. If you don't respect the man in the uniform at least respect the law he represents.

Red, Green, Purple, White, Yellow, Black, it doesn't matter what skin color you are if you refuse to cooperate with authorities, you will be arrested.

End of story.

Please, racial profiling? If his home were broken into and the police did not catch the suspects these same people would be saying that the black communities are neglected by the police. This is not profiling, this is the police responding to a neighbors concern and protecting the people and property within their district.

Wow! That's one uppity black professor, I would say.
I am not black, but I had similar situation few years back, in Colorado. Late ons night I was unloading some building materials at my house. Alert neighbors had called the police. When the cop came I showed him my drivers license and when he was sure I was the owner, he left. I am grateful to my neighbors for calling the police. Had really been a breack in I would have been another crime victim.
I suggest to the good neighbors of the professor next time to ignore when someone breaks-in into his house. This way we all will be spared his phony indignation, and of those so called supporters.
We are tire of the race card being played by the black minority even when wholly unjustified as in this case.

LOL, negroes.

Cops harass everyone. I bet racism was 20 percent of it, but everyone has to cooperate and defer to them when you get stopped in any way even if you're not doing anything wrong. Otherwise, they make a point to put you in your place ane let you know that they're in charge.

The whole story doesn't make sense. Did the neighbor who called the police not know who he was? I mean, this isn't just another black man living in the neighborhood, this is Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Even I know who Mr. Gates is.

Secondly, as a highly regarded scholar, I highly doubt Mr. Gates became so irate the police needed to arrest him-- We're not talking about Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton here. Mr. Gates is very well respected and world renown. He didn't reach such elite status by acting irate every time some injustice was done to him or another African American...but then again, everyone knows Beantown is far more racist than Birmingham.

To Lili -- the neighbor could see well enough to say that they were black men with backpacks.

And I love the way tht phrased it, "imagine if it was another black man..." racism implicit.

Gosh, I'm just glad that another police department has finally done something foolish enough to take the spotlight off LAPD. This is right on up there with the Texas cop who tased an elderly woman because she talked back to him.

Seriously, Cambridge Cops, even if Professor Gates threw a tantrum, that's not something you arrest someone over. People talk back to cops all the time, you're going to have to learn to get over it. Bottom line, he showed his ID, proved he had a right to be in the house, that should have been the end of it. Stop wasting taxpayer dollars.

Obviously, the cops didn't know who he was (job, history...). They were simply dealing with someone who was resisting their requests and was being belligerent. What if he had started with "Officers, I appreciate your concern about someone breaking into my house. It holds many things dear to me. Here let me show you my ID so you can see that I'm the owner of the house. I'd also like to show you how the door is sticking. Again, thanks for looking out for my property." Instead, he lays in with the race guilt. Now, Al Sharpton has chimed in and has said he will be at the arraignment. Great. Just what we need. He has set race relations back two decades. Any chance he can find to stay in the news. You know, just once, I'd like to here Al come out and say that a white person did something right.

Here's a tired, sick man arriving home and inconvenienced by a jammed door. Here are police officers (probably men?) tired, wary and on an adrenalin spike. Then they all start acting like......MEN. Can't back down, can't apologize without losing face, all afraid of losing thier place in the hierarchy of the human male, all expressing their fears with aggressiveness. Black, white or green, men acting like "men", without mindfulness of their actions have put all the species on this planet in danger.

Probably a setup by this guy for some free publicity. Give Sharpton and Jesse a run for their money.

If one of my neighbors sees someone breaking into my house, and calls the police, and then the police show up and there's evidence of forced entry, and a man standing in the house, I hope if that man says he's me and he lives there, the police will ask for ID.

If that man refuses to show the cops ID, I hope they arrest him. If that man is me, then I deserve it.

Really? Not about race, just a "crack down" on crime? How many other Ivy League professors have been arrested for going in their home at nighttime? The caller specifically stated "two black men” there is an underlined degree of racism whether we admit it or not. This was all about being black and nothing more. Shameful.

I'm shocked at the number of people who think that a sarcastic remark on Gate's part justifies an arrest.

He did not threaten the police. He did not resist arrest. He did not physically threaten anyone. He threw out a sarcastic remark.

There is no law which requires anybody to be polite to a police officer, and he has every right to refuse the police entry if they have no warrant.

The police, on the other hand, do NOT have the right to intimidate anyone who happens to be cheeky. As many have written, they could have looked at his ID, seen that he lived there, realized that he was justifiably angry, admitted their mistake like grown-ups, and given him a brief apology. That would have been the right thing to do.

Instead they made fools of themselves. Was racism involved? Well, that's almost impossible to prove or disprove. But racist or not, it sure sound like the police were nincompoops.

Of course racial profiling happens....because it works.
Quiz time:
What racial group on average is responsible for the most crime across America?
Good guess,There's the reason for profiling.

But in this case what happened is the Ol' Prof here got a bit uppity following the cop outside after he was satisfied with the professors credentials and the cop arrested him for his behaviour.


I'm glad most of the people responding feel the same as me. The writer of this article is not looking at it from Normal perspective.

I lost my keys to my car and I attempt to break window of my car to get into the car, someone calls police, they arrive, see broken window, and ask for my ID after I say "it's my car". I refuse to show them and start YELLING at them, that they are Not treating me with RESPECT. And I tell them to leave me alone, it's my car. They threated to arrest me and I show them my ID. Then I really start yelling at them. Are the cops wrong to arrest me for same charge as this guy. The BLACK community hopefully will see that they NEED to stop PLAYING the "BLACK" card. It's over used and it's starting to BUG people and like anything else , the other shoe will eventually drop. Nobody likes to be talked down to. White, Black or GREEN.

I used to be a neighbor of the professor a few years ago when it was widely publicized about his moving in to a predominantly upper class neighborhood. Yes, the cops are not trained to be nice - they are trained to enforce the law. Perhaps the professor thought that he was being disrespected when the police thought that they were doing their job. Happens! Chill out and live! we have all been there if we have lived. Respect from cops when they stop you is only a courtesy, dont expect it as a right - that is the bottom line.

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