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July 25, 2009

Henry Louis Gates Jr.: victim or provocateur?

boston protestThe recent arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., the African-American scholar and author, has become a frenzy of accusations, recrimination and good old political spin. Just as the fire was dying down — and it seemed Gates could get back to writing more books such as Colored People: A Memoir and In Search of Our Roots — President Barack Obama’s comment about Cambridge, Mass., police acting “stupidly” stoked it again. (Obama later backpedaled, implying that the word "stupidly" was subject to varying interpretations. Huh?)

As a former Boston resident, I’m well aware of the area’s history of racial tension. The school busing crisis (here's a 1974 protest) stoked passions, leading to the horrible scene of a white teen assaulting a black lawyer with an American flag — a moment caught in a photo that won the 1977 Pulitzer Prize. And though I’m a Red Sox fan, I’m sadly aware that the team was the last to integrate — Pumpsie Green joined the Sox in 1959, more than a decade after Jackie Robinson broke the color line.

In this episode, there seems to be enough blame to spread between the police officer and Gates. Both men took what should have been a minor incident and blew it into a nationwide debate on race relations. Read Streeters have taken both sides of the issue, with the most poignant comments coming from those who have also felt the sting of a police inquiry on suspicion of Homeowning While Black. 

Here's a pro-Gates sampling:

Come on, there are so many reality tv shows where we have seen height of moronic unharmful comments in front of cops, and the cops just ignore it — truthbehld

Many people have blamed Dr. Gates’ behavior for being arrested. But ... there is no law against becoming agitated, particularly when one is accused of being a robber and thief in one’s own home. — Walter

I live in one of the most exclusive villages in a gated community in [suburban] Chicago. ... I have been asked to show ID, twice, in the foyer of my home. ... Until you walked a mile in Henry Louis Gates’ shoes, you don’t really know what was going through his mind. — etoile

And a sampling backing James Crowley, the Cambridge officer who arrested Gates:

Treating cops who risk their lives to protect us in anything other than a deferential way is callous &, well, stupid. — Marie

When Gates implied that the officer was a racist, he crossed a line. To me that’s JUST as bad as using the ‘N’ word — Jerry T

Gates behaved like a Leona Helmsley. He harassed the policeman (one of the “little people”) because he could. — Ted

Photo from AP

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 12:10 AM | | Comments (25)


As a middle-class white woman, I can't even imagine what I would do if a police officer stormed into my house and demanded my identification -- you know why? Because it would NEVER HAPPEN. I'm with President Obama: the policeman acted stupidly. And I'm also with Skippy Gates: he was being racist.

Racial Profiling only exist where the officer "decides" to make contact with a citizen/suspect/offender/other.... The sergeant was "dispatched" to this incident and was obliged by duty to make contact. Gates was unstable and bringing his compilation of self bias into the situation and is the biased one. This is reverse discrimination and bias by a whining academic. The officer was right and Gates should not have been in violation of the Disorderly Conduct law...and yes there was probable cause to arrest him on this! He deserved it and has caused a massive disruption of services that could have been used elsewhere. ajm.

Wow!! I never thought that this will be such a big news. It went from Gates arrest to Obama apalogy. This has become more interesting than what I thought. So, I collected all the sites or articles (more than 250 sites or articles) related to this hot topic "Cambridge Police Unit Demands Apology from Obama". If you are interested take a look at news, video coverage, people views and reviews on this topic at the below link.

Mr. gates spoke as an upset individual who immediately thought race was the issue, and not his attitude. Unfortunately more than people want to admit this happens all over America where people pull the race card just because it's there.

If I were a successful black man and the cops came to the door of my own home assuming a break-in, I might have reacted angrily as well. And for the same reasons. White people like me have no idea what it's like to deal with the day-to-day racist crap he has to deal with.
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the arrogant and "high and mighty behavior" postured by mr gates is typical of people, both white and black, who come from lower class backgrounds and are suddenly thrust into a higher class either because of an
academic title or artistic celebrity. it's happened so many times before. they take it out on the "little people" to remind everyone they "made it:

This professor fellow, from what I have seen, has always had a chip on his shoulder towards white people. He tries to make the slavery issue TOTALLY the white peoples' burden. And totally ignores the historical fact that the black African culture is what initially and PRIMARILY cultivated racially organized slavery. Basically, when you read through all the liberal BS, you will find that much of the blacks problems were brought on by themselves... But this professor could NEVER admit to that; b/c if he did, then how could he blame everything on whitey?. And continue to live his luxurious lifestyle?.

Apparently, I am the only person in the world that would show ID to prove I was the homeowner, and then thank the police officer and the neighbor for caring enough about MY property to investigate something someone thought might not be "right."

Wow!! After reading the police report narrative regardless of which side you might initially take, you have to find that Gates was totally out of line. When a person gets to the point they have no respect for another person solely on the color of their skin,the clothes they wear or their profession, you have to assume they have become a bigot.

The professor has clearly damaged his own posture I dont have any respect for a man that uses the system and interpts himself as just enough to involved the President of the united states in his twisted rebuttle to the Police
#1 respect the men who approach you as police officers. they have a job to do and do it by asking questions.#2 respect your neighbors they reported the problem and others clearly didn't have to hear the vulgariy of it all.
#3 Really Mr Gates to involve the President of the United states about your broken (pain) is un just to All Americans living in Today,s society not Yesterdays Your Crying hurts all your Cause because Mr Gates You clearly have no respect for authority.Which in my opinion demands you to give back Give back to your community then give back to society then and only then will you have the temperament not to cry but to live and prosper. .
I would recommend that You do community service or service at your church. Put some love in your heart your way of responding to this has totally made many whom didn't need this look bad.And In Todays Hard times your little boy battle has damaged many other parts that didnt need damage.

Another race-baiting situation. I am white and very proud of it, but do not flaunt it for the purpose of gaining celebrity. Shame on you mr. gates.

Let's face it guys. Black are as much racist as White.

I have to agree with one of the other posters. I too would show ID to a Police Officer. I live in an affluent neighborhood in NW Suburban Chicago, and I am glad that the police try to watch the neighborhood. On the other hand, If the officer was using harsh words on undue force, I too would act out and yell, and who knows what would have happened to me. I cannot imagine what it would be like to live in Mr. Gates shoes, as I am a White Generation X'er that did not grow up with as much racial profiling as Mr. Gates did. I am sure that as a youth, his experiences were far more harsh then the one that happened recently, and that influenced his behavoir.

It is very apparent to me, after reading the police report, that yet another person of skin color, decided to use this as a spring board against "white folk". I thought the election of Pres. Obama was going to be the event that stopped all this racial discussion. It is very obvious to me that people have skin color, eye color, hair color, height, weight and sex differences. Just as I can see that I am in a park, a shopping center or a church. Am I not supposed to see these differences? Mr. Gates himself was racial profiling!!! It all comes down to attitude, not the obvious visual differences that matter. I have friends from all the above mentioned categories but their "differences" are not what makes them my friends, it's their attitude toward me and our shared interests. Mr. Gates took this opportunity to again throw out the race card. If he is so intelligent and proud of his accomplishments, could he not have responded in a more thankful attitude that someone was concerned for his possessions and his physical harm?

Now that facts are finding their way in to the public domain the truth is becoming clear. I won’t repeat the facts or progression of events again.

It is obvious that Henry Gates is an “Angry Black Man”. Whether or not he was actually angry or simply attempting to play the race card for his own advantage is unclear. Unfortunately, he chose an officer who followed procedure perfectly and also has an impeccable personal history. This has exposed Gates’ bigotry and made it clear that he is the racist.

Unfortunately our President and Gov. Duval Patrick (MA) chose to speak, without the benefit of information, and ended up making equally racist comments.

The choices are now clear that racism is as rampant in the Black community as anywhere else. It is time that we put an end to the practice of using unilateral racism as criteria for judging the out come of disputes. It is also clear that we need to examine the merits of each accusation and implement repercussions for false accusations.

For the record, Obama, Patrick, and Gates all owe the American public an apology. They can admit their mistakes, correct their behaviors, and move forward or choose to where the label racist. I personally think it is sad if our elected officials do not have the personal courage to admit their flaws and work through them. As for Gates, he has made his bed. Let him lie in it.

A genius is a genius, regardless of the number of morons who belong to the same race — and a moron is a moron, regardless of the number of geniuses who share his racial origin’. A/R 1963 the Objectivist news

The President put his foot in his mouth on this one and showed that he is no better then a bigot-He jumped the gun and the shark, and also lost a lot of respect ….we need to look at each others as individuals not as a group-not as a color.. Racism exists as long as we allow our leaders to take us down that rocky road!

I shall quote from an astonishing editorial in The N. Y. Times of August 4 [1963] — astonishing because ideas of this nature are not typical of our age:
“But the question must be not whether a group recognizable in color, features or culture has its rights as a group. No, the question is whether any American individual, regardless of color, features or culture, is deprived of his rights as an American. If the individual has all the rights and privileges due him under the laws and the Constitution, we need not worry about groups and masses — those do not, in fact, exist, except as figures of speech.”

In my opinion, Gates is in the wrong. He could have ended the whole thing in less than 60 seconds by showing an appropriate i.d. Remember the officer wasn't just randomly harassing a black man. He was investigating a possible break in. Some one called the police to report a possible break in. It is his duty to investigate. It would have been irresponsible to do otherwise. It wasn't like the officer just saw a black man standing in the kitchen and decided to check him out. Gates' beef is with the woman who called. The officer was just doing his job.

Although there is no law against being agitated, especially if you are being accused as a thief in your own home, we must remember that the officer never accused Gates of anything. Again the officer was trying to do his job.

In my opinion it is Gates who is acting in a racially motivated way. To accuse a white officer of being a racist, JUST BECAUSE HE IS WHITE, is in itself a form of racism.

Well when my husband answered the door to the ring of a salesman he was asked to see the owner of the house. The look on his face when my husband told him HE was the owner was worth a thousand words and two thousand years of my ancestors looking at the same face!

the neighbor must be brain dead not to know who lives in the neighborhood and who does not.i make it a point to know.once gates showed the cop his id that should have been the end of this.i,m blaming the neighbor for not knowing who lives in her hood

I, too, would show ID and thank the policeman for being dilegent with his job. Of course, I am white and cannot claim to know how I would react otherwise. However, I think, as educated as Professor Gates is, then his reaction was an "act" job to create attention and make a racial point. It's a shame that President Obama fell into the trap by his "stupidly" comment. On the other hand, if this controversy helps move us forward as a country still dealing with predjuices, then it's a good thing!

Who cares if Gates was rude or angry? He could be the biggest SOB "reverse racist" snobby la de dah elitist whatever you think you have to throw at him. It doesn't matter.

It's not illegal to be an Angry Black Man. Everyone has a right to be rude and unpleasant, even to a cop.

Cops aren't supposed to be little emperors whose superiority, majesty and composure can never be challenged with a negative word from their subjects.

We give the police the power to arrest people, not because we think they must be unchallenged, but to protect us from criminals. Gates was not a threat or a danger to anything but that cop's ego.

Henry Louis "ya, I'll speak with your mama outside" Gates should be fired from his post at Harvard. How this bigoted fool can be allowed to continue as the Chairman Emeritus of African American Studies is beyond common logic.

While it's difficult to get all the facts straight regarding this situation, I think Professor Gates' contention that his rough treatment by the Cambridge Police was due to him being a "Black Man in America" does not necessarily follow.

Consider what the Anne Arundel County police did to this "White Man in America" in his home recently:,0,1535280.story?track=rss

I am a law-abiding White man, but I have had a few encounters with the police that have been less-than-friendly, if not life-threatening. If there’s one thing I've learned, it's that cops don't like to have their authority challenged, even when you are puzzled in your innocence as to why they are confronting you. Professor Gates should know that this is more a "cop thing" than it is a "Black thing".

The typed officers' reports do not capture enough information to determine who, if anyone, was at fault.

Crucial information is missing from the reports. Specifically, what were the body posture, voice inflection, eye contact, gestures, and body movements of Officer James Crowley in addressing Mr. Gates?

Anyone who has studied nonverbal communication knows that direct speech is only about 10% of any actual personal communication. The other 90% is completely nonverbal.

Therefore, no-one really knows what Officer Crowley really "said" to Mr. Gates that could have set him off like that.

Everything else is pure speculation based on the information available. Speculation into which most people are projecting their own expectations and assumptions.

After sleeping on this article, I conclude that Officer Crowley could have completely defused the situation and avoided the whole messy affair by simply walking away.

Officer Crowley had established that there was no attempted burglary. The reason for his call was complete. Therefore, Officer Crowley had no reason to remain.

Officer Crowley could have simply left. But he did not. Instead, he chose to bait Dr. Gates outside and from there to arrest Professor Gates.

The entire situation played out as it did solely because of Officer Crowley's choices.

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About the blogger
Dave Rosenthal came to The Baltimore Sun as a business reporter in 1987 and now is the Maryland Editor. He reads a wide range of books (but never as many as he'd like), usually alternating between non-fiction and fiction. Some all-time favorites: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; and anything by Calvin Trillin or John McPhee. He belongs to a book club with a Jewish theme.
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