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Monday, July 20, 2009

No, It Wasn't Racial Profiling

Harvard Scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested for disorderly conduct. According to news reports, police responded to a call from a neighbor that someone was trying to break into Gates' house by forcing open the door. It turns out the person trying to break into Gates' house was Gates. So far, there is no story.

But when police asked Gates to identify himself, Gates refused and started screaming that police were engaging in racial profiling. [The police report is here and below.] Gates' behavior resulted in the disorderly conduct charge, and he was released on his own recognisance. This from AP:

Henry Louis Gates Jr., the nation's pre-eminent black scholar, is accusing Cambridge police of racism after he was arrested while trying to force open the locked front door of his home near Harvard University.

Cambridge police were called to the home Thursday afternoon after a woman reported seeing a man "wedging his shoulder into the front door as to pry the door open," according to a police report.

An officer ordered the man to identify himself, and Gates refused, according to the report. Gates began calling the officer a racist and said repeatedly, "This is what happens to black men in America."
Needless to say, the blogosphere has exploded with charges of racial profiling, and various analogies to the problem of "driving while black" wherein blacks are more likely to be pulled over by police. This blog post is typical:

Why A Ph.D. Don't Mean A Damn Thing When You Are Black - Harvard Professor Skip Gates Arrested For Breaking And Entering.....Into His Own Damn House!
But none of those analogies fit. The police did not profile anyone. They received a call of someone trying to force open the door to a home. They asked the person attempting to force the door open who he was. Had Gates answered, that would have been the end of it.

Racial profiling is a serious issue. Gates' accusations of racism and racial profiling not only are not serious, they are damaging to real victims.

Gates Incident Report Redacted

See also this post by one of our commenters: This is NOT racial profiling

UPDATE: A statement issued on behalf of Gates is here. The statement makes it seem as if there were no confrontation in the house, and Gates was placed under arrest out of the blue as he walked out of the house. The statement does not directly address the allegations in the police report. Reading the police report and the Gates statement together, there may be a legitimate dispute as to whether Gates' conduct rose to the level of disorderly conduct (and whether the police overreacted after Gates screamed at them), but there is nothing to suggest that there was racial profiling going on.... and MORE: The charges of disorderly conduct have been dropped.

Related Posts:
Jewish School Held "Racist" For Preferring Jews
Playing The Nork Card
Is "Gobbledygook" Racist?
"Race" As Political Weapon

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  1. Needs more redacting -- the caller was identified in the paragraph starting with As I began.... .

  2. In case the post was not clear on this point, I did not do the redacting, that is how the report was available at the Boston Globe website -- and yes, I picked up on their incomplete redaction as well.

  3. I had a similar thing happen to me when I accidentally locked my keys in the house. A cop driving by saw me trying to climb in a window and stopped. I didn't get upset, I cooperated, showed ID and soon he was on his way.

    I would have thought he was a total dumbass if he had just taken my word for it that I lived there.

    BTW - I'm white

  4. Gates' front door was unsecurable due to a recent break-in attempt. He should appreciate the cops looking out for him. Sounds like he was drunk....

  5. I think the cop was acting reasonably at the beginning. The statement by Gates' lawyer confirms that the witness saw two men forcing the door of the house open. That's reasonable suspicion.

    But after verifying Gates' identity the cop should have got back in his patrol car and left. Arresting a man for yelling from his own porch in the afternoon is completely bogus. But I still don't see any racism. It's what Joseph Wambaugh referred to as "contempt of cop."

  6. I kinda agree that arresting him for yelling was bogus, in that I wouldn't want to be arrested for yelling... but the man he was yelling at was a cop. And if the cop told him multiple times to stop yelling at him and he did not, he had enough cause to arrest him for disorderly conduct. All he had to do was give the man his ID, let him check it, and leave it alone. But choosing to berate the officer was completely out of line.

  7. Actually it's not the same thing. Gates did not climb through a window, he used his key and opened his back door. He then disabled his alarm system to have his driver help him open the front door. Doors get stuck on 100 year old homes. I agree if I am a neighbor and I see someone climbing in a window, I would call the cops. It's not even close to the same.

  8. JL, you're argueing whether there was merit to arrest the man for getting into his own home. The man was not arrested for entering his own home. The man was arrested because his conduct was attrocious. All he had to do was show the police his ID. That's it. It's simple. He chose to make it a racially motivated incident. In fact, I believe it was the "scholar" who was being racist, not the police by immediately charging the police officer of racial profiling. Can't a police officer do his job when confronting a black man without being a racist? Apparently not in this country...

  9. I posted above at the other entry.

    Clearly this was not racial profiling. It was heroic execution of dangerous and difficult duty. Gates should apologize and thank the officer for risking his life investigating a reported burglary. If anything the Harvard Magazine woman should receive the interrogation, but I'd sure like to have neighbors like her whatever color I am.

    Also, yelling near or into a person's ear is an assault and battery. Likewise, Gates tacitly threatened the officer, i.e., "you don't know who you're messin' with."

    If I were the officer, I'd sue Gates civilly, especially if there were witnesses.

    The Masked Defender