Cambridge Massachusetts police have dropped charges against Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr. Gates recently made news upon returning from a trip to China when he found himself locked out of his home. While attempting to jimmy his way into his front door, a concerned neighbour called police. When police arrived at the scene, they asked for ID, approaching Gates and his friend, Charles Ogletree.
Both suspects turned out to be university professors rather than burglars. Gates, who was fatigued from travel and suffering from a resperatory infection was irate. In his worn out state, being spoken to not with the deference accorded to a college professor but in the manner of a criminal suspect was quite jarring. According to FOX News, his irate reaction probably delayed resolution of the police call. Fox News reports as follows.
The woman who called reported seeing "two black males with backpacks on the porch" of the well-maintained two-story home near the Harvard campus and said one of the men was "wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry," according to Cambridge police.
The other man was a driver helping Gates, said Ogletree.
Officers responding to the robbery call on Thursday arrived after Gates was already back inside.
They say he became irate, yelled and refused to come outside to speak with an officer, who told him he was investigating a call about a home invasion.
"Why, because I'm a black man in America?" Gates said, according to a police report written by Sgt. James Crowley.
Gates — the director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research and one of Time magazine's 1997 most influential Americans — initially refused to show the officer his identification, police said. He ultimately turned over a Harvard University ID card.
"Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him," the officer wrote.
Gates said in a statement that he turned over his driver's license and Harvard ID — both with his photos — and repeatedly asked for the name and badge number of the officer, who refused.
He then followed the officer as he left his house onto his front porch, where he was handcuffed in front of other officers, he said. His account of the incident was released Monday by Ogletree on TheRoot.com, a Web site Gates runs."
I have very mixed emotions in reading the account of Gate's encounter with police. There is no doubt that there is racism and racial resentment in America that cuts both ways. In many encounters between African Americans and whites, there is distrust on both sides. It is also true that on a per capita basis, African Americans are far more likely than whites to be victims of violent crime. The police who came to Gate's home were protecting his home. It would be interesting to see how quickly they responded to the call of a break in in progress. Had Gates quietly produced ID and engaged the police in conversation, it would have been a far greater challenge to any racism the police might have felt. He could have even thanked them for protecting his home, which is what they were doing.
It can be unnerving being stopped by police or being treated in a manner that could be considered beneath one's station. It is impossible to say with 100% certainty that a reaction by police was racially motivated. There are usually shades of grey. Most people are trying to be fair in dealing with people outside their ethnic group.
It sounds like things could have gone much more quietly if Gates had been less adversarial Fox News reports as follows of some of Gate's words to the police.
"Police wrote in their report that when the sergeant on the scene tried to calm Gates, he shouted "You don't know who your [sic] messing with!", and when it was suggested they talk about the matter outside, he retorted, "Ya, I'll speak with your mama outside."
Cambridge officers said that the altercation drew several "surprised and alarmed" onlookers to the house to see what was going on."
I hope that police will not be reluctant to respond to calls for fear of sparking a racial incident. The police of Cambridge are out to guard lives and property, including that of Professor Gates.
Sensitivity is a two way street. If the Cambridge police are required to undergo any "sensitivity training", it would be far more productive if the civilians they protect were to attend it as well Sphere: Related Content