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July 21st, 2009
04:44 PM ET

Is this what it means to be black in America?

[cnn-photo-caption image="http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/07/21/massachusetts.harvard.professor.arrested/art.henry.louis.gates.jr.gi.jpg" caption="Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested last week on a charge of disorderly conduct, but the charges have been dropped."]

The Chicago Tribune

Is this what it means to be a black man in America? This is the question that Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. asked police who arrested him last week-charges were dropped on Tuesday-while he was trying to enter his home. Gates is the director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Apparently, Gates had returned home from a trip to China to find the door to his home jammed. A neighbor saw Gates trying to enter his home and called the police, suspecting an intruder was prying open his front door. Gates forced open the door with the help of his cab driver, according to the New York Times.

Cambridge police told the Associated Press that they ordered the man to identify himself, and Gates refused. According to a police report, Gates then called the officer a racist and said, "This is what happens to black men in America." He accused the officer of racial profiling.

President Obama once wrote that he calls himself “African-American” because when he tries to hail a cab the driver sees a black man first-not a graduate of Harvard Law, nor a mixed-race person. (Of course, Obama may never have to hail a cab again.)

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soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Teresa, OH

    This is such a good example of whats going on in America:
    white folks would be so grateful someone called the cops if their homes were being broke into.Black folks say its racial profiling. LOL

    Mr. Gates should be mad at the caller...if at anyone. He was wrong, the cop was wrong.

    Mr. Gates, take the fame and run.... do your documentary, write a book, write a bunch of books and get very very rich. I hope this doesnt start a never ending court case.

    Ya know what would be FABULOUS? If the 911 caller was a black person. : ) Wouldnt that put a spin on this little tale?

    July 22, 2009 at 9:57 am |
  2. Rob

    Blah blah blah. Mr. Gates just trying to get a little publicity. From reading comments on diff. websites regarding this story, it's apparent that the majority are in favor of the police. Rightfully so.

    July 22, 2009 at 7:48 am |
  3. jeffro

    sandra you need to reread your comment when you sober up or come off your high because you have no idea what your talking about .you say shame on the police i say your insane.wish you the best with your drinking problem.

    July 22, 2009 at 6:45 am |
  4. Rose Rushin

    Unfortunately the article is misleading; he DID identify himself with his driver's license and Cambridge faculty ID. And his driver was there to confirm what he said. The man had just come home from a long journey to China, was under the weather due to a minor ailment, found his door jammed and the LAST thing he wanted to contend with was someone accusing him of breaking into his OWN home. I am sure he was short-tempered and unable to carry on a gracious conversation with a police officer at that point. Didn't the officer believe him? And as far as the person who reported it is concerned didn't he recognize his neighbor, If not by name by appearance? The same goes for the officer; he lives in that town, doesn't he? He resented his authority being questioned and Gates certainly resented being challenged in his own home.

    July 22, 2009 at 6:42 am |
  5. SandraWI

    This is what it means to be black in America. I remember watching Oprah talk about being racially profiled in a exclusive store because the owner's didn't know who she was but once they found out, they didn't seem to care and she didn't give them her business. The President of the United States is black and still gets people questioning his citizenship. Thank God this Professor is ok. I've been a victim of racial profiling several times in my life and it's something you don't forget. Shame on his neighbor for calling the police, shame on the police for not reconizing this brilliant man, he's an American and had every right to refuse entry to the officers since it was his home just like the right to bare arms against intruders, this doesn't just apply to white folks.

    July 21, 2009 at 5:56 pm |
  6. J. Williams

    I am 99 percent sure that Gates was the one at fault in this incident. The police officer was doing his job and responding to a call from someone who had a legitimate reason to call. This EXACT situation situation happened to my father (a white man living in the Boston area) last year. My father was actually proud that his neighbors had concern for the safety of the neighborhood by contacting the authorities. He politely showed the officers his ID, and the misunderstanding was immediately rectified. There is no doubt in my mind that Gates received the same treatment from the cops that my father did. Gates could have peacefully dealt with this very common situation by cooperating with the police, and they would have never arrested him. Instead he flew off the handle, threatened violence, and made a bunch of foolish accusations of racism. This guy is clearly a total ass and he deserved what he got. I thought a Harvard professor would know better (shows how little I knew about Harvard professors). If Jesse Jackson and/or Shaprton get involved with this I think I might vomit.

    Publicly inconsolable about the fact that racism continues, these activists seem privately terrified that it has abated.

    –Dinesh D'Souza

    July 21, 2009 at 5:41 pm |
  7. Angela

    There are two different accounts of this story floating around. In the original account it is said that this man did show his identification. Just putting that out there.

    July 21, 2009 at 5:31 pm |
  8. Jeanette

    I would certainly want neighbors to call the police if they saw anyone breaking into my home (including myself). He caused the trouble by not identifying himself as most normal people would do.
    It gets a little tiresome hearing the whining of everything being about race from people who should know better. There is enough real circumstances to complain about. When it is real profiling there is a right to complain. I don't know why the Chicago Tribune would even pick this story up..they must have needed a story to fill some blank space.......Stupid.

    July 21, 2009 at 5:26 pm |
  9. DoktorThomas

    Bitter men seem to always find bitter results. Destiny??

    July 21, 2009 at 5:20 pm |
  10. Angela

    This is a shame. Had it been a white man in a cab he would have gotten away with breaking into the home? See what happens when people don't investigate before they start bumping their gums? This country has learned nothing and it will not learn anything in the years to come. In the 21st century this country is so far behind the times, until it's not even funny. Americans have not learned to look past the color of a person's skin, I don't care what past, present, and future leaders have said.

    July 21, 2009 at 5:19 pm |
  11. JC- Los Angeles

    While only professor Gates and the police officer know what truly transpired, the insertion of race into all matters is extremely troubling and all too common.

    January 20th, 2009 was a new dawn in America for those willing to embrace it and the beginning of the end for those clinging to excuses or possessing a continued lack of self respect.

    With the streets of Chicago a shooting gallery that Barack Obama had no impact on and with African Americans collectively falling behind Third World countries, perhaps the Chicago Tribune should ask when is enough enough.

    July 21, 2009 at 5:15 pm |
  12. Jace

    Angelita Mason May's comment is also an overreaction – who on Earth is this Henry guy? I don't know. Just because he's on tv and you've been watching it doesn't mean everyone else knows. This guy isn't A class celebrity.

    Police shouldn't be expected to know every person individually in the city either.

    As for knowing your neighbors, it's not hard to have that odd neighbor, neighbor meaning someone at least a few houses off and not directly beside or next, who you don't exactly know, or have only seen once or twice.

    I have neighbors I've never seen. I've got neighbors who I don't know. If I saw something suspicious going on at their house I would have done the same as this neighbor had done for good ol' overreacting Henry. End of.

    July 21, 2009 at 5:06 pm |
  13. socialcritic

    It strikes me that Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. baited the officer or entrapped him by refusing to answer a simple question that to anyone else of any other nationality would not have been interpreted through a racially-charged lens.

    I can nevertheless appreciate why he would be angry. Having worked retail I witnessed a similar phenomena wherein some customers took offense at the request to check whether the name/face on the ID matched the credit card name. When you explain that cashiers are doing this for your own good — so that when someone steals YOUR CREDIT CARD, the person behind the register may actually be responsible for preventing fraud, the critics are forced to concede that some inconveniences are better than the alternative — that nobody checks and should you drop your card on the way out of said store, nobody cares and someone passes it off as their own because of that failure to check. Similarly, the officer responding would be desired had it been anybody else but the homeowner attempting to enter that door. As such, the person to blame is not the responding officer but the dud in the next house who failed to recognize a neighbor. Perhaps the people in that neighborhood should consider forming a Neighborhood Watch so that they have a better understanding of who belongs and who doesn't. You can play the racial card, but that only indicates that your inflicting racial assumptions on yourself — i.e. that someone is out to get you because of the color of your skin. Sometimes we forgive not because a wrong has been righted but to rid ourselves of the emotional burden of perceiving ourselves as perpetual victims. A Harvard professor should not be using this as an opportunity to promote the victimhood mentality, but the realization that the officer was just doing his or her job. Would we like the local police department to think twice about responding to that address under any other circumstance? I think not.

    July 21, 2009 at 5:02 pm |
  14. Jack

    Henry Louis Gates... important story, like I've said, the minute a black man changes from his professional clothes into "regular clothes", he gets treated differently. We have a long way to go. It happened to the keynote speaker at a conference I was at last year...after his morning walk the hotel wouldn't let him in!

    July 21, 2009 at 5:01 pm |
  15. Jace

    I know if it had been me I would appreciate having neighbors looking out for neighbors. Sure the call may have been over race, but then again it may not have – I draw from personal experience. I'm a white man and my neighbors are also white; ' had trouble getting into my place one time so I did some abnormal techniques just like Henry here, neighbor called the cops. Cops came, I explained the situation and no problems came from it.

    I would RATHER have the cops come and have to explain myself, than losing all my possessions if it weren't me and it was a real situation. Apparently having a chip on your shoulder over race can lead to an overreaction, as we see here. And on top of that, it doesn't take a Harvard degree to have some common sense either.

    July 21, 2009 at 4:59 pm |
  16. Hayley DeBough

    Can't we admit that, sometimes, there just doesn't have to be a "bad guy?"
    *Someone reports what they think is suspicious activity in their neighborhood- bad guy?
    *Police respond and ask for identification- bad guy?
    *Homeowner is overwhelmed by being asked to show identification for being inside his house- bad guy? Come on!!!

    July 21, 2009 at 4:54 pm |
  17. Jay

    Considering everyone is making such a big deal of Mr. Gates credentials no one seems to be looking at the simple fact. He must be lacking in common sense. It sounds as if all of this could have been avoided had Mr. Gates simply answere the first question the police officer had. Who are you? It sounds as if Mr Gates pride took control of the situation and now of course we do not accept responsibility for our actions we blame someone else. And to think he is a Professor teaching our influential children. Mr Gates let's get back to the basics and look inward before looking out.

    July 21, 2009 at 4:49 pm |
  18. Michael

    And if a white guy was seen trying to pry open the front door he too would've been asked to identify himself, so that ownership of the property could be proven. Mr. Gates went out of his way to cause a problem where one could've been avoided by simply stating who he was. This not "what it means to be a black man", but rather what it means to be arrogant.

    July 21, 2009 at 4:48 pm |
  19. Stacy

    The man black or white when asked to show his id to the police should have just done so. I think its getting alittle old playing "its because I'm black". Anyone who refuses to co-operate with the police when asked to simply show id needs to be arrested. I now plenty of people of all colors who have problems but they don't plan it on thier skin color, eye color or hair color. Thats the problem right there. Take the color out and you have a person We all black and white need to get past the color issues and just live. Its hard on all of us right now.

    July 21, 2009 at 4:43 pm |
  20. Angelita Mason May, Ed. D

    Why didn't the Cambridge police–and Dr. Gates' neighbor– know who Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was?

    So much for recognizing , or helping, neighbors. And What about all the exposure Gates has had in the media for a number of years?

    Why on earth would anyone think it has anything to do with being black?
    I can't imagine!

    July 21, 2009 at 4:09 pm |
  21. paulernestshow

    Mr Gates had the responsibility of identifying himself. If he did not identify himself, then he is wrong. As a black man, I believe one should go the extra mile to get along with law enforcement. There are cases where some cops are either arrogant or simply ignorant, and percieve people of other races to be up to no good, but that should not take away my civic responsibility to be civil and respectful of cops and the law. Both black folks and law enforcement officers have the obligation to be fair and honest to each other, color not being any factor in any incidents.

    July 21, 2009 at 3:59 pm |