July 22nd, 2009
01:40 PM ET

Professor arrested for 'housing while black'

Program Note: In CNN's Black in America 2, Soledad O'Brien reports on the innovative and unexpected ways people are transforming the black experience by confronting the most difficult issues facing their community. Tune in on Wednesday, July 22 at 9 p.m. and Thursday, July 23 at 8 p.m..

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/07/22/gates.arrest.reaction/art.gates.demotix.jpg caption="Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested last week on a charge of disorderly conduct."]

Michael Eric Dyson
Special to CNN

Last Thursday, President Obama, in his fiery speech before the NAACP Convention, admitted that "an African-American child is roughly five times as likely as a white child to see the inside of a prison."

But he surely couldn't have imagined that only a couple of hours before his oration, one of America's most prominent scholars - and a distinguished professor at Obama's alma mater, Harvard University - would breathe cruel and ironic life into that sad statistic.

Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. is simply the most powerful and influential black scholar in our nation's history.

He received a doctorate at Cambridge University long before the culture wars became au courant; he was among the first group of figures to receive a MacArthur "Genius Award" Fellowship; he wrote the finest work of literary criticism in a generation with "Signifying Monkey"; he was named by Time magazine as one of the "25 Most Influential Americans"; he has a boatload of honorary degrees; and he has been a ubiquitous media presence and thoughtful interpreter of race and culture for a quarter-century.

But none of that made a bit of difference when Gates returned from a research trip to China to find the front door to his Harvard-owned house jammed and enlisted the assistance of his driver to muscle the door loose.


Filed under: Black in America
soundoff (73 Responses)
  1. rohan from nc

    can someone please show me where in any Mass. state statutes where a private residency front porch is a public place according to the to the disorderly conduct charge..Sgt crowley needs to grow some thicker skin, he should have just left when he realized the guy lived there like he said in is report instead of tricking Gates to come outside so he could arrest him...Why so much white people thinks the police officer simply cant lie in these situation and that is gates who is lying and is at fault....both were but the cop should have tighten up his panty and left instead of bending the laws and flexing which can happen to anybody regardless of race or gender .

    July 23, 2009 at 7:43 am |
  2. Keith

    Anderson Cooper described Professor Gates as breaking into his home. That description alone will attach many of the black stereotypes to him and will trigger an opinion without furthure information. Example: After Katrina I watched blacks in a grocery store getting food to feed their family called looting. While whites in grocery store getting food to feed their family called foraging.

    Rich and prominent whites have aggressively protested being treated like common people (or crooks) for years. I think a white Harvard Professor with his degree of pristege, being questioned about burglarizing his own home at midday, would surely givin the officer a tongue lashing. But I don't think that professor would have been arrested. Zsa Zsa Gabor was arrested for slapping a cop.

    What rich, famous or prominent white was arrested for protesting being accused of buglarizing his own house.

    NONE!!! NEVER!!!!

    July 23, 2009 at 6:41 am |
  3. Donna Livaudais

    I know the police are wrong with a man or woman presenting documentation in showing that he owns the home and lives there for the police to arrest him anyway. A similar situation happen to me in Ga. (leesburg) with a policeman falsely accusing me of burgulary on my own property inheritated from my father but they kept me in jail for 2 weeks !! The policeman hopefully is fired as he is a danger to all! This goes on and and this is not a free country and I am 64 yrs. old !
    I need a reporter who can hear the whole story! Donna in Ga.

    July 23, 2009 at 6:38 am |
  4. Brad Moore

    The duty of our police is "To protect and Serve". Our police do just that and it's a problem because the citizen is a minority. Witch hunts in this country should be over. I believe that everything is blown out of proportion just because of race. The professor should be more of a man and not use his race as a crutch. Obama talks about ethnic people all the time and I believe that he is just following suit. White Americans and others go through the same thing everyday. Let's wake up and see what is really going on; there is no chasing down people just because they are a minority and in this day and age who is the minority. Grow up!

    July 23, 2009 at 6:02 am |
  5. Rachelle

    well i have read alot of your responds but i hope the police head quarters feel pretty damn stupid i mean seriously like he wouldnt let the world no what happend what those police did they are freakin dumb i mean he showed proof to them and they still put him in hand cuffs haha all they had 2 do was ask the neighbor if he lived there if anything im sorry i just think those police men should all be fired but you know there is a black guy in the pic there is he racist against black people also lol

    July 23, 2009 at 6:00 am |
  6. Richard

    I will just repeat what our dear president said. "The police acted stupidly to have arrested Prof Gates after verifying that that was his house. Thanks

    July 23, 2009 at 5:58 am |
  7. ed johnson

    the incident was contrived by the same cryterrior as the swim pool planned confrontation, noteriety being the goal for negro recognition,and stage exploitation, legistation is not enough for negro's ,,, prominent negro]s want to be hero's in the world of fame and creditability,, the african origin denotes only american negro;s as being inferrior in society,,,, their mentality by legistation has pitted them against public norm, they are as a community undermining the greater good of society , america has suffered from this inclusion ,,collective assimilation has been a disaster for white people with higher potentials, school systems have been forced to lower standards in order to accomidate negro,s,,

    July 23, 2009 at 3:08 am |
  8. Sam

    The story goes on and on. From the beginning there was confrontation. Both the police concerned w/ a b&e in a neighborhood with 9 break ins already this year and the person who called in the 911 telling the police that that was the guy, and a very well to do black man not being cooperative about producing a picture id. The situation probably got out of hand very quickly. But this happened in the "peoples republic of Cambridge" where egos are as big as the institutions and politically correct is the law. But after the arrest the professor calls the Governor of MA, and the President of the US to complain! Would this be national news if it was a poor black man or a black policeman? As a non white and subject to racial profiling myself the Governor and the President never spent any time addressing my situations and my arrest that were improper. What started as racial profiling (oh no does that really happen here?) is rapidly becoming a case of class. The rich, educated, well known professor is offended that the poor working stiff of a cop didn't know just how important he is!! So now he'll show him by calling every politically connected black man he can find

    July 23, 2009 at 3:06 am |
  9. Kernan Huttick

    I saw in the picture you posted of the professor being arrested and taken away, that their was an African American police officer there. I hope to hear from that officer and get his take on weather it was racist or not. I hope you can interview him. Thanks

    July 23, 2009 at 3:00 am |
  10. Bo Wood

    BTW has anyone thought that the professor may have planned this just to try to prove a point?

    July 23, 2009 at 2:51 am |
  11. Barbara in Boston

    Cindy and Melissa -

    I strongly disagree with your opinions. Let's face it, no elderly white man living in an upscale neighborhood, is going to get arrested trying to go inside his own home.

    This was racial profiling pure and simple.

    July 22, 2009 at 8:38 pm |
  12. N.G. Barry

    My question is, why is it that whenever someone sees any black-man, suspected of committing a crime, and the cops are called to the scene it has to be a white cop?

    May be if a black officer was sent in the Henry Luis Gate case, all this brouhaha, would have been avoided. America knows about the inherent, racial bias of white police officers against black Americans. Lets stop pretending that all is well with race relationship in this country, because it's not.

    July 22, 2009 at 8:31 pm |
  13. Nerrissa Shurtluff

    I can see if Mr Gates got angry, belligerent and a bit out of control after all he was just going home, into his own house( pardon the redundancy) What I do think is, that aside, the police has some responsibility to get things under control. At some point they must have realized the man lived there, why not just walk away? Why allow things to escalate? And what is the driver saying in all this? And the neighbor who shot the video what is his part in this? Could he not vouch for him? Something is very fishy!

    July 22, 2009 at 8:23 pm |
  14. Machater

    Everyone is missing the truly sad part about this article, I didn't matter if he were an educated, black, Harvard Proffessor trying to get into his mansion or or poor white trash trying to get into his trailer. THE POLICE WERE WRONG. There is only outrage now because they did this nonsense to the wrong person. Mr. Gates's biggest beef seems to have been how can they do this to him being who he is. I wonder if he or anyone else would have been as outraged if this happened to me an uneducated black wage worker with no criminal record. The problem rests with these bourgeois educated blacks who think their degrees and their success entitles them to some sort of white privalege. In other words "yes i am black but, since I am who I am, I should be treated as white, perhaps better". He and others like himself don't realize his arrogant self-gratifying comments only alienates him from both whites and blacks. I feel sorry the man yes but this type of stuff happens in the hood everyday, and I didn't here him speaking out against any of it.

    July 22, 2009 at 8:02 pm |
  15. Tammi

    Cindy in GA.. you don't find it the least bit interesting that person who called the police didn't know their neighbor?! And what about the type of car that was driven? If this was a white person the police NEVER would have been called; seriously to act like this STILL doesn't happen in this country; that's what's absurd! When was the last time the police were called when YOU tried to get into YOUR home? Quite frankly, I would have had a fit too if that had happened to me and I was just trying to get into my own home..seriously people wake up...it still exists.

    July 22, 2009 at 8:00 pm |
  16. rohan

    christina..from L.A. You really need to read the police report...the officer said in his report that Mr. Gates did show him his ID..and if the cop wasnt a racist what he did by arresting gates on his front porch for disorderly conduct sure made him look like on...Does anyone siding the cops side know him personally and can say for sure that he is not racist..A lot of white cops use Race to predict crime when they should be only using it to describe crimes...A white man driving thru a black communtiy dosent mean he looking for drugs and a black man driving through a white suburb dosent mean he is looking to break in a house.....erase racism..

    July 22, 2009 at 7:34 pm |
  17. Wanza

    Dr. Dyson, you always make me so proud when you tackle the issues dealing with the subjects like, the subject of Blackness. Dr. Gates' situation is common in all neighborhoods. Think about it, the black family are looked twice whenever a crime is committed their very own community. Sean Bell was killed by white officers but the officers who murdered him: went before a judge who rendered a direct verdict of not guilty. Martin Lee Anderson was killed and the 7 "white" guardmen were found not guilty by a all-white jury. Some might say " one guard was black and one was Asian" No, they're all white, those two was assimliated into the white culture. Thank you, Dr. Dyson for his enlightening foresight.

    July 22, 2009 at 7:10 pm |
  18. Melissa Baiocchi East McKeesport, PA

    I think that the fact that this man's career is teaching black history...and I am sure about the proper way to deal with police when stopped, and he does just the opposite by refusing to show them ID? He should be jailed! He did not cooperate when the police were investigating a possible crime...If they responded and took his word for it that he lived there he'd be crying about that...I am so tired of people always pulling the race card and we accept it, settle law suits and bow down. This only perpetuates the problem. What is wrong with this country? I am sure there are police abuses and they should be addressed, but this guy is just looking for publicity. What he should be doing is thanking the police for properly responding to a possible break-in and for doing their job. Next time I hope the police let it go and he gets robbed blind!

    July 22, 2009 at 7:03 pm |
  19. Nicole

    This is a issue of injustice! Racism is real in America today! No matter who the President is racism lives. I am not surprised!!! Its unfortunate but, reality...

    July 22, 2009 at 6:48 pm |
  20. Mark

    To get arrested for disorderly conduct you HAVE to be in public. If you come out of your house and give the cops a verbal lashing you are asking to be arrested. It isn't racism, it is just ignorance.

    July 22, 2009 at 6:38 pm |
  21. Bill

    The officer did leave after reviewing the "Professors" ID. The Prof., however decided to throw his race card out and badger the police officer who was doing his duty. The Prof was arrested because he's a pompus JERK.

    July 22, 2009 at 6:25 pm |
  22. Ellen

    How is this a race issue? THE PROFESSOR MADE IT A RACE ISSUE> HE"S A RACIST HIMSELF. OHHH Poor me, I'm Black so everyone must hate me. "McDonalds doesn't hire enough Black people they're rascist." "You white people driving black cars are rascist" "I don't like the word black anymore if you call me black – you're a rascist." " I want to be called African American – until I decide that's rascist. rascist rascist rascist.... Well Professor, I think you're a rascist!

    July 22, 2009 at 6:22 pm |
  23. Sophia Sommer

    By the way, I am sure Soledad Obrien will exploit this story to the fullest extent.

    July 22, 2009 at 6:16 pm |
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