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. Sophia Sommer

    He was disrespectful to the police, no doubt and should have cooperated immediately instead of inciting the officers anger. My husband is a cop and he is white and there are those who will pull out the race card at inappropriate moments. I advise him to let them know he is married to a Puerto Rican! That usually shuts them up. I will say it plainly, I am absolutely sick of black people using the race card.

    July 22, 2009 at 6:14 pm |
  2. jstar

    Sad but true, some white cops bring their racist attitude to the job; many behave like KKK members while wearing there city issued informs. I was married to cop many yrs ago and the stories he told me about how his colleagues behave toward minorties who shock most people. Mr Gates should know being the smart man that he is that he is black first and in this racist society that we live in that's all that matters to some.

    July 22, 2009 at 6:08 pm |
  3. Cindy

    Gates was arrested for his behavior and not complying with the police when asked for ID not for being black. Not every little thing is racially motivated although some want to make it to be.

    Not everyone looks the other way when crimes occur. And to say that white people do when it's a white guy trying to break into a house or what not is a lie. I called the police and turned in some white guys breaking into a high priced RV, they were arrested and I had to testify what I saw. So Sobrina and William have no idea what they are talking about. Crime is crime regardless of what color a person is who is doing it and most people will turn them.

    Blacks may get a bad rap by some police but not all police are out to get them. That's ridiculous to say. There were black officers on the scene also when Gates was arrested. I guess they are racist too huh?


    July 22, 2009 at 5:57 pm |
  4. ronvan

    Missing the point!! A "good neighbor" made the call to the police. Where the heck was he/her when the police arrived? Sounds like a complete lack of interest and good sense.

    July 22, 2009 at 5:54 pm |
  5. Nate

    Did the police officer check his portable computer to find out who lived at that residence? If so, couldn't the police officer see that Professor Henry Louis Gates was the lawful resident after he produced his ID? And why didn't that nosey neighbor who called in the police in the first place, inform them that the Professor was her neighbor? You know she was peeking through the window during the whole incident.

    The only reason I can think of why things like this are still happening is, "They want us to take our eyes off of the prize." We must keep moving forward. And in the meantime use the courts to hit them were it hurt....

    July 22, 2009 at 5:53 pm |
  6. Joseph B.

    Did the 1st person to comment on this article read the original article about the events. Mr. Gates reportedly produced his drivers license & work id, the license having the same address as the house he broke into. How do you act disorderly in your own home? I've witness many white people offended & foul mouth a cop when asked to produce id. Until you touch the cop why can't a man or woman say what's on his/her mind. He may have said something to the cop that may have made the cop feel stupid and not been the least bit disorderly. Who knows & who cares. If he produced id, then it doesn't matter what was said to the cop. Nevertheless I still ask how do you arrest someone for disorderly conduct in their own house. You do when you have no other reason to arrest them.

    July 22, 2009 at 5:10 pm |
  7. Rohan

    Did anybody read the police report?..if you didnt please do before you make dumb and ignorant comments....They where both wrong..Dr. Gates though cranky from his trip shouldnt have accused the officer of being a racist, even if he was...And the officer should have have just ended the conversation when he realized that dr. Gates actually lived there..He said it himself in the police report that he believed dr. Gates lived there...The parts of the report that are disturbing to me is that he said that "the acoustics in the kitchen from dr. Gates loud talking was making it difficult to transmit info to the ECC..I told him o speak to me outside...After intially refusing to show his ID, He did show me his harvard ID.....While I was led to believe Mr. Gates was a lawful resident...So people, black, white or what ever...The police officer already ready determined that the man lived there, why get offended by the racist allegation and sucker him to come outside where the laws of disorderly conduct applies then twist the law in his favour and arrest him on his front porch ( I then stepped up on the porch and attempted to place handcuffs on Gates.) Since when a man front porch is private property...Can someone show me any Mass. state statutes that says a private residence front porch is a public place...Better yet, what if the officer had slipped on banana peel and hurt his back, who would have liable, the city or mr. Gates? Why is nobody judging the officer's professionalism, he needs to have thicker skin than that...And last but not least, there is no law in the constitution that say I have to be polite to a police officer....READ THE POLICE REPORT.. COMBAT VET FROM NC

    July 22, 2009 at 5:09 pm |
  8. Sobrina

    Please remove my middle and last name from my previous post. You can use my first name. Thank you.

    July 22, 2009 at 5:05 pm |
  9. Emily

    I have watched Professor Gate's documentary entitled Wonders of the African World. I was shocked to hear him make a racist comment directed at one of his tour guides.

    Not only that, with the building of the Aswan Dam, Nubians were forced from their homeland. Gates asked a Nubian woman if the placement of the Dam was racially motivated. She stated that she had access to better opportunites because of the building of the Aswan Dam. This was not the answer that he expected so he said that she was obviously hiding something because of fear.

    After watching the documentary, I am really not surprised to hear that he thought the arrest was racially motivated. The bottom line is – if you act inappropriately, the police will arrest you.

    If Gates is so knowledgeable, he should have known that he is not above the law.

    July 22, 2009 at 4:58 pm |
  10. Sobrina

    Cindy and Melissa, I also have to echo William's sentiment ..."get real."

    Mr. Gates produced both his Harvard Id and drivers license to the police. A simple check of the address on the drivers license would have resolved the issue. In addition, Mr. Gates walks with a cane. How much damage could he have done?

    What the two of you fail to realize is that in some cases, a person of color equals a presumption of guilt before innocence. The election of Obama has led many to prematurely claim that America is in a "post-racial period. Acknowledging that real problems still exist, is a step towards true healing as a nation.

    July 22, 2009 at 4:44 pm |
  11. Christina *L.A. California*

    A police officer has a right to protect himself. He/she does not know who is or who is not a criminal no matter what they look like!!! If they ask for identification show it & shut up!

    July 22, 2009 at 4:43 pm |
  12. Joe

    Last week my daughter locked her keys in the car. I went to open it up & couldn't – I had the wrong keys (six kids & 4 cars). I called the police. They came to open the car. They asked to see my ID to make sure I wasn't trying to break into the car. I simply showed my ID and they helped me. I understood what the policeman was doing.

    I'm white, Liberal and a Democrat who has run for office. I love MLK and continue to fight for the civil rights movement, but what the professor did was INJECT race into this. The Professor was wrong

    July 22, 2009 at 4:20 pm |
  13. lampe

    William: Where did it say you have to be dressed like a bum to be a Robber? And, as far as luggage sitting there, whose to say, it wasn't loaded with all kinds of stolen stuff, had this been a real Robbery? And, I have called The Police on both Blacks and Whites, and I am an AA women. NOW WHAT?

    July 22, 2009 at 4:12 pm |
  14. Susan

    I was really surprised; however, happy that a story on the disparities in the health care system was being covered on CNN. We cannot accurately talk about being black in America until we begin to talk about the disparities in the health care system. For example, the disease sickle cell anemia; it's the 21st century and citizens to include precious children are crossed between suffering and dying.

    July 22, 2009 at 4:12 pm |
  15. Dawn

    By all accounts I've read, Gates *did* produce identification and was arrested inside his home. He was arrested because he is black, and to pretend otherwise is foolish.

    July 22, 2009 at 4:10 pm |
  16. Dave Miller

    Hi Anderson, I love your show and respect what you do. I've never posted on your blog until this tragic Henry Louis Gates arrest by the Cambridge Police Department. Yes, the man was visibly upset but who could blame him if he showed the officer, Sgt. James Crowley, identification. Speaking from the perspective of an outraged white male from Ohio, I strongly believe Cambridge Police Chief Robert C. Haas and Officer Crowley need to be swiftly fired from the police force, without benefits, severance pay, or retirement; perhaps they can work together at a gas station when they're not too busy attending Klan rallies.

    July 22, 2009 at 4:07 pm |

    if five or six police can not tell when a guy is just return from a trip or is standing in his own house, then i do not think they would recognize racism. receipts, airline stubs, pictures in the house, names on phone (surely a prof) would have his name reg on his phone.
    Cindy, we do not get mad because a police is checking to see if someone is stealing form our homes. do you think that only whites wanted to be protected and safe.

    we have brains too,
    why is it just so easy to think that a guy any guy gets mad because someone is trying to save his property. idiotic logic amplifies racism,
    real or imagined.

    July 22, 2009 at 4:01 pm |
  18. Kinja King

    A select few from the deep south may comment. No one deserves to be mistreated after being misunderstood. Not many citizens would calmly answer an accusatory officer who has already formed an opinion which led him or her to stop and accuse instead of inquire. Remember, many southerners haven't acknowledged the need for cultural sensitivity as we sit at the bottom of "what ever" list in the nation. Realize that if you were being questioned in front of a place you "own," your southern hospitality may not be evident either.

    July 22, 2009 at 3:56 pm |
  19. Sharon,Daniel Island, South Carolina

    Something is really wrong with this. The neighbor that reported this incident to the local police was not aware he/she had a black resident next door. No one in the immediate area hearing this commotion came to the door and said excuse me officer but this man lives in this house I see him getting his mail and newspaper all the time

    July 22, 2009 at 3:56 pm |
  20. Jeannette Kucan

    I think it's a shame what happened to Dr. Gates. The Police could have handled the situation totally different. It's awful that in 2009 we haven't learned how to treat people fairly and with respect. When will we wake up?

    July 22, 2009 at 3:55 pm |
  21. Arachnae

    Cindy: If Gates would have produced his ID and not been so rowdy this may not have happened.

    Gates produced his ID, which not only verified his identity, it verified his address (the location they were actually standing in) before the cop went rambo on him. The cop knew at the time that he wasn't dealing with a criminal – Gates was arrested for being a successful black professional with a nice house who wasn't appropriately servile to a resentful white man.

    July 22, 2009 at 3:51 pm |
  22. nyc12

    Why is the news coverage of this event, NOT reporting that the majority of the blogs are sensible, rational analyses of a local, neighborhood event? Two sides to the story, for sure, but certainly not the issue the media would like to have it be. You are choosing to "incite" a racist-cop slant with headlines like the ones on CNN home page. You create a blog for everything, then ignore the comments when they don't "fit" the way you want to report the story? C'mon , the reporting is more criminal than the crime.

    July 22, 2009 at 3:44 pm |
  23. jenny

    Seems like not only the police were abusing their position. Dr Gates an educated black man who had been active in the civil rights movement abused his "poere" as well. He at least from what this article and several others say was rude, beligerant and at least initially uncooperative. HE seemed to be saying by his actions and atitude "I am a big black man with the NAACP on my side don't mess with me. If you do you will be sorry" Dr Gates deserved respect as well as the officer. It appears neither gave it.

    July 22, 2009 at 3:43 pm |
  24. Arland

    How does one get arrested for disorderly conduct within one's own home? In spite of Mr Gates' righteous anger, the policeman should have apologised for the misunderstanding and left. Instead he treated this well respected and well learned gentleman like a street drug dealer, abused his power, and dragged him from his own home like a criminal. If the police want more cooperation from the people they say they are protecting, they should learn to distinguish between a criminal and a person who has every right to be annoyed.

    I've been reading other blogs and there are people who are innately angry that a black man has done so well, gets to rent a Harvard home and has a driver. Such people to think he should consider himself lucky for being allowed to succeed, as though he has not thrived against racial stereotypes for his entire life. He has earned his right through his years of work and teaching the best minds of America, to be treated better than he was treated. Such is the racial divide, and it has become deeper since Obama's arrival.

    July 22, 2009 at 3:42 pm |
  25. durox

    this is one of those stories that are unclear, but are perfect for future developments and huge tv ratings...

    July 22, 2009 at 3:35 pm |
  26. Melissa

    Come on people, like none of you might be in a bad mood after coming home from a trip, and back from China likely means a long flight, find your door stuck, get inside and then have the police show up accusing you of breaking into your own home. This article doesn't have all the information I've read at other sites. While it's still Gates' word against the cop's since none of us were there, once Gates' showed his id to the cop, the cop should have left.

    July 22, 2009 at 3:35 pm |
  27. believer

    Total racism! Just imagine, if the white man had not kidnapped the black man from so many African nations to use as his slave and had not treated his different colored brother so cruel, whipped him into submission, raped their women, segregaded him from the same establishments, schools, drinking fountains, humiliated him, lynched him, beat him, murdered him this would not be happenening now. It is the white mans level of intellect that does not distinguish the only difference from all of us is only pigmintation color. I hope Mr gates Jr. sues that police force and gives them hell!

    July 22, 2009 at 3:30 pm |
  28. Val

    Police in general bank on the public not knowing their rights. What they did to the Professor was illegal; that is why the charges were dropped. Once he established who he was, regardless of how angry his words were, they should have left his property. If the Professor had known his rights, he would have asked them to step away from his door (50 feet) and allow him to call his attorney. That's our right according to the law. He then would be allowed to surrender to his attorney who would have then brought him downtown...and he would not have been booked because they knew how friviolous their actions were. We as black people must learn our rights and learn to keep a cool head when it comes to law enforcement agents. If we show them that we know their jobs, we will be less likely to be violated...hopefully.

    July 22, 2009 at 3:30 pm |
  29. Julie

    Fortunately I was raised in a family that did not tolerate racism therefore it's not something I will ever understand and I will ensure none of my children do either. That said, this article can spur emotions which result in rasicm in both directions. I read this, and my first thought was, why was the professor's first conclusion they were harrassing him due to race? Could you imagine if they didn't ask for ID and professor was not who he said he was? Really... We as citizens have the luxury of thinking the best of people. Police who are sworn to protect do not. I truley hope he was not treated disrespectfully due to the color of his skin. If so, that needs to be addressed formally, not in the media. Scholar or not, no one deserves that, but don't be so quick to convict.

    July 22, 2009 at 3:26 pm |
  30. Cindy

    @ william..You get real! If you must know I have called the police when I saw several white guys trying to break into someones expensive RV. I even had to testify in court. So you William have no clue at what you are talking about!!


    July 22, 2009 at 3:23 pm |
  31. Vernard

    Well said Cindy. The problem is that people are too racially concerned, and most of the time it's the minorities practicing this. Melissa is right too, stop playing the race card. If the Police is asking you for an identification, you have to comply. That's the police and cooperation is a must otherwise you'll get arrested.

    I am a Filipino, a brown skin. and I've been pulled over by, "white", cops 2 to 3 times and I seem not to find any trouble with them. Stop, shut your engines, listen, then explain. I have only one speeding ticket, and I was passed from running a red light because I was running to an emergency. If Mr. Gates, for a scholar he is, is smart enough to explain, "I am trying to open my own house" or just give an identification when the police asked to, none of this would have happened.

    When Obama was talking about Black kids are 5 times likely to see prison, he's not talking about Blacks are always targeted by Cops. Maybe in Texas or during the 1940's, but not the majority today. He's talking about there's something wrong with the majority of upbringing of Black kids... which needs to change. And now that he's president, hopefully that will inspire black kids to do more good than gangsta.

    July 22, 2009 at 3:21 pm |
  32. Kinsey

    I am baffeled at the responses to this story...especially Cindy. If that Ga signifies that you are in from Georgia I am appalled. I am also a Georgia resident and I would be rounding way down by saying I hear at least one racist comment a week. Have you ever walked down the street while Black? I highly doubt it. I have never done so either but I still hear racist comments that offend me very deeply. So don't go assume that if he weren't "rowdy" he may not have been arrested, because you have no idea what it is like. Also, shame on this police force for harrasing and arresting a man with no respect. It seems that even though our country has come so far we still have so much left to do before we are truly an "equal" rights country.

    July 22, 2009 at 3:17 pm |
  33. ShirleyJ

    The police report does not justify the police officer's conduct. Calling the Harvard police AFTER seeing Professor Gates' identification only escalated the incident. Why didn't he simply leave when he saw the ID? Why didn’t the officer give his name and badge number if he were doing the right thing? Obviously Prof. Gates was agitated being confronted in his own home. I am sure he thought that being a Harvard professor insulated him from the usual indignities that blacks encounter every day. What upset him was learning that he was not immune, even at the highest pinnacle of academia. This was shocking to him, as shocking as my having a law degree and attempting to shop in a New York department store, with my briefcase, while being followed around the store... or being called the "N" word in Harvard Square. You do everything the majority tells you to do to improve your situation and it is never enough. That is what Professor Gates probably felt. We simply cannot escape the racial indignities. I hope the professor will use this as a teachable moment about race in America. We are by no means near a post racial society, even with an African-American president.

    July 22, 2009 at 3:14 pm |
  34. virginia

    Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr was not arrested for breaking into his own home.... He was arrested because of his aggressive attitude toward the officers. Given his high intelligence, I wonder if he acted this way to force the police to arrest him so that he could make a statement to the country??? Looks like a publicity stunt to me.

    Virginia – Wi

    July 22, 2009 at 3:14 pm |
  35. Christina Burton

    This is a toughy. Mr. Gates is well-respected, and clearly black and could have been a target of racism. But did that police officer say "Hey, N***er! Show me some ID or hit the bricks!"? No. Or at least that's not what the press is reporting. Black or white, Mr. Gates should have just calmed the hell down and shown his identification. Yes, racism is alive and well, and in differing forms, but this wasn't blatant on the police officer's part. If there's anyone we should be mad at, it's the woman who called 911, saying she saw "two black men in backpacks on the porch." SHE is an IDIOT. – Christina B., Fairfax, Va.

    July 22, 2009 at 3:11 pm |
  36. Jilly Witman

    No one is playing a "race card" here. I'm caucasion and all the people who think so are just stupid! Do you all work for the same corrupt police headquarters? YOU are the racists if anyone.

    July 22, 2009 at 3:09 pm |
  37. Michael Legel

    Once he identified himself as the legal resident of the home the police should have left. Period. There was no reason for the police to harass him further and unless he physically assaulted the officer there was no cause for arrest.

    July 22, 2009 at 3:07 pm |
  38. BigMark

    Many blacks have absolutely no respect for the law. I know: I live in the 'hood and see it every day!! Many blacks feel somehow like they don't have to obey the law(s).

    Until Blacks learn that the/their "over the top", LOUD, angry "in your face" reception to being questioned by police is NOT COOL, DUMB and INVITES POLICE's negative response/reaction, they will continue to have trouble with law enforcement!! Duhhh!!

    My police officer friends have shared with me how many blacks (most??) immediately go into ATTACK–CONFRONTATION–RACIAL PROFILING mode when being pulled over for a police stop. STUPID. You get what you deserve!

    July 22, 2009 at 3:05 pm |
  39. Jilly Witman

    To Cindy, you sound like a racist officer. You're wrong, I won't say what I'd like to do to you if I saw you in a dark alley somewhere, You should be ashamed! Hope you post this too.
    What I'm writing is appropriate and if not then someone else has a problem. thank you.

    July 22, 2009 at 3:05 pm |
  40. William

    Yes, this well dressed man with luggage and Harvard Faculty ID is trying to break into this house. Who tries breaking into the front door like that anyway??

    Cindy and Melissa...get real. You would not have called the police if you saw a caucasian trying to get into the house

    July 22, 2009 at 3:02 pm |
  41. Confused

    So what really happened? Isn't this all still he said, she said?

    July 22, 2009 at 3:01 pm |
  42. Jilly Witman

    Please post this. I'm telling you the police have a "quota" and they must meet.and they Provoked this older man, very wrong. Shame on them! This is turning into a big issue now because of over zealous police who have nothing bettr to do than mistreat people instead of going after the real criminals. I hope this man sues them and wins,.J

    July 22, 2009 at 3:01 pm |
  43. Erinski Easy

    This guy's just angry cause the police didn't recognize him, If it were snoop dogg this wouldn't have happened... Heck 50 cent could have broken into the police man's house and gotten away with signing a couple of autographs. The person in this story that I'm most dissappointed in, is me, because Mr. Gates had to come on cops before I found out about him or his great achievements. If asked I couldn't quote a line from any of his literary works but at the same time I come probably rattle off a couple of songs from "CHAMILLIONAIR" off the top of my head (I guess that just goes to show the aspect of Black-Americanism that I glorify)

    July 22, 2009 at 2:58 pm |
  44. G

    People will stop trying to play the racism card WHEN PEOPLE STOP ACTING IN A RACIST MANNER! The fact of the matter is that the police are twice as likely to see a black man as "rowdy" or "angry" or "disrespectful". Most police departments treat black men differently from the way they treat white men you only have to look at statistics to see the truth behind the BIG BRUTAL REALITY that racism is in the criminal justice system. For those of you who think the system is fair, paint your faces black like the white man who did and then have your perspective changed just as his was.

    July 22, 2009 at 2:57 pm |
  45. RacieElleK

    None of us were there to be able to affirmatively state that Dr. Gates was displaying "disorderly conduct". I know I would definitely be P'd. O. if I was being bothered at my place of residence, where I pay the mortgate monthly and keep the lights on.

    And if racially-motivated incidents wouldn't happen so often, nobody would pull the "race card".

    July 22, 2009 at 2:53 pm |
  46. Kitibo

    How is it absurd? Have you lived your lives being black? Stop dismissing the race card. The fact that the charges were dismissed speaks for itself.

    July 22, 2009 at 2:48 pm |
  47. JC- Los Angeles

    While only professor Gates and the police officer know what truly transpired, to insert race into every discussion is troubling.

    It's understandable, since you have a convicted felon for a brother, to sympathize and frame matters along racial lines, however, it's time to stop making excuses or blaming others.

    Immigrants come to America each day and often, within one generation, start businesses and send their children to the finest universities.

    With African Americans collectively falling below Third World countries, change is long overdue.

    July 22, 2009 at 2:45 pm |
  48. Melissa

    When you get pushy with police, you get arrested. If he hadn't been so unhelpful, it wouldn't have been an issue. I agree with the first post that saying that if it had been a white man, it wouldn't have happened is absolutely absurd.

    Stop trying to play the race card.

    July 22, 2009 at 2:37 pm |
  49. SandraWI

    Housing While Black, HWB, that's a new one. I've been discrimated for DWB, Driving While Black. I'm so outraged over this story that I can't help but comment on how wrong it is on every blog site I can find. How dare they do this to this brilliant scholar. Let's keep this story alive as to shed a light on the injustice that was thrust upon Mr. Gates. Shame on you Cambridge Police and any officers of color who added in his arrest, shame on you for not stepping aside once you heard the details and saw who this was being arrested.

    July 22, 2009 at 2:26 pm |
  50. Cindy

    If Gates would have produced his ID and not been so rowdy this may not have happened. He didn't have to automatically go into racism mode. So what if he won this that or the other...there are laws and the police do have a right to get your personal info to see if you are telling the truth or not.

    And to say that no one would call the police if it were two white men trying to get into a house is absurd!! I'd call the police as I'm sure many would no matter what the color of a person is if I saw someone trying to muscle open a door.

    And why are you bringing up police brutality? Gates was not harmed in any way. I'm sure a lot of police do beat black men when arresting them unfortunately but in this case they didn't.


    July 22, 2009 at 1:50 pm |
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