July 24th, 2009
02:37 PM ET

Please, Professor Gates!

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/07/23/officer.gates.arrest/art.gates.cnn.jpg caption="Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested after a reported break-in."]
Sherrilyn A. Ifill
The Root

In an interview with The Root after the ordeal of his arrest in his home in Cambridge, this week Harvard professor (and The Root’s editor-in-chief) Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. announced his intention to make a PBS special about race and the criminal justice system. It would bring welcome attention to an important and still underreported issue.

Although Gates’ experience has been described as racial profiling, the problem of race and the criminal justice system is more complex. It includes police brutality (including the increasing and sometimes deadly use of Tasers), disparate sentencing, poor prison conditions, harsh and often racially disparate sentencing, and a range of barriers to the reintegration of ex-offenders. Any one of these issues would benefit from a thoughtful PBS special, especially one with the scholarly imprimatur of a Gates production

Gates has developed something of a franchise on PBS, particularly his specials on genealogy. In these programs, Gates and his research team have meticulously traced the lineage of famous black people from Oprah to Chris Rock to Quincy Jones. The segments in which Gates shares the fruit of his research with his subjects is always emotionally wrenching. The stories of the slaves, freedmen, teachers and soldiers who struggled and somehow made it through, reduce his rich and famous subjects to moments of speechlessness and often tears. In this sense, we learn about African-American history through the eyes of exceptional and successful African Americans. We share with them a kind of personal journey into their own family history.


soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. ranger235

    Of course the officer was using profiling – jackass profiling. Acting like a belligerent whining ass when the police are there to investigate a call – and potentially save you, your home and possessions – pretty much asks to be taken into custody. Officers aren't psychic; all he had to do was cooperate. Would you prefer they just turned around and walked away before they had verified his identity as well his legal right to be there?

    July 24, 2009 at 8:00 pm |
  2. Swan

    What I would expect from everyone involved would be some decorum. Gates is a very educated man as is Sgt. Crowley.
    If my home was reported to be the subject of a break-in I would hope the police would respond swiftly and on alert. If the person doing the breaking in was myself I would expect the police to challenge my right to be there. Keeping a level head in a stress filled situation is a sign of intelligence and a sign of self-respect. I want the officers to check things out and I would expect myself to fully cooperate. Even if I were treated with disrespect, out of respect for myself, I would not give myself permission to become belligerent nor defensive. I'd continue to cooperate.

    I fear too many of us have given ourselves permission to respond to what we may assume is a personal affront with arrogance. Example – a cashier asks to see another form of ID when presented with a credit card. I've seen people become absolutely irate when all the clerk is striving to do is to protect you from someone else misusing your credit card. How foolish is that?!

    July 24, 2009 at 7:29 pm |
  3. Tim Gibson

    Until people, all people, accept responsibility for their own actions and stop putting blame for their own failures on the world, there will never be a forward to this issue. How long can we cling to the past and cry the same old song, it is such a tired song. Put it to rest people.

    July 24, 2009 at 7:24 pm |
  4. Admin

    A sad, bitter and cranky old man who views the world through race-tinted glasses.

    July 24, 2009 at 7:20 pm |
  5. Richard

    Some of you are way off base. Professor Gates only showed a school ID, refused to show a drivers license and refused to calm down. Sounds like the professor is a little too full of himself!!

    July 24, 2009 at 7:17 pm |
  6. DawnL,CA

    Of course.Should have known. Gates is going to do a PBS special. This was probably his intent in the first place. There is no doubt he acted like a pompous jerk.
    When an officer requests your ID-you show him your ID. You don't smart-mouth him & tell him to get his mama.
    What Gates probably meant.....Who do you think you are to question me, a HARVARD professor, while you are just a lowly cop. Sounds like class warfare more than racism.
    Obama really stepped in it this time. He should have kept his mouth shut until he did have the facts. I have to say I'm surprised at him.

    July 24, 2009 at 7:02 pm |
  7. Jen

    First of all, I'm from Hawaii. I'm not black neither am I white. My son is a police officer so I tend to side with the law. However, I feel that Professor Gates had a right to become irate once he showed identification of who he was and that this home was his. As a homeowner, if this incident had happened to me I would also become defensive and insulted once I identified and showed proof of who I was and this is something that these officers are taught to deal with. By the time the officer arrived there he should have already have had information on who resided there so there is no excuse that he should have doubted Professor Gates. What the officer should have done once ID was provided is turn around and leave the premises. I feel that the officer was provoking and fueling the fire. I am sad to say that many police officers are arrogant and can't stand being talked down to and these are the guys who should be weeded out when they take their psychological interview when they are applying for the police force. I'm proud of my son who has been a police officer for 21 years. He treats all people equal, but then he is from Hawaii.

    July 24, 2009 at 6:27 pm |
  8. Gloria

    JOAN you have taken the words out of my mouth. I too am a white female and know I would also be arrested if I acted the same way Gates did. Being innocent, he should have cooperated with the police and been grateful that they had responded to the call of his neighbor to protect his home. Why did he have to make it a race issue???? I also feel that yes, there are many bad apples in our PDs, but we all must remember that they are taking their life in their hands with every call they respond to...with every ticket they issue...with every incident. These men are heros on a daily basis. President Obama should have declined to respond until he knew what he was talking about. I think he would have a much different opinion. Should someone apoligize? I think Mr. Gates should do some soul searching and let this officer know how wrong he was to be so obnoxious. That was his ego and not his race. Too bad he doesn't know that..

    July 24, 2009 at 6:27 pm |
  9. Yvette

    I think we need to wait until the tapes of the events come out before we crucify the police or Prof. Gates.... I do feel we need to use this event as a teachable moment....

    July 24, 2009 at 6:07 pm |
  10. pblatcher

    So many people in this country waist they're time worrying about the wrong things ....thats why we will never be rid of racism.

    July 24, 2009 at 6:00 pm |
  11. Buffyblue

    Just proves to me that Mr. Obama is a "divider not a uniter." Very disappointing.

    July 24, 2009 at 5:58 pm |
  12. kaka

    I still think the police should NOT be arresting someone at their own house/porch except they pose a DANGER to the public. Once the police confirmed his identity, he should have just leave him alone...I think it is frustrate enough to break into his own home and then treated as an invader.
    I am not saying the police is wrong , but think about this , would you lock an unfortunate guy who have to break his own door to get home and then considered as a suspect into jail???
    The police should utilize the time wasted here to arrest some real bad ppl.

    July 24, 2009 at 5:56 pm |
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