Scholar Henry Louis Gates Arrested, For Nothing, At Own House

Obviously the Cambridge, Mass. police department didn’t get that memo about us living in “Post-Racial America” and felt it’s still cool to arrest a man of a certain age (58) for trying to get into his own house. All he was was the homeowner and a well-connected Harvard Professor. I’m sure he looks EXACTLY like someone who would break into a house in that Tony suburb.

Um … What’s up with this, police?

More after the jump.

Police arrived at Gates’s Ware Street home near Harvard Square at 12:44 p.m. to question him. Gates, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, had trouble unlocking his door after it became jammed.

He was booked for disorderly conduct after “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,” according to a police report. Gates accused the investigating officer of being a racist and told him he had “no idea who he was messing with,” the report said.

Gates told the officer that he was being targeted because “I’m a black man in America.” [To read a copy of the police report, click here]

Friends of Gates said he was already in his home when police arrived. He showed his driver’s license and Harvard identification card, but was handcuffed and taken into police custody for several hours last Thursday, they said.

The police report said Gates was arrested after he yelled at the investigating officer repeatedly inside the residence then followed the officer outside, where Gates continued to upbraid him. “It was at that time that I informed Professor Gates that he was under arrest,” the officer wrote in the report.

So they arrested him because he got loud about being harassed for being in his own house? How many things are WRONG with this sentence? The man had trouble getting in his house, got in his house then was harassed for being in his house then was arrested for being upset about being harassed for being in his house. These all sound like pretty natural reactions to me. Unless Gates administered a Hong Kong Fooey-style beatdown on the policeman, what was the problem here? You can’t take some yelling from a naturally upset person? You’re the one who messed up, Cambridge Po-Po. Not Gates! You’re the one harassing homeowners because they have a permanent tan. I get that there were reports of a “prowler,” but once he produced proof that it was, in fact, his house, shouldn’t that have been “I’m so sorry for your inconvenience” time? Not, “you’re under arrest?”

Personally, I think Gates was arrested for having a normal, human reaction as opposed to the reaction my Grandpa was taught to have living in segregated Arkansas. Meaning, be humble and apologize even when the police are in the wrong. My grandpa, while in his 60s was once stopped because he and his brother, also in his 60s, had a bunch of furniture in the bed of their truck and the officer, young enough to be one of their grandkids asked, “What are you boys doing with this stuff?” Grandpa Snob, apparently looking like some kind of menace in his work clothes (a pair of Dickies) and being SIXTY-SOME-ODD-YEARS-OLD was polite the whole time and waited patiently for the cop to call their truck in and learn they were moving things for an employer.

In St. Louis, about a decade or so back, a commercial was run on several stations with black audiences instructing black people how to interact with the police to avoid getting shot. Among the instructions was to not get angry no matter how wrong the officer was. The ad was highly controversial, but there HAD been a rash of police shootings that summer. Usually in the back.

My father and mother, both in their late 50s at the time, helped me move to Midland, TX. As they were leaving my father was pulled over. He was doing the speed limit and hadn’t broken any laws. The officer was curious who these folks with out-of-states plates were. My father was naturally furious and ready to go off until he remembered the advice of his younger brother who told him it was better to shut up and smile than wind up arrested when folks are looking for any excuse to arrest you.

Long story short: Black people are not allowed it seems, under any circumstances, to ever have a human reaction to police error or harassment. Even in Post-racial America. Even if you’re a Harvard professor. You are not allowed to get mad. You are not allowed to voice your opinion. You are not allowed to be loud and tumultuous or whatever that means. You are supposed to be apologetically black. Sorry for being an obvious target of racism. How dare you be born this color and attract this negative attention? I’m so very sorry for being born black in America. How can I make this up to you, Mr. Officer? It’s my fault we all look alike to you. Pardon me for my Negroness.

I hope the police get over their widdle pride, man up, and drop the charges.

To read Gates side of things, click here.

75 thoughts on “Scholar Henry Louis Gates Arrested, For Nothing, At Own House

  1. No one has mentioned that THIS ALL HAPPENED IN BROAD DAYLIGHT. Also, Gates’ limo driver, who was helping Gates with his travel bags was wearing a SUIT. The 911 caller said the men were wearing "backpacks." Why are people so fearful to admit that racism affects peoples’ decisions? We live in a racist society. Everybody is a little tiny bit racist. Come on now. The denial is so revealing of the truth. As a white person I feel no need to defend the cops or the 911 caller. They’ve done studies on this. People profile others based on race. Show blacks in America a little respect by at least acknowledging this.Scott- although you are an attorney and you understand probable cause, certainly you are aware of circumstances, cases, statistics, that point to the existence of racial profiling? Do you deny that some of the facts in this case are probable cause for racism?Here is a link to a scientific study- at Harvard ironically- on subconscious racial profiling. You can actually test your own subconscious racism… or lack thereof.

  2. ezparz:Yes racial profiling exists. Who are you accusing of racial profiling the caller or the cops? I haven’t seen or heard of any news reports of the driver wearing a suit. So what if it was broad daylight, would you have us believe that no one breaks into houses during the day? In many cases daylight burglaries are more common b/c robbers know that folks will be at work and the house empty. If it weren’t for the non-working military spouses my neighborhood, my street would be totally empty during the day. Also, according to the NPR report I heard this morning Gates was just back from a trip to China and had a cold which could have contributed to his attitude. I wouldn’t have been at my most personable at that point either. All Gates had to do was to produce his driver’s license or passport and say he just got back into town and I’m fairly sure the cop would have apologized and left.

  3. chocomiel don’t miss my point. I didn’t say racism wasn’t the cause of this incident, I urged all to at least consider it possible that race was not the motivating factor.

  4. People this is not a tony suburb of boston first of all; there’s plenty of crime here and certainly enough to make the neighbor call the cops because she thought someone was breaking into her neighbors house (which incidentally had been compromised prior to this event by an attempted break-in). So why wouldn’t she call the cops. Cambridge is eclectic unfortunately crime in cambridge isn’t as eclectic and while some may think this is profiling, its not. Its apparant the cop wanted to get out of the house and talk to the professor rather than be followed down the hall by one on the country’s leading minds saying to him "ya, I’ll meet your momma outside". doesn’t sound like he was innocent in this folks! if you want to question authority that’s one thing but don’t be antagonistic about it…things will never get better.

  5. Scott,I understand that as an attorney you are trained to look at the facts.I’m less concerned about the case than I am in your inability to validate the experience of Gates as a black man (or just as a guy who’s being accused of breaking into his own house) or to acknowledge that race may have played a role in the case. Your statements aren’t inaccurate but you’re inability to empathize frustrates me as a white person who feels privileged and honored to take part in this discussion on an African American blog. With all the history and pain of race relations- especially those among cops and blacks- your cold-as-ice tone on this case may be logical but, is in my opinion, culturally disrespectful in this environment. I think we’re the only ones reading the comments at this point!

  6. Sabrina-I agree with you completely. My first response to this story was "what kind of neighbor does not know who lives on their block?" My Baltimore City neighborhood,white and black, is very tight and everyone knows everyone. If anyone tried to break in to anyone’s house, we would call the police because we would know the person was a stranger. The cops were clearly wrong once they got the identification, but community is a real issue here and across America. Dr. Gates should think about moving to a real neighborhood. Marieka

  7. In my opinion, the neighboor was right in calling the police if she felt something was giong down (warranted or unwarranted). In my opinion, the po-po<–sorry, officer of the law was right in questioning Gates and requesting information. In my opinion, the copper <–sorry officer of THE LAW should have done a two-step out and bounce once that identification was given, all with the air of a PUBLIC SERVANT (ex. profuse apologies, utilizing the tough skin TYPICAL of a public servant whose very job description involves dealing with people in all states)…Scott, I understand your point of view, but I think your focus is a little off. You metnioned the "do what the cop says" philosophy, which is more or less used by the general public weather white black or polka, but I think everyone else’s issue is a) as a human (black no less) isn’t it backwards that one would have to take the apologetic role when your rights are being dismissed?[which they were the moment the officer didn’t leave after Gates exercised due diligence AND the officer’s refusal to produce badge info] and b) even if one (black no less) were to get a little froggy (and NOT jump) does that constitute ANY, let alone custodial, action by an officer? It shouldn’t be a social norm, and the fact it is IS grounds for us all to be a tad pissed…In my opinon.

  8. house cleaning: *mentioned**whether instead of weather(I can’t stand when ppl spout and have typos and grammatical Note: Im a public servant and if I were to take severe action everytime someone acted a plum fool with me; the snob would have my picture and story up there.. it’s part of the job..

  9. i see a lot of people who present another view point on this issue not revolving around race as being people who are "negating black people’s history." uhh, no. it’s presenting another view point. there’s no singular reason for anything. just because scott or anyone else thinks something else also contributed, doesn’t mean that said person thinks that race had no bearing. use your brains, people. if you expect racism from someone of another race, you’re going to receive it because you already have tunnel vision to see anything else.

  10. @ ezparzbecause a white person is presenting an opposing view point on a issue that might or might not revolve around race, to posters who are majority black; he’s being culturally insensitive?so essentially, regardless of what his mind is telling him, he needs to fall in line because most of the posters on this blog are black and not doing so is offensive to them?LMAO. good grief. whatever happened to being able to articulate your view point in a concise, logical fashion without having to cow tow to people’s feeling?

  11. Scott,As a lawyer, where did the disorderly conduct come in? The investigation was over and done, The policeman was asked to leave and should have done so. The police officer returned to Gate’s property to make the arrest.

  12. ^^^^^"The police report said Gates was arrested after he yelled at the investigating officer repeatedly inside the residence then followed the officer outside, where Gates continued to upbraid him. "It was at that time that I informed Professor Gates that he was under arrest,” the officer wrote in the report."unless the article is wrong.

  13. I’m all for justice if racism is indeed the case. I think though, that in this case, racism just wasn’t a factor. One of the responding officers was Black, by the way. But Gates wasn’t arrested for being Black folks. He was arrested for being a smart ass with police. I believe "yo mama" was even cited somewhere in the slew of insults Gates threw at the officers.Neighbors called the police for what appeared to be someone breaking and entering into Gares’ house. Since Gates locked himself out and was trying to get in, and Gates is Black, the description police were given was of a Black male.When police arrived and verified that Gates was, indeed, in his own home, he should have said, "Sorry for the mixup, I locked myself out but I appreciate you coming out to make sure it wasn’t otherwise." But no, he started getting all self-righteous and beligerant and got his ass arrested. Period point blank.

  14. Wenzel:The disorderly conduct came about as Gates followed the cop outside and kept yelling at him as swiv mentioned. I don’t think it was really necessary to even arrest Gates but hindsight is 20/20. The offense on the police report is disorderly conduct c272 para 53. Here is a link to the Mass Code: also has a good general article on the subject

  15. Ok Danielle, let’s see if I can get inside Professor Gates’ head.Professor Gates arrives home after being away in China (?). He is tired and would just like to jump in bed or relax and read a book, whatever. Instead, he can’t get in his home. The door is jammed.Professor Gates is frustrated and angry, but finally he gets into his home.Knock knock. Who the hell? … Sees police … Yes?Police begin questioning, eventually asking for some ID. Now the Black Male DNA kicks in. Wrapped in that DNA are the vestiges of torture, lynching, burning, castration, unlawful detention, and constant harassment by police, being humiliated by whites in front of loved ones and children, racial profiling, the “N” word, feelings of being looked down on, discrimination, unequal justice …..Proud Professor will not be disrespected and he speaks up and declares his worthiness. Untrained, possibly racist police doesn’t like this “boys” tone. The professor is not humble enough … doesn’t thank the police for humiliating the professor in front of his neighbors and humiliating the professor in his own home. A home, by the way, that he worked long and hard to obtain … while maneuvering his way through the race game.I think the police need some “training to do”. (Smile)

  16. I’m kind of shocked that some people here are implying that what happened maybe wasn’t all that bad. It’s HORRENDOUS. Yes, it’s great that a neighbor called the police if she saw a door being forced open. It sucks that she doesn’t know her neighbors, but hey, she’s looking out for them anyway. Maybe Prof. Gates did not appreciate the fact that a stranger was looking out for him by calling the cops when they saw the door being forced, and maybe he was too huffy and rude to the policeman.But how did that merit being arrested??? Uh uh. No, not in any way, shape or form. Too many cops join the profession because they was a license to carry a gun and throw their weight around. Not all of them, thank God, there are good cops who just want to, you know, look after their neighbors a little more effectively. But way too many bad ones.I’m convinced it’s worse for Black people, but truly bad cops don’t care who they f*k with.

  17. Nisha — Im definately right there with you. This has nothing to do with race it has almost everything to do with PRIVLEDGE. This man called the police station demanding to speak with the chief while the officer was in his house trying to get to the bottom of the situation…..EVERYBODY READ THE POLICE REPORT!!!!

  18. I’ve just skimmed comments so forgive me if this has come up before.I’ve seen some comments along the lines of "who does not know the folks in their neighborhood?"I visited Ware street in Cambridge yesterday on the way back from dropping my son at camp.The woman who called in the concern was associated with 7 Ware street which are offices of Harvard Magazine where she is apparently employed. The house at 17 Ware street where Dr. Gates lives and the incident took place is more than 100 yards away and there is a large multi-story apartment building in between the two. There is absolutely no line of sight between the two. My guess is that she may have been walking down the street (perhaps to or from lunch?) and seen what she thought to be suspicious behavior (vs. looking out the window or others scenarios that may have been surmised.)Since the woman is there during the day (at her workplace) and presumably Dr. Gates is usually not there during the day, it’s not surprising they wouldn’t have been familiar with one another. Ware Street is one block long (probably a few hundred yards) and has probably at least a few hundred residents. I wanted to inject a bit of insight into that city block. No apologies for anyone’s actions, just a dose of reality to go with the rampant speculation all around.

  19. It is stories like these and people like Gates that destroy Martin Luther King’s dream and keep racism alive. The police were doing there job and ran into a high profile racist. It does not matter what color you are or who you are, when the police are trying to do their job and you refuse to cooperate, you are not above the law because you are black or a professor. This is all nonsense. Anybody who thinks Gates should not have been arrested is racist and he should not have got special treatment because he ran his mouth.

  20. "I think the question is would a black officer or any other officer for that matter not move on once Gates provided TWO form of ID’s proving that he DOES belong in the home?"If you look at the Boston Globe’s picture of Gates in handcuffs being led away (, you see that one of the arresting officers was black. It seems that a black officer would, indeed, arrest Gates based on what happened. I’m surprised that the press hasn’t mentioned this at all. It seems like it’s an important part of the story and possibly indicative of whether there was racial bias in the arrest.Personally, I think it is part of everyone’s Constitutional rights to yell at a police officer just as you can yell at anyone else, as long as you’re not being threatening, and especially in your own home. However, the presence of a black officer makes me think this was not necessarily racial profiling.

  21. Middle aged white guy here. Had same thing happen to me. Alarm went off. Cops arrived. Surprised when they asked me for my ID and asked me to step out of my own home. I complied. They went inside, did brief search to make sure no one was duct taped in a closet and went on their way, Must be procedure. The question with Prof Gates… he a black man dealing with historical racial prejudices, or an entitled Harvard professor who views himself above the law? Or both? It is a very interesting story and won’t go away soon. Hope we keep talking about it. Also hope if Prof Gates makes a documentary, he interviews Officer Crowley.Best case, they kiss and make up and admit they were both wrong, and both right.

  22. Hey are you a professional journalist? This article is very well written, as compared to most other blogs i saw today�. anyhow thanks for the good read!

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