Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Arrested for Being Black and Loud


The story of august and respected Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates being arrested on suspicion of breaking into HIS OWN HOME. The police report states that he was actually arrested for being disorderly and "tumultuous" with the police officer. Oh, you mean the police officer standing in YOUR house demanding to see YOUR ID to prove that YOU live in YOUR house?!! So apparently Dr. Gates showed his Harvard ID but none too happily, which devolved into being arrested for not being pleasant about being asked to prove he lived in his own house.

This is racist. This is racist. If you can't figure out why, I'm not sure I can help you because this is SO OBVIOUS. See all these ALL CAPS? That's when you know I'm pissed off on my blog. Imagine this scenario with a white distinguished professor at Harvard. A white woman sees a bespectacled older white man with a cane leaning into his door with a friend trying to open it. She immediately assumes these older gentlemen are obviously breaking into a house not their own. Why else would two white men be messing with a stuck door? When the police arrive, the white man takes umbrage at being asked to prove that he lives in his own house. He shows ID under protest, but is arrested anyway for being rude to the police officer because obviously anyone of any color and any social stature is arrested for yelling at a police officer who is, at this point, in your home with no cause.

How do you think that would play in the media? And yet, with Dr. Gates we have all the white people commenting that he should just have kept calm and showed his ID without getting all mad (read = uppity). Think about that. Some cop walks into YOUR house and demands proof that it's your house. You offer proof, and instead of saying, "Well, sorry about the misunderstanding" the officer remains unsure that the home is yours and arrests you for being pissed that he's in your house.

Officer, take a fucking look around at all the photos of ME in the house! Take a look at my cane! Look at my khaki pants and designer blazer, not to mention MY HARVARD ID. Do I look like I'm the profile to be breaking and entering in the light of day?

This entire situation is bullshit. First, the woman who made the call, who also (maybe, used to, at this point) works for Harvard. Every assumption about black men came into play with that phone call. She ignored every indication that this was not a B&E: his age, his physical condition, his deportment. All she saw was "Black Guy Struggling With Door" = obvious crime in progress. Let's all examine our own hearts and vow to not be this woman.

Second, the police officer. Completely ill-equipped to deal with this situation from a social, emotional and professional perspective. I'm certain that Dr. Gates asked for this man's badge number. The article stated that Dr. Gates wanted to get the Chief of Police on the line, and shouted that the officer did not know who he was dealing with. Well, that much is true. This is a clusterfuck from the word Go, and it should be put in training manuals going forward. For example, if you arrive at a potential B&E to find the avuncular owner of the property in residence after struggling with his door, consider your work here done. And do understand that you've just invaded and violated a person's home by accusing him of breaking into it.

All I'm saying is two things: Simply imagine yourself in Dr. Gates' situation and ask yourself if you wouldn't get "tumultuous" as well. I sure would. And also recognize that this type of insidious racism exists. I mean, how much does a black man have to achieve, how much money does he need to earn, how much of a beautiful home in Cambridge must he live in, in order to not be randomly considered a criminal? That woman most likely doesn't dislike black people, but when she saw this situation all she saw was a criminal. That is the bone-deep, reflexive racism we all have to root out and destroy within ourselves. Racism is a cancer on our society, but as the great philosopher Sting once sang, "Men go crazy in congregations; they only get better one by one."


Vigilante said...


nm in mn said...

E: Imagine this situation:

Woman makes the call, and the cops say, "oh, no, we know a black man lives there, it is probably just him getting into his own house." they don't do anything, turns out to be bugalur. Then we would be hearing about the cops not protecting black owned property.

The police had a call of a possible crime. they went and asked the person for ID. HE DID NOT COOPERATE. He started calling them racist. All he had to do was show his ID and this was all over. WTF is so hard about that? If I came home and could not open the door, checked it open, and a neighbor called the cops, I would THANK them for checking on my house. I would rather show my id than have them just assume anyone who claims to live there is ok and they can just leave.

The 'Harvard' ID. Again, my Harvard ID does not have my address, just my name and #. It does not prove anything. Does not show where you live, and sure as hell does not show that you are not committing a crime. think about someone showing their CC id, that could have been (all arrested during our time): Rapist, arsonist, thief, drug dealer. They could have all shown their college ID.

I'm sorry, but I totally disagree with you that this is 'blatantly racist.' He chose to make it a big deal. And if anyone, he should be mad at his neighbor, not the cops doing their job. Maybe he should get to know his neighbors better, and thank the one that was looking out for his property.

E said...

NM, I love you but I've got to disagree. The woman who called worked across the street. She's not his neighbor, so let's not blame him for not knowing her. He actually has been gracious about her, saying that he was glad she called. His issue is with the officer who refused to give him his name and badge number and who really mishandled this situation. Gates did give him his ID; he was not arrested for not cooperating with an investigation. He was arrested for being "tumultuous." At the time of the arrest it had already been established that he was in his own home. This was an optional arrest, and would have been avoided by a better police officer. It was also planned. If you read the police report it is full of details that seek to protect the officer. He can't arrest someone for yelling in his own home, but he CAN arrest him if he's in public and therefore being "disorderly" and potentially inciting others to violence. Which is why he keeps asking Gates to come outside to talk about it. So Gates steps outside, and blam--handcuffs. Note how in the report the officer takes great pains to say that people were gathering. This gives him cover for arresting Gates. It's a seriously dickswinging cop move. I wonder if he'd have done it to Alan Dershowitz. I'm thinking not. Like I said, in cop parlance, this arrest was optional. The better move would have been to thank Gates for his time and leave HIS HOUSE. NB that they dropped the charges. Why? Because they were baseless. This cop needs retraining. And yes, I would recommend to anyone dealing with a person with a gun and a badge to not say, "You don't know who you are dealing with," I'd say that in this instance the cop really didn't. Which makes you wonder how often this happens to people who aren't famous and who don't have the ability to make a stink about it. In any case, if someone walks into my house and demands ID because someone I don't know says I don't own this house, that person is not going to have a polite time of it.

nm in mn said...

E, if the events occurred as you detail in your comment, what makes this racist and not just an out of control cop? Gates is arguing that it was racist since he was asked for ID, etc. seems like this is more of a Cambridge cop who had his ego hurt more than a racial incident.

VS said...

To be quite honest, a similar thing happened to me. I am not white, but when the police showed up at my door, I was quite surprised, as I had no idea, that someone saw me trying to break into my own house, and secondly, I forgot to turn off the silent alarm, in my rush to catch my dog, after she ran out the front door. Anyway, I showed the officer 2 forms of ID, he took a quick look around, and left. I never yelled at him. I was glad he looked around, because if someone was there, holding a gun to my wife's head, and the officer had left, I would be really pissed. So, if I was there instead of Gates, I would have been really thankful and would have made sure the officer knew how much I appreciated that he came by and checked to make sure my house and family were safe. Life experience has nothing to do with this. This is more about common sense. And yes, if I yell and scream at the officer, I fully expect to get arrested, and I am surprised most people don't know this.