Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Living While Black?

By Kerra S.Carson, Summer Intern at Kirwan Institute

By now, most of you have heard of Dr. Henry “Skip” Gates being arrested at his Cambridge home. When he arrived home from a trip, he was unable to open the front door. He then proceeded to enter his home through a back entrance. He and his driver attempted to open his door again and managed to do so, but not without damaging the door. He was in his home, on the phone with the management company reporting the damage when police arrived and asked that he step outside. Apparently, a Harvard employee saw Mr. Gates attempting to gain entry and mistook him for a burglar.
Now, this might not sound so alarming if not for a few things:
1) The person who called the police was a Harvard employee. Furthermore, she is employed in their development department. How is it possible she did not recognize one of the most well-known faces in contemporary American scholarship? Dr. Gates has been on hundreds of television programs, including every major news show, media outlet, and two mini-series. He is not your average run-of-the-mill professor. I am hard-pressed to believe she did not know who he is.
2) It appears to be fairly common knowledge where Dr. Gates lives. It is especially notable because he is the only person of color on his street. The Development office the employee is housed in is only a few hundred yards away. Is it reasonable that she would be the only person in her office that did NOT know that was his home?
3) There are two very different stories of what happened once the police arrived. The officer’s report says Dr. Gates was belligerent and refused to show identification. Dr. Gates admits to challenging the officer, but acquiescing to his request to show identification and still got arrested because he wanted the officer’s name and badge number. However, what both agree on is that Dr. Gates was arrested even after showing proper identification verifying his address.
Is there any doubt that this arrest was racially-motivated? If so, what are the implications for those of us who choose to live in areas where we are the overwhelming minority? The rhetoric announcing a post-racial America has been on the rise since we elected our first Black president. If nothing else, this incident shows that we are not quite there.


  1. The fact remains if I am disorderly in my house not in public I can be arrested? I am confused on what made him disorderly. Why were the charges dropped? If the police were right in arresting him the charges shouldn't be dropped!

    With that said I can see how the employee didn't recognize Dr. Gates. she probably just saw black men... Didn't look at the face. Heck we all look alike *insert sarcasm*. However if he was with a driver I would assume if you can see his front door you can see the Town Car. If you think you saw a burgulary I would think since you are safe you would continue to watch to try to get descriptions if your intent is to be helpful. So when they got in and the driver went and carried in luggage what kind of burgulary did you think was going on? Heck of a heist at noon.

    Today I heard reports that Dr. Gates home had been broken into while he was out of town. So I will post more when I see that evidence as I am still holding out on my major opinion on this.

    Sad it takes a Harvard Professor to get this on the national scale.

  2. From a Black woman on the edge:

    I had not heard about the Dr. Gates incident until 11:30 p.m. Thursday. My husband was so incensed about all of the piecemeal information, that he was unable to give me an accurate assessment of what had taken place. Because we have a biased radio station (KABC), in favor of the conservative view, their reporting of the Dr. Gates incident was sketchy, as well as slanted to the right.
    The "host", Curtis Sliwa, said he didn't know who Dr. Gates was, Dr. Gates, who has had numerous programs on PBS, and who has been a guest speaker on race relations, on many programs, was unfamiliar to Sliwa. This "host" then proceeded to invite someone, he called a reporter, named Michelle, on to comment on the situation. Michelle was hostile, biased, and mean spirited. She called Dr. Henry Gates a pompous ass and an arrogant person, over and over, and gave listeners a hate filled view. She seemed to have a personal issue with Dr. Gates, and told us, the listeners, that the police had so much training regarding racial profiling, that they couldn't possibly be wrong, in anyway. Well, you get the picture these two presented. I never heard a fair point of view, so I still don't have all of the information. I do know, if I were inside my house, and the police didn't explain why they were there, I wouldn't get out my identification either, and yes I would have been in their faces. I have had to deal with racial profiling, and had a policeman's gun next to my head. I know I am biased when I see this profiling. I believe in law and order. I know police have a difficult job, one they agreed to do, fairly, but it does not include assaulting or insulting people because of their race or ethnicity.

  3. Harvard seems to have warped this professor's mind.

  4. Um-hmmm, post-racial America. Just last night, in a neighborhood in the east end of Columbus, a SWAT team broke into a home of a Black family, cuffed the mother who lived there to get her out of the way, shot their dog right there in the living room, ransacked the home looking for drugs and arrested a young man for "drugs." He was later released the same go home to his very-shaken mother and their dead family dog. This took place in the house next to the house where I, European American, regularly visit my African American friend; it could just as easily have been her home invaded, my dog shot (as a visitor) and her (likely not me, even had I been outrageous) arrested for what I'm sure would have been some serious "belligerence" as some evidence of a reason to have created a drama. Humanity is a cess-pool.