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Kyle Smith (Twitter: @rkylesmith) is a film critic for The New York Post and the author of the novels Love Monkey and A Christmas Caroline. Type a title in the box above to locate a review.

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    Henry Louis Gates Arrested!

    By Kyle | July 20, 2009

    For trying to enter his own home and being excessively uppity er, “tumultuous.” I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more about this story: An acclaimed 58-year-old black academic says he was arrested solely because he is black.

    UPDATE: The more details emerge, the more it becomes clear that Gates was arrested for yelling at police. Why do police have the right to arrest people for (perhaps justifiably) shouting? They claim he was “alarming” passersby. Can they produce these allegedly upset individuals? Too many cops think the badge is a right to push people around. This charge will obviously be tossed but in addition to that the police owe Gates an apology. There has to be some price to be paid by police for overzealousness.

    UPDATE 2: Jonah Goldberg has a thoughtful post on conservative reaction to Skip Gates’ arrest–says it’s evenly divided. (7:52 am on July 21.) Like Goldberg, I’m inclined to give cops wide deference to exercise their judgment. But “wide” and “unlimited” are not the same thing. I see no reason in this case to believe the cops acted reasonably. When they far overstep their authority, they need to be corrected.

    UPDATE 3: Charges dropped! Non-apology apology issued by CPD. Not good enough! Of course this incident reflects badly on the Cambridge Ceystone Cops.

    Topics: Campus, Politics | 25 Comments »

    25 Responses to “Henry Louis Gates Arrested!”

    1. K Says:
      July 20th, 2009 at 5:38 pm

      Let’s see, last week it was the brown kids showing up at a swanky pool and getting thrown out because of their race.

      Today it’s a black professor getting arrested for breaking into his own house.

      I’d say we’re building towards the “country hates black people” narrative here. Awaiting next week’s story with bated breath.

    2. kishke Says:
      July 20th, 2009 at 5:46 pm

      Henry Louis Gates Jr., the nation’s pre-eminent black scholar,

      That line won’t make Cornel West very happy.

      We do not believe that this arrest would have happened if professor Gates was white,

      True enough. Then again, he wouldn’t have accused the officer of racism were he white, so it’s a moot point.

      Cambridge police were called to the home Thursday afternoon after a woman reported seeing a man ”wedging his shoulder into the front door as to pry the door open,” according to a police report. An officer ordered the man to identify himself, and Gates refused, according to the report. Gates began calling the officer a racist and said repeatedly, ”This is what happens to black men in America.”

      It’s a chutzpah. How dare they ask a man forcing open a door to identify himself! Blatant racism. And how adult of him to refuse to respond.

    3. Jay Breen Says:
      July 20th, 2009 at 6:18 pm

      FABDWK
      Futile attempt to break a door while black.

    4. shangui Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 9:38 am

      I don’t know. If I had just gotten back from a 14 hour plane ride, found my lock jammed, had to get the cab driver to help me force the door open, then 5 minutes later had a cop in my living room demanding identification, I’d probably be a bit testy too.

      “True enough. Then again, he wouldn’t have accused the officer of racism were he white, so it’s a moot point.”

      A moot point? Really? You think 1)being called a racist and 2)getting arrested, put in handcuffs, and taken to jail are essentially the same thing? That’s ridiculous.

      And in general, Gates is nothing at all like West. He’s an exceedingly polite, non-confrontational guy with a lot of very solid and meticulous scholarship.

    5. kishke Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 10:20 am

      shangui: If a cop observing me trying to break down my front door asked me to identify myself I wouldn’t dream of refusing. It would be the height of stupidity.

      You think 1)being called a racist and 2)getting arrested, put in handcuffs, and taken to jail are essentially the same thing?

      Where did I say that? It’s a moot point b/c had he been white, he wouldn’t have dreamed of accusing a cop doing his job of being a racist, so the whole sad story would never have happened.

    6. shangui Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 10:35 am

      “If a cop observing me trying to break down my front door asked me to identify myself I wouldn’t dream of refusing. It would be the height of stupidity.”

      Of course, but that’s not at all what happened. The door was jammed and Gates, with the help of his cab driver, forced it open. His neighbor saw this and called the police. By the time the police got there, Gates had been in his own home for awhile and certainly had no reason to believe that cops were going to show up. That’s a completely different situation from “a cop observing me trying to break down my door and asked me to identify myself.”

      “It’s a moot point b/c had he been white, he wouldn’t have dreamed of accusing a cop doing his job of being a racist, so the whole sad story would never have happened.”

      So, are you saying he was arrested for calling the cop racist? That seems to be your implication, right? Do you think this is a reasonable (and lawful) action on the part of the cop?

    7. kishke Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 11:41 am

      By the time the police got there, Gates had been in his own home for awhile and certainly had no reason to believe that cops were going to show up.

      Yeah, well, he still could have just answered the guy, and everything would have been fine. The cop was responding to a report of break-and-entry. It was perfectly reasonable for him to try to determine that this guy was actually the homeowner and not a burglar. You said Gates was exceedingly polite and non-confrontational, but he seems to have lost it here.

      So, are you saying he was arrested for calling the cop racist? That seems to be your implication, right?

      No, it’s not my implication at all. But the accusation is what started the ball rolling. He made a nasty, unwarranted accusation, which made the cop angry and thus more unyielding, which caused Gates to do whatever he did next, which was what got him arrested. Not the racist comment itself.

    8. Bugg Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 12:11 pm

      Why didn’t he have a key?

      Seems both parties overreacted.

      But based on the two occasions I’ve stayed in Cambridge, their PD didn’t seem to be particularly gung ho guys. Harvard professors, on the other hand, think they are gods. Kind of amazing that the renowned and well-compensated Gates is still renting, and that his neighbor in the People’s Republic of Cambridge didn’t recognize him.

    9. kishke Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 12:17 pm

      Kyle, I just read the Jonah Goldberg post you mention, and I like his characterization of Gates’s accusation as bullying. That’s precisely what it was.

    10. shangui Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 12:19 pm

      Actually, “whatever he did next, which was what got him arrested” was apparently to get increasingly pissed off after the cop insisted that he (Gates) come outside AFTER he had already showed him his license and Harvard I.D. You apparently can’t really arrest someone for yelling in their own house but as soon as he kept yelling outside he could be charged with being “tumultuous.”

      I agree that Gates clearly lost it here and acted in a manner inconsistent with how he typically acts. What I’m saying is that I think it’s perfectly understandable that he might act that way (again, 14 hour plane ride back from China, locked out of house, hassled by cop who comes into the house). I think it DOES indeed matter that he’s black here. If I, a white dude, was wearing nice clothes and pushing my front door open at noon, I doubt anyone would call the cops.

      Now I can understand why someone did call the cops on Gates, as there is indeed a higher crime rate among African Americans (let’s not forget Jesse Jackson saying that even HE felt more nervous about encountering a group of black teenagers at night on the street than a group of white ones). At the same time, I can imagine being infuriated if I’m Gates and have basically spent my whole life meeting and surpassing every standard society sets for me, only to be treated like I’m probably a criminal.

      Even as a while, middle class guy who is quite law abiding, I have had the opportunity to see immense corruption and wrong-doing on the part of police officers. I do not at all give them the benefit of the doubt. I imagine if I had Gates’s life experiences my skepticism would be even deeper and I would be more likely to read a situation like this in the worst possible way.

    11. kishke Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 1:08 pm

      I can see where Gates might have been grumpy and upset; I can’t see where he comes off calling the guy a racist. But the more I read, the less sure I am of what really happened there. In Gates’s version (linked in Goldberg’s post), there is no mention of his calling the cop a racist, so maybe it didn’t happen. Or maybe he’s embroidering the truth in his favor. Who knows?

    12. kishke Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 1:12 pm

      Now I can understand why someone did call the cops on Gates, as there is indeed a higher crime rate among African Americans

      In this case, there’s no need to cite the higher crime rate among blacks. The woman reported what appeared to be a break-in. There’s no reason to believe race came into it at all.

    13. kyle Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 1:15 pm

      Calling cops racists isn’t a crime, even calling cops racist in a loud voice, and in any case the cops proceeded to back up the racism claim by clamping the cuffs on a guy they by then knew was a Harvard professor. Cops shouldn’t arrest people because cop feelings have been hurt and launder their hurt feelings through a ridiculous charge of disturbing the peace or resisting arrest. Arrest is itself a form of unreviewed punishment, a very unpleasant thing to undergo. The justice system will acknowledge the speciousness of the charge when a judge throws it out, but that will not make Gates whole.

    14. shangui Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 1:31 pm

      “Why didn’t he have a key?
      Seems both parties overreacted.”

      He did. The front door was lock was apparently jammed. He went went in through the back door and tried to open the front door from inside but couldn’t pull it open. That’s when he had the cabbie help him push it open from the outside.

      “The woman reported what appeared to be a break-in. There’s no reason to believe race came into it at all.”

      Except that the woman who called the police specifically said that there were two “black men” trying to get in the door. Now maybe she would have said “two white men are trying to get in the door” had that been the case. We’ll never know, but I doubt it.

      And Kyle is correct, calling cops racists isn’t a crime. Also, last time I checked, American’s were not obliged to let cops into their house without a warrant. Note that the cop refused to give his/her badge number to Gates when requested to do so and called the Harvard police AFTER Gates handed over his own Harvard ID.

      Kyle is further correct that “the justice system will acknowledge the speciousness of the charge when a judge throws it out.” The charges have indeed been dropped. He’s also correct that “that will not make Gates whole.” The guy was arrested, handcuffed, and thrown in jail for mouthing off to a cop in his own freakin’ home.

      Frankly, I find Goldberg’s “bullying” charge absurd. A completely innocent man gets taken from his house, arrested, handcuffed (!), and put in jail, in part for calling someone a name, and HE’S the bully?!? For pseudo-libertarians, some of you all really like puckering up and kissing the State’s rear end.

    15. kishke Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 1:32 pm

      Calling cops racists isn’t a crime

      No, but it’s a stupid thing to do (particularly when it’s your house they’ve come to protect), and in this case, it seems to have been the reason the whole thing escalated.

    16. yankeefan Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 1:53 pm

      Reports of racism’s death are greatly exaggerated.

    17. kishke Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 2:13 pm

      Except that the woman who called the police specifically said that there were two “black men” trying to get in the door. Now maybe she would have said “two white men are trying to get in the door” had that been the case. We’ll never know, but I doubt it.

      The cops might have asked her about the race so that they could identify the guys. Come to think of it, it’s perfectly normal to give that kind of info to the police when reporting a crime. If I saw two white guys breaking in to a house, I would say they’re white, so the police would know who to look for.

    18. yankeefan Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 2:22 pm

      Given the amount of hair-splitting and excessive “analyis” going on in this comments section, I surmise than none of you have ever been the victim of police harassment, nor do you likely know someone who has been.

      You are over-thinking and in some cases rationalizing away the obvious: The cops thought a brother was breaking into the house.

      “What do you call a black man with a PhD?”

    19. kishke Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 3:10 pm

      “What do you call a black man with a PhD?”

      Dunno. What?

    20. shangui Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 3:24 pm

      I believe the old “joke” to which yankeefan refers is along the lines of “What do you call a n***er with a Ph.D? N***er.”

      And I bet that’s how Gates was feeling when all this went down.

    21. kishke Says:
      July 21st, 2009 at 3:50 pm

      And I bet that’s how Gates was feeling when all this went down.

      No doubt. The question is whether his feelings were justified.

    22. JohnFNWayne Says:
      July 22nd, 2009 at 1:13 am

      I find it funny the police will arrest you for looking at them sideways during a traffic stop, but won’t do anything at a WTO protest in Seattle, even if protester hurl dung at them in one direction and molotov cocktails the next.

    23. Brandon Says:
      July 22nd, 2009 at 12:46 pm

      I think this was a simple case of Gates, in his infinite self importance, was not about to lower himself to a rational discussion with this police officer who is clearly below him.

      When a call is made police have to investigate, they have no choice. We have had similar things happen on multiple occassions with our burglar alarm accidently activating and the police show up. This is probable cause and the police have to enter your home even if you answer the door and prove it’s your home. They do this to be sure that you are in fact okay and are not acting under criminal coercion as we see happen in so many movies. Imagine how much more trouble this police officer would have been in if Mr. Gates was in fact being held captive by a burglar in his home and the police officer had not followed protocol and investigated the call. They would have been saying this officer did not do his job because Mr. Gates was black. There is no way you can safely handle the ever fragile black community that will not make them cry racism. If someone really wants to be a victim they can convince themself they are a victim under any circumstance.

    24. kishke Says:
      July 23rd, 2009 at 9:22 pm

      What’s with the dumb comment by Obama? Some post-racialist.

    25. sharpshiny Says:
      July 24th, 2009 at 1:07 am

      1. I’m white and grew up on the south side of Chicago and I am BEYOND sick and tired of black people screaming racism whenever they want something (attention, respect, money) or simply because they’re in a bad mood.

      2. Obama said the police acted stupidly before even beginning to know the facts. So much for the post-racial president who’s going to bring us all together.

      3. And as for those who suffer the white guilt that is in large part responsible for Obama’s election victory… People, black Americans are NEVER going to stop screaming racism — EVER. No amount of appeasement will ever suffice. Get used to it!

      4. I say “black Americans” in no. 3 because I have a “black” friend from Sri Lanka and I have never, EVER heard him complain about racism — not even once! Interesting, isn’t it?

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