Gates’s version of the event

When I read Officer James Crowley’s official arrest report Monday evening, with its clear writing, its detailed, objective, and adult tone, and its suppressed emotion between the lines that came from Crowley’s having to endure Gates’s outrageously insulting behavior, and Crowley was enduring it, like a man, it immediately conveyed to me a quality of truthfulness, especially as compared with the vague, politically correct accounts in the mainstream media which didn’t even mention Crowley’s report. But now “Skip” Gates (what a WASPY nickname for a professional aggrieved black) has also provided a detailed account of the incident, in an interview at The Root, of which he is the editor in chief. The two accounts could not be more different. I’m tempted to call it a Rashomon type situation, except that that would imply a relativistic attitude toward truth and the suggestion that both men’s accounts are equally biased, which, having read both accounts, I don’t believe is the case.

Still, it’s no longer a one-sided contest between Crowley’s persuasive account and the unbelievable news stories presenting Gates’s generalized accusations of bias. Now it’s an even contest between two detailed accounts, and it’s up to us to decide which one we think is is true, or at least more true than the other.

Here is the Gates interview, with my interspersed comments.

Skip Gates Speaks
By: Dayo Olopade
Posted: July 21, 2009 at 5:34 PM

The Root Editor-in-Chief Henry Louis Gates Jr. talks about his arrest and the outrage of racial profiling in America.

The Root: We’ve all seen the police and media reports around your arrest last Thursday in Cambridge, Mass., Charles Ogletree issued a statement to The Root that included a synopsis [1] of the incident. But what have you been going through since Thursday?

Henry Louis Gates Jr.: I’m outraged. I can’t believe that an individual policeman on the Cambridge police force would treat any African-American male this way, and I am astonished that this happened to me; and more importantly I’m astonished that it could happen to any citizen of the United States, no matter what their race. And I’m deeply resolved to do and say the right things so that this cannot happen again.

Of course, it will happen again, but … I want to do what I can so that every police officer will think twice before engaging in this kind of behavior. [LA replies: Fine. I suggest that when a white police officer sees someone breaking into a black-owned home or black-owned store, he think once, think twice, and then walk on down the road.]

TR: Can you describe, in your own words, what went on in and outside of your home? When did you suspect you were the victim of racial profiling?

HLG: I just finished making my new documentary series for PBS called “Faces of America.” It was a glorious week in Shanghai and Ningbo and Beijing, and on my trip, I took my daughter along. After we finished working in Ningbo we went to Beijing and had three glorious days as tourists. It was great fun.

We flew back on a direct flight from Beijing to Newark. We arrived on Wednesday, and on Thursday I flew back to Cambridge. I was using my regular driver and my regular car service. And went to my home arriving at about 12:30 in the afternoon. My driver and I carried several bags up to the porch, and we fiddled with the door and it was jammed. I thought, well, maybe the door’s latched. So I walked back to the kitchen porch, unlocked the door and came into the house. And I unlatched the door, but it was still jammed.

My driver is a large black man. But from afar you and I would not have seen he was black. He has black hair and was dressed in a two-piece black suit, and I was dressed in a navy blue blazer with gray trousers and, you know, my shoes. And I love that the 911 report said that two big black men were trying to break in with backpacks on. Now that is the worst racial profiling I’ve ever heard of in my life. (Laughs.) I’m not exactly a big black man. I thought that was hilarious when I found that out, which was yesterday. [That was the call that the police got from the woman in the neighborhood. The fact is that the woman saw two black men forcing open the front door of the house and she called the police with this information. The police then acted on the information and sent an officer to investigate. How is there “racial profiling” at work here, with “racial profiling” being defined as the assumption that people of a certain ethnicity are more likely to be committing a certain kind of crime? Is Gates capable of thinking out of a paper bag? Also, later in the interview, he says that the woman did nothing wrong, she was acting for the best.]

It looked like someone’s footprint was there. So it’s possible that the door had been jimmied, that someone had tried to get in while I was in China. [LA replies: Oh, so someone actually had tried to break into his house recently. Which suggests that police have an additional reason to be concerned about break-ins.] But for whatever reason, the lock was damaged. My driver hit the door with his shoulder and the door popped open. But the lock was permanently disfigured. My home is owned by Harvard University, and so any kind of repair work that’s needed, Harvard will come and do it. I called this person, and she was, in fact, on the line while all of this was going on.

I’m saying “You need to send someone to fix my lock.” All of a sudden, there was a policeman on my porch. And I thought, “This is strange.” So I went over to the front porch still holding the phone, and I said “Officer, can I help you?” And he said, “Would you step outside onto the porch.” And the way he said it, I knew he wasn’t canvassing for the police benevolent association. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I realized that I was in danger. And I said to him no, out of instinct. I said, “No, I will not.” [LA replies: The officer had gotten a report that two black men had just broken into this house. The officer walked to the front door of the house and sees a black man inside. What is the officer supposed to do? He is cautiously dealing with a possible criminal situation. Should he have said, “Oh, excuse me, dear sir, I’m so sorry to bother you, but I was just checking this house for burglars. Uh, you’re not, I hate to say this, a burglar, are you?”]

My lawyers later told me that that was a good move and had I walked out onto the porch he could have arrested me for breaking and entering. [LA replies: his lawyers meaning the race-obsessed Charles Oggletree.] He said “I’m here to investigate a 911 call for breaking and entering into this house.” And I said “That’s ridiculous because this happens to be my house. And I’m a Harvard professor.” He says “Can you prove that you’re a Harvard professor?” I said yes, I turned and closed the front door to the kitchen where I’d left my wallet, and I got out my Harvard ID and my Massachusetts driver’s license which includes my address and I handed them to him. And he’s sitting there looking at them. [LA replies: According to the officer, Gates began yelling racist from the first moment he saw the officer. Then he made a telephone call to complain about the “racist” police officer, and only after more time had passed did he show him a photo ID. According to Gates, Gates showed him the ID almost immediately.]

Now it’s clear that he had a narrative in his head: A black man was inside someone’s house, probably a white person’s house, and this black man had broken and entered, and this black man was me. [This is a double fantasy. First, it is highly unlikely that the interaction occurred as he describes it. Second, even if it did happen as he describes it, his thoughts about the officer’s motivations are based on nothing but his own imagination.]

So he’s looking at my ID, he asked me another question, which I refused to answer. And I said I want your name and your badge number because I want to file a complaint because of the way he had treated me at the front door. [“Because of the way he had treated me at the front door”? He’s going to file a complaint because the officer, acting on a report of a break-in, came to the front door and asked him to step outside so he could speak to him?] He didn’t say, “Excuse me, sir, is there a disturbance here, is this your house?”—he demanded that I step out on the porch, and I don’t think he would have done that if I was a white person. [LA replies: now I get it! Gates has become the Emmett Till of our time because a police officer didn’t say, “Excuse me, sir.”]

But at that point, I realized that I was in danger. [LA replies: But what had the officer done that would convey to Gates that Gates was in danger? The fact that Gates could imagine such a thing, which is baseless even according to his own account, suggests to me that his entire account is made up.] And so I said to him that I want your name, and I want your badge number and I said it repeatedly.

TR: How did this escalate? What are the laws in Cambridge that govern this kind of interaction? Did you ever think you were in the wrong?

HLG: The police report says I was engaged in loud and tumultuous behavior. That’s a joke. Because I have a severe bronchial infection which I contracted in China and for which I was treated and have a doctor’s report from the Peninsula hotel in Beijing. So I couldn’t have yelled. I can’t yell even today, I’m not fully cured. [Does this sound believable? The cry baby has even obtained a doctor’s note from China to back up his claim that he couldn’t have been yelling! According to Crowley’s report, there were seven passersby on the street who saw and heard Gates’s behavior after Crowley walked to the sidewalk while Gates continued to yell at him. It would be easy enough to determine from these witnesses whether Gates was engaged in “loud and tumultuous” behavior or not. But because the police dropped the disorderly conduct charge, those people will never be called as witnesses, thus enabling Hustler Louis Gates to fling the bull around as he pleases.]

It escalated as follows: I kept saying to him, “What is your name, and what is your badge number?” and he refused to respond. I asked him three times, and he refused to respond. And then I said, “You’re not responding because I’m a black man, and you’re a white officer.” That’s what I said. He didn’t say anything. He turned his back to me and turned back to the porch. And I followed him. I kept saying, “I want your name, and I want your badge number.” [LA replies: once again, was there a single objective thing the officer said or did, even according to Gates’s own account, that gave Gates reasonable grounds for thinking that he was being singled out for his race? And isn’t it obvious that if the officer at a certain point was starting to get annoyed with Gates, it was because of Gates’s intolerably obnoxious behavior?]

It looked like an ocean of police had gathered on my front porch. There were probably half a dozen police officers at this point. The mistake I made was I stepped onto the front porch and asked one of his colleagues for his name and badge number. And when I did, the same officer said, “Thank you for accommodating our request. You are under arrest.” And he handcuffed me right there. It was outrageous. My hands were behind my back I said, “I’m handicapped. I walk with a cane. I can’t walk to the squad car like this.” There was a huddle among the officers; there was a black man among them. They removed the cuffs from the back and put them around the front. [According to Crowley, the newly arrived officers were on the sidewalk, not the porch, and Crowley walked to the sidewalk while Gates stood on his porch yelling at him, and Crowley warned Gates twice that he was committing disorderly behavior before he arrested him. According to Gates, Gates walked outside onto his porch where police were waiting for him and they immediately arrested him there. According to Gates, he was arrested the moment he walked out his front door. There are a lot of witnesses, both officers and passers-by, who can tell us whether Gates or Crowley are telling the truth.]

A crowd had gathered, and as they were handcuffing me and walking me out to the car, I said, “Is this how you treat a black man in America? [In Gates’s mind, anything that happens to him, happens because he’s black. In Gates’s world, there could never be a misunderstanding or disagreement with white people that doesn’t turn into a racial issue. Why would any white person want to be within a mile of this character?]

TR: What was the jail experience like? Was it humiliating?

HLG: By the time I was processed at the Cambridge jail, I was booked, fingerprinted, given a mug shot and answered questions. Outrageous is the only word that I can use. The system attempts to humiliate you. They took my belt; they took my wallet, they took my keys, some change; they counted my money. And I knew that because they said, “We’re going to release you upon your own recognizance, and the fine is $40, and we know you can pay it because we went through your wallet.”

It’s meant to be terrifying and humiliating. And I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me. [Oh, the precious little doll. He’s never been arrested in his life? Doesn’t he know that famous men like Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi were arrested many times? I’ve never read them describing the mere fact of being arrested as humiliating. It was something they endured, like men.] And I said I can’t wait to get out, I am eager to talk to my lawyer, and they said they had to book me first. Then I was told that Charles Ogletree was in the building, and that he was there with three other Harvard professors—my friends Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Larry Bobo and Marcelina Lee Morgan.

I was in jail for four hours. I told them that I was claustrophobic, that I couldn’t be in this cell. And a very nice police officer said here are some of your friends and I could talk to them one at a time in the interview room until the magistrate came and signed the form allowing me to leave. I was there just between 1:00 p.m. and 5:15 p.m., which is an interminable amount of time. I spent the rest of the time in another room, slightly bigger, and my friends just had to sit there and wait. And it was kind of like a Senate filibuster; we had to tell stories in the prison cell. [LA replies: He’s already got material for an entire book! My Horrible Afternoon in a Cambridge, Massachusetts Jail Interview Room Talking with my Harvard Lawyer Friends.]

TR: How has this resonated within the academic community at Harvard? I know that Larry Bobo and Charles Ogletree, also black men, have expressed dismay. President Barack Obama has talked about how difficult it is to hail a cab, even as an elected official. Is there an irony to your notoriety and the incident?

HLG: There is such a level of outrage that’s been expressed to me. I’ve received thousands of e-mails and Facebook messages; the blogs are going crazy; my colleagues at Harvard are outraged. Allen Counter called me from the Nobel Institute in Stockholm to express his outrage. But really it’s not about me—it’s that anybody black can be treated this way, just arbitrarily arrested out of spite. And the man who arrested me did it out of spite, because he knew I was going to file a report because of his behavior. [Nothing happens to him because of his behavior; everything happens to him because he is black.]

He didn’t follow proper police procedure! You can’t just presume I’m guilty and arrest me. He’s supposed to ask me if I need help. He just presumed that I was guilty, and he presumed that I was guilty because I was black. There was no doubt about that.

TR: What do you make of the suspicious neighbor who called the police with an erroneous report of “two black men” trying to enter your apartment? Was this neighborhood watch gone wrong? [But it was a correct report of two black men.]

HLG: I don’t know this person, and I’m sure that she thought she was doing the right thing. If I was on Martha’s Vineyard like I am now and someone was trying to break into my house, I would hope that someone called the police and that they would respond. But I would hope that the police wouldn’t arrest the first black man that they saw—especially after that person gives them an ID—and not rely on some trumped-up charge, which is what this man was doing. [That’s his story; that the police arrested the “first black man” they saw. Because everything is about race for Gates, he believes that everything is about race for other people too. His conviction of ubiquitous white racism is a projection of his own anti-white racism onto whites.]

TR: The charges have been dropped. What are your plans for legal action against the city of Cambridge, its police department or the individual officer?

HLG: I’ll be meeting with my legal team, and we will be deciding what kind of legal action I should take. I haven’t made the decision yet. But I am determined that this experience, my experience, as horrendous as it was and as outrageous as it was, be used for the larger good of the black community. There are 1 million black men in the prison system, and on Thursday I became one of them. I would sooner have believed the sky was going to fall from the heavens than I would have believed this could happen to me. [Oh, the precious dear! Listen, Gates, when people hassle and insult and yell at a police officer who’s performing his job, and they keep doing it after he tells them to stop, they tend to get arrested. That’s just the way things are. It has nothing to do with blackness. Except, of course, that blacks behave that way much more than other groups, and so they tend to get arrested for such offenses more than other groups.] It shouldn’t have happened to me, and it shouldn’t happen to anyone. [No one should ever be arrested for disorderly conduct?]

As a college professor, I want to make this a teaching experience. I am going to devote my considerable resources, intellectual and otherwise, to making sure this doesn’t happen again. [Oh, La di da, “My considerable intellectual resources.” Maybe Gates should write a movie about himself with that as its title. It would be his version of My Brilliant Career.] I’m thinking about making a documentary film about racial profiling, and I’m in talks with PBS about that.

TR: Does this put to rest the idea that America is post-racial?

HLG: I thought the whole idea that America was post-racial and post-black was laughable from the beginning. There is no more important event in the history of black people in America than the election of Barack Obama. I cried when he was elected, and I cried at his inauguration, but that does not change the percentage of black men in prison, the percentage of black men harassed by racial profiling. It does not change the number of black children living near the poverty line. Which is almost a similar percentage as were under poverty when Martin Luther King was assassinated.

There haven’t been fundamental structural changes in America. There’s been a very important symbolic change and that is the election of Barack Obama. But the only black people who truly live in a post-racial world in America all live in a very nice house on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Dayo Olopade is Washington reporter for The Root.>

[end of Gates interview]

- end of initial entry—

Stephen T. writes:

Had the guy breaking down his door in fact been the perpetrator of the nine recent similar break-ins in the immediate area, and had no one bothered to report it, can you imagine Professor Gates’s reaction?

“While the residence of a proud black man was ransacked in broad daylight, while my personal belongings including masterpieces of African tribal art that pre-date the white man’s Renaissance by twelve centuries were dragged away through my splintered and battered-down front door, my white so-called “neighbors” stood in mute silence and just watched. The racist Cambridge police turned a blind eye. This is what happens to a black man in America! I have never been accepted in this white neighborhood and this unreported pillaging—so reminiscent of the way slaves were stripped of their belongings by their masters—is a blatant attempt to drive me, a wise African man with a PhD, from their midst.”

Tim W. writes:

As a huge Kurosawa fan I enjoyed your reference to Rashomon. I guess we could call this Race-omon. Instead of multiple stories, each of which is plausible but reflects the bias of the teller, we get two stories, one of which is implausible, but because the teller is black it’s the one that gets traction in the media. Too bad Toshiro Mifune’s bandit character wasn’t black. He could have walked away a free man and sued the Rashomon police for damages.

LA replies:


There have been various puns on “race” over the last 20 years, including in academic-leftist book titles. But this is the best.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 22, 2009 08:25 AM | Send

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