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article imageOp-Ed: Did a Harvard Professor Create a Racial Incident?

By Johnny Simpson     Jul 21, 2009 in Politics
Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr, the pre-eminent U.S. black scholar, claimed racial profiling after his arrest by Cambridge Police on disorderly conduct charges. The blogosphere is now exploding with charges of racism. UPDATE: Charges dropped by CPD.
From the Chicago Tribune:
Is this what it means to be a black man in America? This is the question that Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. asked police who arrested him last week while he was trying to enter his home. Gates is the director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.
Apparently, a neighbor saw Gates trying to enter his home and called the police, suspecting an intruder was prying open his front door. Cambridge police told the Associated Press that they ordered the man to identify himself, and Gates refused. According to a police report, Gates then called the officer a racist and said, "This is what happens to black men in America." He accused the officer of racial profiling.
In response to this apparent racial affront to the esteemed Prof. Gates by Cambridge Police, reports are popping up all over the blogosphere accusing the cops of racial profiling, if not outright racism. The oddly named Aunt Jemimah's Revenge blog responded with the headline, "Why a Ph.D. Don't Mean a Damn Thing When You Are Black - Harvard Professor Skip Gates Arrested for Breaking and Entering...Into His Own Damn House!" The AJR blog topped it all off with this comment:
I bet Dr. Gates wants to know which one of his "good neighbors" failed to recognize him and called the po-po on his ass instead.
The conservative blog Legal Insurrection begged to differ with AJR et al in its oped "No, It Wasn't Racial Profiling," which includes a redacted police report on the incident by the officer who arrested Gates. I also beg to differ with Prof. Gates, for reasons that should become crystal clear. To understand what happened here, you really have to know Cambridge, which borders Boston and is just as urban. It can be a very rough and tumble city. Having grown up in a mean housing project a stone's throw from Harvard, I know firsthand.
Let me fill you in.
First of all, despite MIT, Harvard University and some very exclusive neighborhoods, the city also contains a number of mean low-rent housing projects like the one I grew up in. Believe me, they're not nice places. Crime is a very real problem in Cambridge. Today, gangs like the Michigan Wolverines, of which four members stabbed and beat my nephew nearly to death in Cambridge some years ago, ride the Red Line train in from Dorchester and Roxbury, bringing even more drugs, crime and violence into the city.
Here are the ghetto box Rindge Towers, where they all like to hang. Three-minute walk from the Alewife Red Line train station. I know them well. Grew up in a ghetto box right next door. In fact, I watched the towers go up when I was 12. First kid to have a paper route there. Within two years, they were total drug dens with a serious crime problem. In fact, people still have to risk crossing the dangerous Fresh Pond Parkway from the Alewife train station to the towers, because the North Cambridge exit that runs under the Parkway was closed due to rampant crime. My nephew was nearly killed right outside that exit. How bad is that?
A lot of Cambridge is like that. I don't even go down there anymore to see friends I've known my whole life. Also, I myself was arrested by Cambridge cops in Harvard Square back in my youth on the same charge, disorderly conduct, for mouthing off to cops at length as Gates seems to have been. Only I was drunk at the time. In fact, the cop who arrested me was black, but there was nothing racial about it. Cambridge cops don't play around. I was released the next morning after spending the night in the same jail in East Cambridge that Prof. Gates was brought to. Gives me a very unique perspective on this situation.
Now you know the background to put this incident into its proper context. If you need more, there was a brutal murder in a Harvard dorm recently. Cambridge cops got their hands full. No time to play games.
Now, on the surface, it just might seem Prof. Gates has a valid argument here. But if you read the police report, Gates was being combative and belligerent during the entire incident. He even refused to provide identification to the police when asked. Wrong answer. It appears the neighbor acted in good faith, the cops did their jobs, and Professor Gates was being arrogant, hostile and irascible, if not racist himself.
As to AJR's take on the neighbor not recognizing Gates, and calling the po-po on the good prof when he was trying to make his way into his house through a front door Gates said was jammed, the AJR blogger didn't take into consideration the fact that break-ins are quite common in Cambridge, and that Prof. Gates' neighbor may not have gotten a good look at him. May have just seen somebody trying to force the door.
You know the rest of the story. Knowing Cambridge like I do, and based on events as documented by the police and witnessed by many, this was about as racist as Barack Obama taking the Oath of Office.
Of course, I fully expect in this Obama Age of Racial Harmony that the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton will no doubt soon be camped on the front steps of the Cambridge Police Department with matches and gas cans in hand. If Sharpton shows, the best I can hope for is that nobody gets killed.
Dear Readers, this is exactly the kind of arrogant race-baiting behavior that is not only destroying any hopes of racial harmony in America, it is the worst kind of crying wolf. By making a racial incident out of nothing, Prof. Gates demeans real racial incidents and profiling, like a woman crying rape where none has occurred and falsely accusing others of it. Al Sharpton hit that superfecta with the Tawana Brawley hoax.
There should be a law against making false charges of racism. Given all the major racial damage and repercussions even in this short a period of time since the incident, this goes way beyond just a disorderly conduct charge and arrest. These false accusations of racism against whites are getting so out of control it's becoming a national sport, even for tinfoil white liberals. If I were the mayor of Cambridge, and all the witness and police testimony damned Prof. Gates as it seems to here, I would sue Gates for defamation on behalf of the Cambridge Police Department and the City. Set an example. There was no racism here.
Having had three black kids put me up against a wall in Cambridge with a knife to my belly and joking about it when I was younger, now that's racism. Which brings up yet another interesting question. Why isn't it racism when it happens to whites? Don't answer, it's a rhetorical question. Welcome to modern America.
Last word. Is there racism in America? You bet! I've experienced it. And I know others of ALL races have experienced racist intimidation or attacks. Happens all over the world. We even have ethnic cleansing of black Americans in LA by illegal racist Mexican gangs. Hell, in Sudan it's a genocide!
Sad part of the human condition? I sure hope not. Wouldn't bode well for the future of mankind.
But when people commit real racial offenses in America, i.e. denying people jobs, homes, making people live in fear or actual violence, they should be prosecuted as individuals. After all, isn't applying false stereotypes to an entire race exactly the kind of racism we're all trying to fight here? Food for thought.
UPDATE: Yahoo News, the Boston Globe and UK Telegraph have more coverage. The Globe post comments section is already at 1000 comments, and well worth reading through. UK Telegraph commentary is getting lively as well. Glad to see we're all having this civil discussion on race at long last.
Much more to come, for sure. Like Al Sharpton jumping into the racial sewer like clockwork:
The Rev. Al Sharpton immediately threw his support behind Gates and blasted officers for their handling of the matter. "This arrest is indicative of at best police abuse of power or at worst the highest example of racial profiling I have seen," Sharpton said. "I have heard of driving while black and even shopping while black but now even going to your own home while black is a new low in police community affairs."
Now there's a surprise. Jackson and Farrakhan can't be far behind.
Oh, and to answer the esteemed professor's question: No, Dr. Gates, this isn't what happens to all black men in America. The smart ones get elected President. The stupid ones get arrested, even if they're Harvard professors. Race is not a factor. Smarts and stupidity are. Got all that now? See you in class :)
UPDATE #2: The Middlesex District Attorney has decided to drop disorderly conduct charges against Prof. Gates. Here is an excerpt from the official press release:
The City of Cambridge, the Cambridge Police Department, and Professor Gates acknowledge that the incident of July 16, 2009 was regrettable and unfortunate. This incident should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of Professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department. All parties agree that this is a just resolution to an unfortunate set of circumstances.
In other words, they all took the easy way out. Prof. Gates doesn't have to repeat what was said on the record for clarity, or be testified against by the police officer and witnesses in question. The City of Cambridge now doesn't have to contend with the circus of every civil rights group and NGO in the country descending on their city with a vengeance.
Personally, I would have preferred the circus. Get to the truth of the matter, no matter where it leads. Now we'll never know, will we? Of one thing I have no doubt. This case will sure make a lot of one-sided fodder for Dr. Gates in his classrooms and faculty meetings. Guess whose side. Damage done. Oh, well.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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