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Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wrongly arrested at his home

Update! Tuesday afternoon: Charges dropped.*

Note from KW: On studying the story in various news reports, it appears that when the police officer arrived, Professor Gates was inside his home already. But, the policeman was demanding that Professor Gates come outside his home, which I believe was the beginning of the heightened conflict in this matter.

(excerpt from) Daily News
Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrested outside his home, calls Cambridge police ‘racist’

by Beverly Ford  and Bill Hutchinson / July 20th 2009

A distinguished black Harvard University professor was handcuffed and dragged off his porch to jail after Massachusetts cops mistook him for a burglar.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., one of the nation’s most renowned scholars of African-American history, was busted when he repeatedly accused a cop of racism for confronting him, police said…

“He was handcuffed on his own front porch,” said Ogletree, explaining that Gates produced ID to prove he lived there and that he was a Harvard professor.

Gates was held at the Cambridge police station for four hours before being released without bail on charges of disorderly conduct, Ogletree said.

Harvard colleagues called the arrest a case of racial profiling…

In a statement last night, the Rev. Al Sharpton called Gates’ arrest “an outrage of no small implication.”

“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,” said Sharpton, who is vowing to attend Gates’ Aug. 26 arraignment.


Besides all of his accomplishments, Henry Louis Gates has interesting friends. Won’t this incident provide great material for Chris Rock, with whom Professor Gates worked with on the project ‘African American Lives’?

Background about Henry Louis Gates, from a story at The Harvard Gazette:

With 40 honorary degrees, Gates is a world-renowned scholar and teacher of African and African-American history and culture. He has authored seven books and written numerous essays and reviews on a broad range of African and African-American issues, including slavery, race, feminism, dialect, and identity. In 1989 he won the American Book Award for “The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism.” And, he recently completed his second major documentary, “America Beyond the Color Line,” to be aired in 2003.

In 2000, Gates authored, along with Cornel West, the widely acclaimed “The African American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Century.” That came on the heels of the authoritative and groundbreaking “Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience,” a collaboration with K. Anthony Appiah. It was also published on a CD-ROM as “Encarta Africana” by Microsoft.

Gates, who has been a leading scholar of African-American studies for nearly three decades, began his tenure at Harvard in 1991 after having worked on the faculties of such distinguished universities as Duke, Cornell, and Yale


* Boston Globe reports: Charges to be dropped against Harvard professor / July 21, 2009 12:42 PM / By Tracy Jan and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff

“The Middlesex district attorney’s office plans to drop criminal charges against Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who was accused of disorderly conduct on Thursday and arrested at his Cambridge home.”

10 Responses

  1. Good point–great comic material potential.

  2. Let’s see if I’ve got this right. You are seen breaking into your front door in the middle of the afternoon, and when the police arrive you decide to be an a-hole. Well guess what? You get what you deserve no matter what color your skin is.
    Read my take on it and stick around for more good content.

    Editor’s note: Guess you are wrong, since the police decided to drop the charges already. Also, Libertarians should be much less inclined to believe the police’s (ie: government’s) story. – KW

  3. Kimberly always provides great comic material.

  4. […] The story with analysis and implications is: here. […]

  5. Just a kind of side note.

    I was falsely arrested once for playing flute to a tree. (If you don’t know it, it is a longggggg story.)

    At that time, I was held for 2 hours before being released on my own recognizance. And, that seemed like a long time to some folks, who commented that the police were probably waiting to figure out what to do with me. Also, I was arrested on a Sunday, where it was hard to find a judge. Where Professor Gates was arrested on a weekday.

    It seems odd that once they knew who Professor Gates was, they still kept him for 4 hours on such a minor charge, knowing, too, that it was a misunderstanding.

    If you have ever been falsely arrested, you know that each additional hour in jail is rather unpleasant and frightening. Especially if you have to go to the bathroom…

  6. KW. Just because the police decided to drop charges (to avoid getting the blacks worked up to riot speed once again), does not mean the arrest was a mistake . . no more than the jury letting OJ off meant he wasn’t a murderer. Gates has had a hard on for whites for years, just read his writing. BTW, the reason he couldn’t get into his front door was because it was still messed up from A PREVIOUS ROBBERY! He should have been glad the police were conscientious — except for the massive African chip on his shoulder.

    • To MD:

      I disagree with most of what you say. I think that your attitude and prejudice shows through in your language and perspective.


  7. We have three observations about the Harvard professor incident:

    1. We find it interesting that the fact that this was the professor’s home was evidently not established early on way before the dispute escalated;

    2. We find it fascinating that the versions of two members of society, who most would ordinarily view as responsible and honest citizens (this obviously does not include politicians), would vary so dramatically from a factual point of view.

    3. Finally, considering that the reading and viewing public were not present at the scene (and thus have no first hand knowledge), and that there is no video tape to our knowledge of the sequence of events and what was said, how so many have formed conclusions, and made assumptions, about who did what and who was wrong.

    There are some things which Professor Gates might have considered upon the arrival of the police, no matter how incensed he may have been.


  9. […] Act in regards to the death penalty If you are an opponent of the death penalty, or if the Henry Louis Gates wrongful arrest story has you thinking about racial profiling, please consider helping out with […]

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