Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Opening a stuck door while black can now get you arrested

written by Jennifer; crossposted from Mixed Race America

On Thursday, July 16, 2009 at approximately 12:45pm, Henry Louis Gates Jr., a prominent and esteemed professor of African American Studies, a man who directs the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University and who holds a university professorship (there are only 20 at Harvard) was arrested outside his home after police responded to a 911 call by a white female jogger who reported two black men breaking into a home in the afternoon. The men in question turned out to be Professor Gates, who had just returned from a trip to China where he was filming part of a documentary, and the driver who picked him up from the airport, who was assisting Prof. Gates with his luggage.
[Photo of Gates from 2008]

Ultimately the charge that got him arrested was disorderly conduct/resisting arrest--because Gates demanded the officer show him his identification (badge) and give him his name, and he was apparently understandably upset that the police were racially profiling him IN HIS OWN HOME after returning to the U.S. on a transpacific flight that was at least 15 hours long (I've done it--it's long and exhausting).

For more on this story, you can see this AP wire piece on the ABC website and The Root has a statement released by Gates' attorney, notable and esteemed African American law professor, Charles Ogletree--you can also download a copy of the police report on The Root website. Racial profiling in the Cambridge, MA area has finally reached an all-time low where a black man can be arrested in front of his own home for simply trying to open a stuck door. Who are those people claiming that since we have a black president we now live in a post-racial world? Does anyone believe for a minute that if Barack Obama weren't quite such a well-known face and figure that the results would have been any different? Or if Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods lived in more modest homes and weren't instantly recognizable, couldn't we imagine the scenario playing out the same way in Illinois, California, Florida? Post-racial my ***

[Update: 10:30pm: Charges against Dr. Gates have been dropped--the City of Cambridge (my former hometown while in grad school) has said that what happened to Gates was "regrettable" and the Cambridge Police spokesperson claims that "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." For more on the dropped charges click here for the All Things Considered piece (which you can listen to) on NPR and click here for a piece that NPR did about racial profiling (which you can also listen to). Additionally, we now know more about the woman who placed that 911 call that started this whole mess. Her name is Lucia Whalen and she is the Circulation and Fundraising Manager for Harvard Magazine. She is a 40 year-old white woman who lives in Malden, and Harvard Magazine took down her email address from their website because I'm sure this woman was receiving a LOAD of painful email--which honestly she deserves because how can you work for Harvard Magazine, whose doors are literally a few doors down from Gates' residence and NOT recognize Henry Louis Gates Jr., and even if you didn't recognize your neighbor and one of the most famous professors at Harvard, how could you not recognize the black town car parked in front of the house--the luggage--the fact that the driver was dressed in a suit and tie--and how could you add all this up and think that two black men were trying to rob a house IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY? Shame on YOU Lucia Whalen...shame on you. And shame on the Cambridge Police department and Sergeant James Crowley for making the initial arrest. Gates is demanding an apology by Sergeant Crowley, but regardless of whether Crowley apologize or not, Gates is keeping his options open for a lawsuit against the police force and city. Guess we haven't heard the last of this saga.]


Satsuma said...

This story really resonated with me, because it is so easy to lock yourself out of your own house!!

Several years ago, it was very late at night, and my neighbor came home late. He'd locked himself out and was extremely upset. So he came over to use our phone, and we invited him to stay as long as he needed until the emergency lock smith came by to get the door open. I was thinking at the time, that should the police come by, we could all present a united front for our neighbor, and I felt very protective of him. It was just a feeling that black people outside at night are sometimes targets to shoot at in Los Angeles, and that's NOT paranoia talking here.

The woman who turned Prof. Gates into the police should be ashamed of herself. Everything was so obvious...the taxi, the suitcases...the men in suits, the middle of the damn day!! I'm so sick of this, I'm so sick of neighbors not knowing each other, and I'm so sick of white people NOT being aware of how dangerous police can be!!!@

Satsuma said...

P.S. The minute this story hit the news, I KNEW it was a neighbor who called the cops, I just knew it!!!

ThirstyDancer said...

Tami, I am so appreciative that you provide the information about the woman who called the police. Calling people to account for their actions is so important. I wonder about her and how she will be changed by this experience.
Satsuma, I hear you!!

Anonymous said...

This is irresponsible, and sick to put that woman's contact information in media. It is incitement to vigilante behaviour and beneath you.


Yotie72 said...

Listen to the 911 call by the woman-- she did NOT ever ONCE mention race! She mentioned that she thought that it might have been the owners locked out of the house but she wasn't sure and she wanted a patrol car to come by and check up. This woman makes an AWESOME neighbor!

Kristen said...

I read your post last week and was equally outraged, but I wanted to point out that today they released the 911 tapes, and Lucia Whalen is being wronly villified.

セフレ said...



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