By MELISSA TRUJILLO,
Associated Press Writer –
Tue Jul 21, 7:52 pm ET
BOSTON – Prosecutors dropped a disorderly conduct charge Tuesday against prominent black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., who was arrested after forcing his way into his own house in what he and other blacks say was an outrageous but all-too-common example of how police treat them.
The city of Cambridge called the arrest "regrettable and unfortunate," and police and Gates agreed that dropping the charge was a just resolution — though not one that quelled the anger of one of America's top academics.
"I'm outraged," Gates said in extensive comments made to TheRoot.com, a Web site he oversees. "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.
"There are 1 million black men in the prison system, and on Thursday I became one of them," he said. "I would sooner have believed the sky was going to fall from the heavens than I would have believed this could happen to me. It shouldn't have happened to me, and it shouldn't happen to anyone."
Yvonne Abraham, writing in today's Boston Globe, nails it:
By Yvonne Abraham
July 22, 2009
Imagine you spent most of the day flying home from China. You’re exhausted and probably irritable. You’re at your Cambridge house, trying to open your front door, but it won’t budge. The thing needs a shoulder put to it. So you ask the guy who drove you home from the airport - a middle-aged guy like you, a guy in a suit and tie - to help you. He kindly obliges.
A woman is walking by. She sees you on the porch, a 58-year-old African-American man with a gray beard and glasses and cane, your striped polo shirt tucked neatly into your pants. Even though you are Henry Louis Gates Jr., one of the most prominent academics in the country, and possibly Harvard’s most famous face, she does not recognize you, even though she works for
Harvard Magazine, even though her office is right down the street.
What she sees are a couple of guys trying to break into a house. She calls the police.
By this time, you are on the phone in your own entry hall, asking Harvard’s property managers to come and fix your front door. When you see the police officer on your porch, you assume it’s someone arriving to help you. When he sees you at ease, chatting on a cordless phone, does the Cambridge police officer conclude things look OK? Does he take note of the fact that you make no attempt to run, as a robber might? Does he say anything like this? “We got a call, sir. We’re just making sure everything’s OK. Have a lovely day, sir.’’
Most certainly not. Instead, he goes into your home with his radio and his gun in the middle of the day and acts as if he’s dealing with some perp in a back alley at 3 a.m. He wants your identification. The police officer says you get upset right away, yelling, “Is this because I am a black man in America?’’
The way you remember it, you hand over your ID, and not until he insists you go outside with him do you get upset and accuse him of treating you this way because you are black.
You’ve given him your driver’s license. You’ve given him your Harvard ID. Instead of leaving, he has called the campus police.
What would you do in Gates’s situation? Would you stand for this kind of treatment, in your own home, by a police officer who by now clearly has no right to be there? Most people might not be bold enough to say the things Gates was accused of. (Alas, the classic “I’ll speak with your mama outside’’ attributed to him in the police report was never uttered, his attorney says). But any normal person would have trouble keeping his cool. So Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct.
The whole thing became huge news, because this immensely famous expert on race was charging racism.
Yesterday, trying to avert a public relations disaster over the dunderheaded moves by Cambridge police, the Middlesex district attorney announced the charges would be dropped. A wise move, but too late to stop the damage. Gates, whose great success has allowed him to transcend the racial divide, is now one very high-profile argument for its persistence.
Carol Rose, writing about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, says we're a long way from a post-racial society and that:
A review of the police report suggests that the police officer arrested Gates not because he mistook Gates for a robber but because Gates condemned the behavior of the officer as racist. His offending remark reportedly was, “This is what happens to black men in America.’’
That’s not disorderly conduct; that’s speaking truth to power - which still isn’t a crime in America.