By B. Carter
Black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested by a white police sergeant in Cambridge, Mass., reigniting a national debate over racial profiling.
The controversial arrest of black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. by a white police sergeant in Cambridge, Mass., was not necessarily about race. At its heart was a classic show of authority.
By Sandy Banks
July 25, 2009
I can already envision the hate mail this column will generate. Every time I write about anything involving race, my inbox fills with invective -- racial slurs, rants about the "welfare crowd," suggestions that I stop whining, go back to Africa and turn my "affirmative action job" over to some slighted white person.
So I know a bit about how Cambridge, Mass., Police Sgt. James Crowley must have felt when he was insulted by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. after showing up to investigate a possible break-in at the professor's home.
Being accused of racism hurts, makes you want to fight back. My job requires that I not be goaded into incivility, because it's not my personal honor hanging on my response, but the reputation of my newspaper and the dignity of my profession.
I wish Crowley had thought of that during his public face-off with Professor Gates.
We don't know all the details of their encounter, but what began with Gates trying to dislodge his jammed front door ended with the 58-year-old African American scholar in handcuffs, under arrest for being -- according to Crowley's police report -- "loud and tumultuous."
The disorderly conduct charge was dropped, but the stain it left seems destined to spread. The incident has reignited a national debate over racial profiling, and even drawn the president into the back-and-forth.
But this is not as simple as black suspect, white cop. And race might not be the bottom line.
I was angry when I first heard the news. If "Skip" Gates -- prominent scholar, author and friend of Barack Obama -- can be arrested on his own front porch simply for mouthing off to a cop, then the rest of us "loud and tumultuous" black folks surely better stay inside.
Then I cringed when I read the officer's account of Gates' alleged tirade, riddled with the kind of "yo' momma" insults we used to trade on the school playground. I could feel Gates' fury, and imagine Crowley feeling bound to flex his power.
According to the police report, Crowley had been summoned by someone who thought Gates was breaking into the home. Gates seemed incensed by the presumption and was initially uncooperative.
But once Gates produced his driver's license and Harvard ID, it seems to me the officer's job was done. No crime, no suspect, no need to hang around.
Instead, the scene escalated. Gates began yelling for the officer's name and badge number; Crowley ordered the professor onto the porch. Gates called Crowley racially biased; Crowley warned him to calm down and unsnapped his handcuffs.
That's when the officer's actions turned a minor altercation into a national drama.
The story resonates here in Los Angeles, where the Police Department is finally shedding its generations-old reputation for callous treatment of minorities and general rudeness to civilians. The department still has a ways to go; hundreds of racial profiling complaints have been filed in recent years, and the LAPD has not considered a single one valid.
But at least our cops are more civil when they pull you over.
That's by design, said Capt. Bill Scott, a 20-year veteran who commands the northeast San Fernando Valley's Mission Division.
"We're training to have thick skin, not to take things personally," said Scott, a former training officer. "Even if the person you're dealing with is verbally attacking you, you can't react to that."
Encounters with police can be traumatic for reasons officers might not understand, he said. "If somebody's upset, you have to allow people some room to vent. There's an acceptable range of venting that's allowable and understandable."
Was Gates outside that range, I asked, with his alleged yelling and accusations of racism? "There's no perfect formula for what's allowable," Scott said. "It depends on what that officer was comfortable with. You just can't let it get to the point where somebody's safety is at risk."
I asked him if Crowley was on a power trip? "Without knowing all the facts," he said, "I don't want to be critical of that department and that officer."
But he was clear on something that every officer ought to remember.
"It's always a better outcome when you can resolve a situation by using as little of your authority as possible. And a lot of that is how you perceive the other side. . . . And whether you're willing to explain what you're doing. Instead of just issuing an order."
It would be naive to ignore the racial dimensions of this. A successful black man being interrogated in his own home, Gates may have seen the white cop as disrespectful. And Crowley, a well-regarded white officer, probably expected deference, not insults, from the black man he'd been called to help.
But at its heart, this is a power struggle that didn't have to happen. The police -- as Obama put it before he felt compelled to back off -- acted stupidly.
I can see hands poised over keyboard now, ready to unleash a flood of e-mails. So here I go:
Professor Gates should have been more polite. The officer arrived to investigate a crime report. Gates may have had a legitimate gripe, but that does not excuse the rant described in Crowley's police report. Police officers deserve respect -- just like teachers and grocery store clerks and even newspaper reporters.
Sgt. Crowley should have been able to defuse the situation without bringing the handcuffs out. I understand that police officers have a difficult job to do, but taking guff is part of the job description. A police department's reputation and success rest on the attitude of its officers.
We ought to stop seeing this as a referendum on racism and ask what it says about the attitude police officers display toward the taxpayers who fund their paychecks.
We rely for our safety on their good judgment. Yet every time I write about some cop embroiled in a controversy, I hear from people of every race -- teenagers, housewives, businessmen -- relaying stories of encounters with rude or unreasonable police.
In the end, this may not be at all about racial profiling, but about the line between dangerous defiance of police and mindless submission to authority. And whether being "loud and tumultuous" ought to land a righteously angry man behind bars.
1. Nothing more the a black with an attitude, nothing unusual here, it happens all the time. Lets move on.
Submitted by: Charles Duran
8:05 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
2. Tempest in a teapot. This isn't Rodney King, okay? I am a middle-aged white guy who was hassled by a white, female police officer over suspicion of DUI (DWI). Her questions were aggressive and accusatory. I'm sure she wanted me to pop off (see 'pop off' -Urban Dictionary) at her so she could haul me in. I kept my temper and didn't pop off. I blew a 0.0 on the breathalyzer and she was really torqued about that, but she had to let me go. I considered filing a complaint against her, but after a few days, I decided it wasn't worth the trouble. Instead, I offer this advice to all who are ever confronted by a police officer: Stay cool, my friends.
Submitted by: Not Loco
7:48 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
3. I think this was a well balanced and nuanced assessment of what took place. As with most things, where you stand - on an issue - depends on where you sit. As my late mother would like to say "things aren't always what they seem, but you won't see that if you're blind in one eye and and can't see out the other". This was an excellent summation of events given the circumstances.
Submitted by: Tblairjr
7:24 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
4. If the cop had drawn a weapon and demanded Gates (and his driver) assume a spread eagle position, then there would be a good case for bigotry. It would indicate that the cop assumed the men were criminals based on their race. But the cop didn't do this. Instead Gates berated him. This is a Harvard professor and he uses phrases like "yo mama." The incident fuels the stereotype that black folks are quick to anger and cry racism. But hey, at least we're talking about race in America!
Submitted by: Deke
7:18 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
5. I'm white, but I think this issue was due to both power and predjudice. Folks should consider all the subtle ways that racism can be brought to bear. From how the person "in question" is approached - as another commenter said - since Gates is black, I'd be willing to bet Crwoley went in with a completely different attitude than he would have if dealing with a white man (in fact, we all know that neighbor would have likely not even called the police!). But I agree with the author - this is also yet another incident of testosterone-flooded cops needing to flex their muscles. Good article.
Submitted by: Anna B
7:02 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
6. I think the broader implementation is that "if your Black you belong to a privaleaged group". The underlying percetion is that no other Racial group could have the President intervene on your behalf. What is at issue is credibilty, and believabilty. Before a cultural movement like the "Civil Rigts Movement" starts to become obsolete and no longer supportable, it first loose credibilty. Change is upon us. I would speculate Civil Rirgts will no become known as " Privaleaged Rights.
Submitted by: Mr. J
6:54 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
7. You all know better than that. Cop can not walk away with the brother all in a adgitated state of mind like that. Brother got to calm down or he going downtown and that is what happen. Cop leave and brother go off on someone else aftweard and cop is on the hook. You all know that to be true. Brother got to calm down no matter what color. Cop just doing his job as best he can. Cops help me a few times and I thank them.
Submitted by: Ben
6:43 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
8. This is a race issue. A black man was trying to "break in" to his own home and police were called. An investigation was conducted and after it was established that the man breaking in did indeed reside there, a 20 year veteran of the police department proceeded to arrest him because he was offensive? The sergeant should have left the property after the black man showed his identification. If the professor insulted the officers, he was exercising his 1st ammendment right to free speech. Clearly an abuse of power. Our president is a coward for recinding his first comment on the arrest.
Submitted by: Angryand White
6:36 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
9. Sandy, Crowley is a trainer of race profiling and Gaines is a college professor...two people whose egos got in the way of their use of common sense. Go figure! I have no sympathy for either. J
11. Liked your column. I still think the President got it right the first time. Growing up in the early 70s at the time of Kent State gave me a healthy fear of anyone carrying guns. I think this police officer was pretty much the typical egotistical cop.
Submitted by: cm rodriguez
5:57 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
12. The officer acted stupidly. Period. Yes, it is his job to be the bigger man. He's got a gun and a great deal of authority that we, the people, entrust him with. Walk away. It wasn't about race, it was about ego. Bates' ego is not against the law, and the cop's authority does not extend to defending his own ego. There was no safety concern, (safety is so over-used by cops as convenient justification for force). This was a man's home, proven and no longer in dispute WAY in advance of this incident.
Professor 1, Cops 0.
Submitted by: Guido
5:35 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
13. I'm getting tired of black and latinos crying 'racism' so often, so if 75 percent of crimes are committed by blacks and latinos then police should NOT arrest them in corresponding (75 percent) proportions? If you cause most of the crime then police will check you more, you get the consequences PS: once away with this president important topics are sidetracked with race issues, it will be hard to focus and fix America for 4 years
Submitted by: JPs
5:27 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
14. Good article. I was ready to go off on you and call u a anti white racist. But bingo cops need to realize that we the people pay their salary. On the same not the whole yo momma thing doesn't sound very scolarly of a man of higher learning. To wrongs don't make one right. They were both wrong. The real idiot that should know when to keep his mouth shut and stick to trying to fix our economy is our president.
Submitted by: Bruno
5:12 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
15. It appears that Prof. Gates was perturbed by the officer's questioning, and he acted carelessly. And it appears that the officer had thin skin. No. I do not think this was racial profiling, rather two men who didn't know how to defuse a minor problem. Certainly they both had an ego. Prof. Gates wasted four hour of his time at the police station and it is a lesson that he should have already learned.
Submitted by: Fred Wright
5:05 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
16. The officer was clearly doing his job. Wright, Obama and Gates are the same people. Black men with a chip on their shoulder.
Submitted by: Taylor poize
4:56 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
17. the black man acted inappropriately, refused to comply and was arrested. Good#
Submitted by: take him out ghetto, but he is ghetto
4:49 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
18. cheers, cops need to thicken up and accept the frustration folks feel. The cop should have just walked away and allowed the man to feel his emotions.
Submitted by: selma jones
4:30 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
19. It is amazing how the police treat you when you are polite and courteous to them.
Submitted by: All's fair
4:18 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
20. Great article, and your points are right on and very well elucidated. The situation should never have escalated like it did. Point of fact this was in fact his home, supported by proof that Prof. Gates provided. The incident should have ended there, period, end of argument
Submitted by: ROB
3:57 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
21. Interesting, isn't it, how you expect the cop, who holds a much lower social station and makes less than half of what the "distinguished ethnic studies professor" makes, to be the "bigger man"? Isn't that just your own racial bias coming forward? Yes, we have come to a point where even black Americans routinely hold blacks to a significantly lower standard that whites. You would better serve the cause of equality by condemning, rather than trying to excuse the boorish (and stupid) behavior of Dr. Gates. The best way to stop discrimination based on race is to stop discriminating based on race.
Submitted by: Windfall
3:36 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
22. There is a lot to be said for intolerance on both sides of this issue when it seems as though a highly respected Professor and Cambridge officer are BOTH culpable for how this fanned out. It seems a little curious that if there weren't an African-American in the White House, then maybe this would've been another slow news day. Give yourself an extra helping of rational, Sandy. I agree that this was fueled by cooler heads not prevailing.
Submitted by: James McChesney Ranson
2:57 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
23. oh GAWD why why WHY do you have to repeat and support the 'stupidly' comment!! Jeez the rest of the column is sensitive but why twist the knife? The column is a reasonable defense of the idea that what has been done at LAPD should be done at other agencies. But the column doesn't support the idea that the officer acted stupidly. Why twist the knife?????????
Submitted by: JÜRGEN ASIF JIMBOB MOHAMMED
2:42 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
24. I agree that both Crowley and Gates overreacted. Unfortunately, this incident and Obama's choice of words have reinforced prejudices that different people already have about "blacks", "whites", civilians and cops. Thank you for the article and Brandon's comment.
Submitted by: mitch
2:40 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
25. If a cop asks you to chill out, you chill out. You don't get in his face. Gates should have handed over his ID, waited until the officer finished his questions, then taken the badge number and filed a complaint. Furthermore, it is part of a police officer's job to be patient, but to defuse a potentially hostile situation as quickly as you can. I think it's ridiculous to think that the officer is going to stand there and let the situation escalate. Isn't that how situations turn ugly?
Submitted by: Thankless job
2:39 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
26. You're not a journalist but a propogandist.
Submitted by: Enough of this
2:39 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
27. I agree, they both could have been more civil. The officer was simply responding to a call, but did not have to go as far as arresting the man, despite the verbal attack. Racial profiling happens all of the time, but this is not a clear case of profiling. The officer had to ask for his ID. Perhaps there was a racial bias from the woman who made the call.
Submitted by: 2hotheads
2:21 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
28. The police should never arrest a citizen for disturbing the public when they can easily surmise the only reason for the disturbence was the police interaction. From the facts of this case, it was easy to asertain that Dr. Gates wouldn't be a public threat when the police left so it was an abuse of police power to arrest and detain Dr. Gates for four hours for just being rude and a jerk.
Submitted by: james
1:58 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
29. I think it is comical and frankly quite ridiculous how the news media and talk shows are all using Biden's,...I mean Obama's lines in claiming "We don't know all the facts or details" or "We don't know what exactly happened", where for any other similar news story, they would report what happened "according to police reports". To me this is like implying that in this particular case, the police report is missing details and potentially falsified. On a separate note, we don't know all the details (here we go again), but charges are dropped for many reasons, not necessarily because the arrested person is not guilty of any crime.
Submitted by: Ram N.
1:52 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
30. who was neighbor who called police? would this be done if gates was white? there's never a getting away from our racial history in this country. (I'm white, live in LA & still see it every day, little ways and big) Obama had gut reaction- b/c he's a black man! this still news to some.
Submitted by: Julie
1:38 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
31. Enjoyed the article. This was about ego, nothing more nothing less. The President was wrong to comment on this matter without knowing all of the facts. Also,as he is a personal friend of Professor Gates he should have clarified that his statement was that of a friend or as the President of the United States. BIG difference!
Submitted by: MikeG
1:36 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
32. Just so, well put. I'm white but have experienced police power-trippers, and you just have to bite your tongue. Gates should be the educated cultured man and apologize; Cop should also, defuse this w/ grace. we'll see.
Submitted by: Julie
1:35 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
33. I appreciate Ms Banks for her insight. I agree that we humans don't easily recognize our own privilege - whether bestowed by race or gender or the status of occupation. This is not about "playing the race card" but about engaging in a discussion and being willing to look at things from another's point of view. Probably the officer wasn't looking at this as a racial act - but could Gates, based on his experience, view it in another way? And who is this "you people" Mike is talking about? I'm a Caucasian woman who is welcoming the opportunity we now have, with President Obama, to bring this topic into the light of day.
Submitted by: Anneke HC
1:31 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
34. Maybe the Officer should have re-grouped when it was established that the complaining party lived there and just said have a nice day. Race was not an issue. Being a Police Officer for the last 25 years, I have had alot of people in my face. It's easier for me to ignore someone with a chip on their shoulder than create problems for me at the job later. BTW, I do feel that the African American in this instance is the RACIST, not the white cop. Error in judgement only.
Submitted by: Joe
1:25 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
35. I think that Prof. Gates had a temper tantrum and should have kept his cool. It takes two to escalate the situation. Sad that it became such a cause celebre.
Submitted by: kathy K
1:12 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
36. The actions of Professor Gates were uncalled for as he is supposed to be a positive role model to all young folks. Sgt. Crowley followed protocol yet he is being painted as a racist. The two men involved took this incident to a level that should have not been reached. Get over it and focus on our health care system.
Submitted by: sandystar
1:09 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
37. People need to get over this and realize that this is the way it is, but really has changed drastically. Once upon a time cops would have given someone a beat down for acting out like the Professor. I've been insulted and slighted by blacks who think their ...t doesn't stink, and it was not a pleasant experience yet I walked away graciously.
Submitted by: sandystar
1:06 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
38. The Prez hit the nail on the head...
Submitted by: Al
1:05 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
39. Just like any other gang, police (not all police), are gang bangers with guns and badges bang'n with all the protection of the Law.
Submitted by: Al
1:04 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
40. YOU OUGHT TO BE THE PRESIDENT'S CHIEF OF STAFF,THANKS FOR A GREAT STORY!!
Submitted by: Brian chamberlin,CARSON CITY,NV
41. Gates behavior is indicative of what was once reserved for "well-to- white folks only. So blacks have come a long way. It is apparent that many people of major minority groups currently think they are above the law just because of the status symbols they have acquired as well as being educated. I cringe each time I see the picture of Professor Gates with his mouth wide open. Yes, there is racial profiling going on in the United States, but the that does not give anyone (white or black) to believe they are too special to be arrested.
Submitted by: star
1:01 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
42. The power play might cut both ways here. Tired prof returns from road trip, is frustrated at having to jimmy open a stuck front door. Cop in charge at the scene has to steel himself for the unknown. Juices flowing, they both succeed in infuriating each other. I'll bet a leading Ivy League prof of any race is fully capable of exhibiting as much arrogance as most cops. When their anger flashed, they both called, atavistically, on the cultural stereotype that fit their training or mindset in that particular situation. Were the circumstances even slightly different, the whole thing might not have happened. Let's call the whole thing off.
Submitted by: Dan
12:56 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
43. Why did the prof. have to immediately play the race card? I am 50% Asian, 50% black and live in a neighborhood where police rarely come for a simple call like burglary in progress. I'd be grateful to see the officer and would have thanked the guy for checking into the matter. Sounds like the good professor has a rather monumental chip on his shoulders.
Submitted by: A.G. Lamars
12:41 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
44. This case is about the expectations of a man who spends his life preaching that white people are racists, always have been,a nd always will be. That's how he defines his life. Gates saw a white face in a blue uniform, and immediately became combative IN RESPONSE TO HIS OWN EXPECTATION. If he hadn't been arrested, the story on the news now would have been that he intimidated the cops into leaving him alone!!!
Submitted by: Sheryl
12:30 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
45. The media, Gates, and Obama are keeping racism alive. This story should never have been anything more than "A disorderly homeowner was arrested by the police". Why does the color of either man's skin make a difference? Because the Media and Gates are making it. They're afraid that since Obama became president, people are using it as a watershed moment to call for the end of all sort of outdated programs. The minority community need to keep the pressure on before they lose those advantage benefits. That's the definition of racism and the cops are calling them on it.
Submitted by: Scott
12:20 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
46. I have always believed and have personally experienced that no matter how bad something is, good can be found. The Cambridge incident is a simple reminder that people must still try to live and get along, even if you are a Harvard Law Professor or a Sergeant of Police. We need to learn how to step back and assess what has occurred before we jump to unfair conclusions.
Submitted by: Michael Barela
12:07 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
47. Sandy Banks is right to see the face-off between Gates and Crowley as a matter of poer. I call the event a duel where honor - I use the term delibaretely - was at stake. Honor is essentially a male, macho value, and once one party has insulted the other party, retreat is impossible, especially if it is a public event, as it became once the two men stepped outside to the front porch, in view of spectators. For Gates, that honor was the concept 'a man's home is his castle.' For the police officer, honor is the dignity of the state, the badge, the whole 'heroic' thing we hear so often in regard to the police, the military, etc.
Submitted by: fred sommer
12:05 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
48. Sandy, you are right across the board. The problem is that as human being, which we all are, communication has turned into a simple element we just cant do. One of the commenters but this into prospective by the term YOU PEOPLE..... a word so many have heard all of their lives.... a term used to make persons feel that their are above or beneath dependent upon prospection. The issue remain until we all get along, hate and isms will continue to have power.
Submitted by: darleen
12:01 PM PDT, July 25, 2009
49. One of the excesses of power that helped bring about the American Revolution was the fact that the King of England didn't respect the sanctity of American homes. He quartered troops where ever he wished. What sort of person can disregard the right of a man to be in his own home without duress and still consider themselves to be an American?
Submitted by: Scott
11:59 AM PDT, July 25, 2009
50. Your closing sentence refers to Gates as a "rightously" angry man. I disagree. He was smug and disrespectful of someone who was responding to help protect his safety and property. He could have thanked the officer for responding to a burglary call. Instead he escalated the situation. When you're a hammer everything looks like a nail. Gates needs to wake up and view the world rationally. This is not 1950. The world has moved on.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
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