(crossposted on Confessions of a Cybernegress)
The reporting officer responded to a call from a white female. She'd reported two black males with backpacks on the porch of a nearby house: "...her suspicions were aroused when she observed one of the men wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry." We now know that the woman who made the call is Lucia Whalen, a fundraiser for Harvard Magazine. The fact that this woman might not recognize her neighbor and colleague is slightly troubling at best, and she made a mistake that was almost certainly based on her own prejudices.
But Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, made several mistakes of his own. His biggest mistake was believing that his titles and achivements gave him license to show his ass.
Dr. Gates did not start things off well with the officer: "I asked if he would step out onto the porch and speak with me," the report states. "He replied "no I will not". He then demanded to know who I was." Now, from Gates' point of view, he was being harrassed in his own home for no apparent reason. What happened next, however, is the kind of thing that gets younger black men shot: Gates started cussing the officer out.
Gates proceeded to accuse the officer of being racist, and told the officer "that I had no idea who I was "messing" with and that I had not heard the last of it." Gates also initially refused to supply the officer with identification, repeatedly demanding instead to see the officer's ID. All bad moves. At this point, the situation could have been diffused with swift, courteous action: "Here's my ID. Here's proof of my residence. I don't appreciate being accused of being a criminal, and I'll be taking this up with your supervisor. Have a nice day." That's not how it went.
Finally, the officer--and this is where things get a little weird--asked Gates to come outside to talk to him. Gates replied with, "ya, I'll speak with your mama outside." I'm almost reluctant to believe that Gates would use verbal jousts from "Good Times" with a policeman, but it sounds like Gates might not have been in his right mind at this point. After more yelling, the officer apparently issued Gates some kind of warning, which Gates ignored. He was then arrested "due to tumultuous behavior outside his residence."
Now, I'm still suspicious of the officer's desire to get Gates outside of his home; I don't know if he could have arrested him while he was still in his house. But after reading the full report, it appears as if Gates made a bad situation worse. After the officer identified himself and told Gates why he was there, Gates responded, "why, because I'm a black man in America?"
Yes, Dr. Gates. Because you are a black man in America, some white lady thought you were breaking into your own house. That's real, and it sucks, and you should get up in your neighbor's ass for being a nosy bigot--not berate a police officer. Any man--black or white--should be smart enough to know that harrassing a police officer will never end well. Gates showed poor judgment at best--and at worst, he attempted to use his esteemed position at Harvard to browbeat a guy just trying to do his job.
Perhaps Gates should have put aside his own advanced education for a moment, and just listened to Chris Rock.
**Gates' attorney, Charles Ogletree, tells a completely different story:
Gates said he turned over his driver's license and Harvard ID — both with his photos — and repeatedly asked for the name and badge number of the officer, who refused. He said he then followed the officer as he left his house onto his front porch, where he was handcuffed in front of other officers.
So, it looks like there are three sides to the story: Gates's, the police's, and the truth. I sincerely hope Gates comes out the victor.
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