Scott Eric Kaufman asserts that the recent arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was motivated by racism:
Racism in America is truly dead.
(Except for the insignificant bit of it that motivated the arrest in the first place.)
I contend that the motivation was likely something else: the volatile combination of a Harvard professor overly eager to accuse cops of racism, and a cop high on his own authority and sense of outrage.
Let’s review the competing versions of events, which are rather similar but for a curious omission by Professor Gates. According to Professor Gates, he was returning home after a trip to China when he had trouble getting into his home:
Professor Gates attempted to enter his front door, but the door was damaged. Professor Gates then entered his rear door with his key, turned off his alarm, and again attempted to open the front door. With the help of his driver they were able to force the front door open, and then the driver carried Professor Gates’ luggage into his home.
A neighbor apparently saw the two men throwing themselves into the door, and got suspicious. According to the police report (.pdf), a woman saw Gates seemingly trying to break into the home, and called police. The responding officer spoke with the witness and wrote that she
went on to tell me that she observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch of [redacted] Ware Street. She told me 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.
Obvious racism on her part, right? Everyone enters their own home by trying to wedge their shoulder onto the door.
Back to Gates’s version. According to Gates, he was on the phone to the Harvard Real Estate office to report the damage to his door when the officer appeared and asked him to step outside:
When Professor Gates opened the door, the officer immediately asked him to step outside. Professor Gates remained inside his home and asked the officer why he was there. The officer indicated that he was responding to a 911 call about a breaking and entering in progress at this address. Professor Gates informed the officer that he lived there and was a faculty member at Harvard University. The officer then asked Professor Gates whether he could prove that he lived there and taught at Harvard. Professor Gates said that he could, and turned to walk into his kitchen, where he had left his wallet. The officer followed him. Professor Gates handed both his Harvard University identification and his valid Massachusetts driver’s license to the officer. Both include Professor Gates’ photograph, and the license includes his address.
Professor Gates then asked the police officer if he would give him his name and his badge number. He made this request several times. The officer did not produce any identification nor did he respond to Professor Gates’ request for this information. After an additional request by Professor Gates for the officer’s name and badge number, the officer then turned and left the kitchen of Professor Gates’ home without ever acknowledging who he was or if there were charges against Professor Gates. As Professor Gates followed the officer to his own front door, he was astonished to see several police officers gathered on his front porch. Professor Gates asked the officer’s colleagues for his name and badge number. As Professor Gates stepped onto his front porch, the officer who had been inside and who had examined his identification, said to him, “Thank you for accommodating my earlier request,” and then placed Professor Gates under arrest. He was handcuffed on his own front porch.
How very odd! Professor Gates was nothing but polite, and yet officers showed up en masse and arrested him for no reason. I guess it really is racism!
The police report tells a slightly different story:
As I turned and faced the door, I could see an older black male standing in the foyer of [redacted] Ware Street. I made this observation through the glass paned front door. As I stood in plain view of this man, later identified as Gates, I asked if he would step out onto the porch and speak with me. He replied “no I will not”. He then demanded to know who I was. I told him that I was “Sgt. Crowley from the Cambridge Police” and that I was “investigating a report of a break in progress” at the residence. While I was making this statement, Gates opened the front door and exclaimed “why, because I’m a black man in America?”. I then asked Gates if there was anyone else in the residence. While yelling, he told me that it was none of my business and accused me of being a racist police officer. I assured Gates that I was responding to a citizen’s call to the Cambridge Police and that the caller was outside as we spoke.
According to the police report, Gates then got on his phone and told the person on the other end of the line to “get the chief” because he was “dealing with a racist police officer in his home.”
Gates then turned to me and told me that I had no idea who I was “messing” with and that I had not heard the last of it.
According to the report, the officer asked Gates for identification, and after initially refusing, Gates gave him a Harvard identification card. The officer started radioing Harvard police as Gates screamed at him, demanding to know his name. The officer claims he provided it but that Gates was so busy yelling that he didn’t hear it. The officer said he would be going outside, at which point Gates allegedly said: “ya, I’ll speak with your mama outside.”
As I descended the stairs to the sidewalk, Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him. Due to the tumultuous manner Gates had exhibited in his residence as well as his continued tumultuous behavior outside the residence, in view of the public, I warned Gates that he was becoming disorderly. Gates ignored my warning and continued to yell, which drew the attention of both the police officers and citizens, who appeared surprised and alarmed by Gates’s outburst. For a second time I warned Gates to calm down while I withdrew my department issued handcuffs from their carrying case. Gates again ignored my warning and continued to yell at me. It was at this time that I informed Gates that he was under arrest.
This version seems much more credible than Gates’s version, in which he is unfailingly polite but ends up getting arrested for seemingly no reason. While the police officer no doubt wrote his own report in a self-serving manner, it explains everyone’s behavior in a much more credible way.
Gates should not have been screaming “racism” from the beginning. He should have realized that it looked like he was breaking into his home. He should have canned the accusations of racism. They were inappropriate.
Also, the officer should not have arrested Gates. Gates appeared to have failed the “attitude test.” This gets a lot of people arrested, but that doesn’t make it right. If this report had crossed my desk, I wouldn’t have filed the case. Indeed, the City of Cambridge and the Police Department issued a statement indicating that they recommended that charges be dropped, and that has happened. This is appropriate. You can’t arrest someone for being an obnoxious jerk.
Viewed with the aid of this information, this does not appear to be a case of a racist police officer, as claimed by Scott Eric Kaufman. It appears to be a high-on-himself Harvard professor inappropriately screaming “RACISM!!” combined with an offended cop who got high on his own authority and sense of outrage, and made an inappropriate arrest.
Kaufman needs to rethink this.