26 comments on “From the Ivory Tower to the Ivory Cell

  1. I have a deep and profound respect for Dr. Gates and his work. He is not only one of black America’s foremost scholars, he is one of AMERICA’S foremost scholars. But I don’t agree with his contention that race was the motivator for this situation. The officer was simply doing his job and responding to a 911 call. If anything, Dr. Gates should be relieved the cops were doing their job in the event that a REAL buglar was vandalizing his home.

    • Yes but no one should be arrested for going into his own home. This is the ultimate in police stupidity after he identified himself. How do we know that a neighbor with an axe to grind did not do this to get him in trouble? Had he not been a black man it would never have gotten to this level. Not only a judge should throw the charge out but allow him to sue. Never mind the civil liberties that were trampled. I would most definitely sue and I think that he’s considering. At the very least a public apology by the police. An investigation would not be in order here either. This stuff should have stopped happening years ago. The police have a lot of explaining to do in this case.

  2. A sense of entitlement. That’s what motivated Professor Gates to become verbally abusive when officers responding to a possible burglary at his home asked him to produce his ID. This whole story is a lot of crap. A neighbor called the police when they thought they saw someone breaking into the professor’s home. The police responded and Dr. Gates became abusive and belligerent to the officers who had come there to protect his property. Gates turned what should only have been a misunderstanding into a racial incident and he has no one to blame but himself. Is there still racism in America. You bet. But professor Gates was a victim of his own dysfunction. Just because you’re a black scholar doesn’t mean that you can do what no other possible suspect would would be allowed to do.

    • A misunderstanding?! Where the hell did the misunderstanding come from?! Dr. Gates presented ID proving his residence. This wasn’t a simple misunderstanding. This was discrimination through and through. And before you accuse me of race baiting, I’m a white man who lives in the South…a far cry from somebody who would incite race unnecessarily.

      Andre, to answer your question there’s no way in HELL Dr. Gates would have been subject to this treatment if he was a white man. No way, no how. The officer would have viewed the ID and went on his merry way. He would’ve probably given the man a handshake before he left. This officer assumed that a black man in Cambridge could only be up to trouble. The possibility for anything else was removed the moment Gates’ race was known.

      • Absolutely! Dr. Gates was in his own house at the time. Once the officer was provided proof of residency, it should have all ended there. Instead of seeing Gates’ upset and maybe shaken by the event, the officer used this to make a bigger scene than necessary. Who amongst us would not have gotten upset?

      • I wish I had been born black so that I had an excuse for all the bad things that have happened to me in my life but no such luck. Born white so I suppose everybad thing I did or that was done to me was my own fault.

      • Jeff, this story isn’t about not being able to own up to responsibilites. It’s about the reality of race relations in this country. I think once our white brothers and sisters can acknowledge the benefits that come with being white in America (even if those benefits are not always directly utilized) and the realities of being black in this same country, you can have a better appreciation for these kind of stories.

        No where in my commentary will you see me condoning a pathology of racial victimization. But you also won’t hear me discount the impact that the legacy of racism has…and will continue to have…on this nation.

      • I think that there is a percentage of ligitamate claims where race is an issue however I believe that much of the reported stories are perpetuated by a racist attitude towards non blacks. It would seem that every time the police interact with black america, it is because they are black, not because a crime may have been commited.
        To say that is to say that all black men in jail are there because the are black. One thing that confuses me is that black america is united in such a strong way against white america, it is inspiring to see how regardless of class or privledge blacks in america can come together and stand for a cause (white folks don’t do that). So if all black men in jail were there because of their skin color, how can black on black crime be explained? I think that black america has an “us and them” attutitude that keeps the racial divide such a challenge. Finally, I think I figured out how to wipe out racism completely. I’ll teach my child that being black does not make a person a criminal, and you teach your child that being white does not make a person a racist, maybe together we can beat this once for all.

      • Jeff, what you would call “a percentage of legitimate claims” I would call an entire pathology of discrimination.

        It would seem that every time the police interact with black america, it is because they are black, not because a crime may have been commited.

        The problem with this statement of yours is that it dismisses the reality that criminal pathology is ascribed to black folks more than just about every racial group in this country. When black folks are perceived to be a menancing threat; a bogeyman who’s up to no good, it’s much easier to keep an eye fixed on them.

        So if all black men in jail were there because of their skin color, how can black on black crime be explained?

        What? These so-called “black-on-black” incidents occur b/c criminals tend to go after those within their own reach.

        I think that black america has an “us and them” attutitude that keeps the racial divide such a challenge.

        Let’s flip the script here. Is it your contention that white America as a whole is truly making strides at racial reconciliation? If that’s your contention, let me give you a piece of advice: simply telling black people to “get over it” and “pull yourselves up by the bootstraps” (or one many other mantras about personal responsibility) is not the way to do it. I contend that the “us vs. them” mentality is hyperbolic and hardly an accurate reflection of ALL black people.

  3. If anything, stories like this remind us that whether you’re a thug on the street or a tenured professor at Harvard with over 50 honorary degrees, no one is exempt from suspicion. That’s the reality of being black in America. Truth be told, I admit that each time I drive through an affluent neighborhood, I find myself clutching the steering wheel a little tighter, easing off the accelerator, or turning my music down. Many of those fears, while dismissed as paranoia or “playing the race card” are legitimate and substantiated by history.

    I’d like to think that if Gates were white and exhibited the same behavior (whatever thay was), he would’ve received the same treatment. But an extended history of racism makes it difficult for people of color to imagine that scenario.

  4. Honestly, I’m in a position of distributing equal blame.

    Gates: I’m not suggesting that he should have showed his pearl whites and danced for “whitey.” But he did bring about a lot of this by getting aggressive with police. One thing I’ve learned is that you can never assume authority over cops. Compliance and being polite is not the same as shuffling.

    The officer: As it was stated earlier, accepting the proof of residency should have been enough. I sincerely believe it would have been had Gates been white. Stirring the hornets’ nest is not a good move. That’s exactly what this officer did.

    • KC, I’m actually with you on this one. In addition to the fact that this story has completely conflicting accounts (the truth is usually somewhere in between the two stories), I suspect both parties had something to do with this. Whether race was the ultimate contribution is anyone’s guess.

      • I give up. I live and work in a community that is truly color blind. Not 100% but nothing is 100%. The advancement of race relatiions in my community since 1953 has been astronomical! Due in no small part to folks like Dr King, M. Evers and a host of other civil rights activists such as Mr. Gates but also to many of other ethnicity as well. This incident with Mr Gates was absolutley avoidable and fringes on being an act of a pompous intelliectual opportunist. What some commentors are leaving out, is that after he finally showed his ID (under protest), Mr Gates FOLLOWED the officer out of the house screaming and demanding infomration from him on his name and badge. Clearly Mr Gates was pissed. But the police were just doing their job…..and this DOES happen to white folks as well.

      • Stephen,

        The issue of “colorblindness” is problematic in and of itself. It’s often seen as a way to strip away one’s identify in favor of being racially neutral. It’s a way of saying “Instead of seeing you and your racial/identity as something unique and to be celebrated, we’ll just put the blinders on.” Instead of racial neutrality, I think the world would be better if we learned how to live with and celebrate people of ALL races and backgrounds. I admit, this is all complicated. But it makes true racial reconciliation that much more of a worthy cause.

        To address your other point: I’m not in disagreement at all. I think both parties were complicit. I can only imagine how frustrating and tired Gates was…only to deal with this nonsense. But I also don’t think instigating with the police was necessary. Further, I don’t believe – nor have I implied – that this kind of thing ONLY happens to black folks. But there IS a disproportionate number of these kinds of instances involving black people.

        As a side note, is there a reason you used my link for your name? It’s no big deal. I’m just curious…

  5. How can racial profiling not be justified when blacks are the ones committing crime the most? You tell me.

    • @ Anonymous: By definition, all racial profiling does is fix one’s attention onto a particular race. So if all you’re looking for are black offenders…guess what? That’s what you’re going to find. The activities of offenders fitting OTHER descriptions become secondary if your attention has been focused on a certain type of person.

  6. Skip Gates is a prominent intellectual, yes. But that’s only in certain circles. I suspect this officer had NO CLUE who Dr. Gates was, nor did he care. But even if he was well known, I don’t think officer was in violation. He was responding to a call. Besides all that, Skip handled this the WRONG WAY. If anything, all he did was further fuel the racial animosity currently existing.

    • “Skip Gates is a prominent intellectual, yes. But that’s only in certain circles.”

      Good point, Cynthia. Should Dr. Gates’ status afford him special privledges? Methinks not! Declaring to the world that you’re a professor at Harvard doesn’t make you any less likely to be a crook. Who cares where you’re employed? As long as you can prove you are inside of your own home, all that other mess is immaterial. For Gates to flash his credentials around like some sort of elitist pass was a bad move.

      Finally, you’re correct in that becoming the angry black man did nothing to help his cause. Instead of shouting accusations of racism at some low ranking sargeant (only giving the officer more support of the claim that Gates was “disorderly”) Gates should have filed a complaint.

  7. While everybody is quick to crucify Dr. Gates, you should remember that he has devoted his entire academic career to exploring race, lineage, and traditions. For doing nothing more than trying to open the door to his own house, he became nothing more than other criminal in people’s eyes. I dare any one of you to go through that and come out unscathed.

    The fact of the matter is, there is a very dark and troubling reality black men face in this country. By default, we AUTOMATICALLY become the face of crime and social deviance. Instead of being people inbued with humanity, a sense of appreciation, and a strong devotion to family, fairness, and right, we are considered people devoid of any humanity.

  8. Hey Dre,
    Great post and thanks for the link. Is there any chance that Dr. Gates was pre-loaded for a racist conflict? I mean, sometimes we become so sensitive to an egregious act (he’s obviously hyper aware given his forte) that we see it where it might not exist. For example, I’m reminded of a black comedian who said his father was so sensitive to racism that he found it everywhere. One day they were walking through the store and his father said to him, “Look son, the white rice is on the top shelf, but the brown rice is way down here at the bottom. Damn racist store clerks.” I didn’t read where the cops used any racist language or were out of line. Is it possible that Dr. Gates simply wanted attention for himself ala Ward Churchill? If so, he got his wish, I just saw this story for the third time today. Perhaps it was his struggling with the door that brought their attention to him and not his color (it is possible). I had a friend who was taking his bike off the roof of his girlfriend’s car in the “U” parking lot to ride home and was arrested by one of our safety officers. They called me (his girlfriend was my niece) and I had to identify him. They had him cuffed and bent over the back of their car. (I was tempted to say, “Nope, don’t know that guy.” but he was already upset.) The arresting officer was black but the idea that it was racism never even crossed my mind. He was, after all, taking a bike off a car. Even though it was his. I get your point though, as an ex-hippie I could clearly see the difference in the way I was viewed by the police no matter how innocent I was being. I also realized that my friends yelling “PIG!” at them at every opportunity probably wasn’t helping. I know that’s nothing compared to what black people have to suffer, I’m just thinking that there are probably better examples of police bias and that this story has a lot of facets that make me wonder about Dr. Gates’ version.

  9. I’m guessing that Gates was not shy about articulating his indignation as he spoke to police. I listened with interest as President Obama candidly expressed his thoughts on the matter at his Wednesday night news conference. The last question was about Gates. The president, who admitted that he and Gates were friends, said that “Cambridge police acted stupidly.”

  10. I think this issue has less to do about race & more about a Police Officer using his badge to essentially get “the last laugh” (especially since it has now been revealed that the Officer taught a racial profiling class that pointed out cultural differences & stressed how other Officers should avoid “singling people out because of their ethnic background“. Now, while I sympathize w/ Mr. Gates (I’m fairly certain that I would’ve been much louder & directed many more vulgarities if I had been confronted by an Officer in *my* own home & through no fault of my own to boot), the reality is that you simply cannot back-talk to the po-po, no matter who you are. It’s unfortunate, but true.

    Additionally, Obama’s comment on the matter was one of the most foolish things I have heard any President say (even considering the 234674 different Bush-isms). For him to comment in the manner that he did, on a situation that he certainly did not have all the facts on (lets be real, the only two people who have all the facts is the Officer & Dr. Gates) didn’t do him, or more importantly the American public any favors.


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