You Fit The Description Of

I held this one a few days to see what develops from this case and I’m glad I did, because it fits perfectly into the theme I’ve been on this week and CNN. This is often what it’s like to be Black in America. The slight differences is the prominence of Dr. Gates compared to some dude with a last name of Gates. I should have titled this Black in America 3, but I’ll let CNN work on that one.

Alright, I hope I’m proven wrong by the people who visits this blog often and typically tend to disagree with me for the points I’m about to make, but let’s see. I’m sure there will be someone who will say that it isn’t about race. I’m just curious to learn how others view this incident regarding a well known and highly regarded Harvard professor who has been on television many times who happens to be Black and a Cambridge, MA police sergeant who happens to be White and a neighbor who is assumed to be White. I can almost assume the answers some may give, but I want to just hear what others think about this incident.

While arriving back home from a trip to China last week Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.; a distinguished Black scholar, Head of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African & African-American Research, PBS Host of African-American Lives, one of TIME Magazines 25 most influential Americans and professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts were accompanied by a driver found his front door damaged. A neighbor (we’ll call her Mrs. Crabtree for argument sake) called the police to report a man wedging his shoulder into the front door. Sgt. James Crowley responded to a call made by one of Dr. Gates’ neighbors.

According to the police report, written by Sergeant Crowley states that he came to the residence to investigate and states that Dr. Gates open the front door and exclaimed, “Why, because I’m a Black man in America?”

Now I must interject something right here. Every Black man is not hostile or angry, regardless of how we may be depicted on your local television or FOX News. I’ve personally been called angry, hostile, bitter, uneducated and recently un-American and even a racist. I’ve had the police question me, because “I fit the description” of someone who was reported of committing a crime when I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I have ample and justifiable cause to be many of those characterizations that some freely bestowed unto me, but I didn’t see the need to demonstrate any of them, because I know who I am and do not need someone who is more reactionary than me to tell me who or what they believe I am.

I say all of this, because I believe Dr. Gates, a man who is far better educated than me, I aspire to be as intellectually distinguished as he, can only hope to be as beloved and established than he is has little reason to respond in such a way as is described in the police report. I see the validity of the statement and if this was said of me I could understand the doubt some may have, but I will put aside my reasons of suspicion for the moment.

By-the-way, isn’t this the same city that just had that high profile “Firefighters Discrimination Lawsuit”? But let’s get back to the issue with the police.

Now Dr. Gates entered HIS house with HIS key through HIS back door. Remember the front door was damaged. Then Dr. Gates and his driver were then able to open the front door by force. And just as anticipated that’s about the time the police showed up.

The police (Sgt. Crowley) told Dr. Gates that he was investigating a call about a break-in. Dr. Gates identified himself to Sgt. Crowley and began to go into his kitchen where he left his wallet. Naturally the officer followed him.

Interruption: I’m telling you, I know this cop was right behind him. They’re not going to believe you, even if you’re an elite college professor. You’re still a… Well let’s not speculate. I said I was going to put my suspicion aside for the moment.

Dr. Gates confirmed who he is when he handed the officer his Harvard ID and MA driver’s license. Then he asked the officer for his name & badge number, but I guess the officer felt he didn’t need to identify himself.

Interruption: I guess that protect and to serve motto is just for… Let me remain objective and not allow my suspicion to distort any sense of fairness. I’m fighting it.

So one would think that since everything checked out all is well, but the story doesn’t end there.

So as Dr. Gates followed Sgt Crowley to the front door, the officer told Dr. Gates, “Thank you for accommodating my earlier request and then placed him under arrest for Disorderly Conduct.

WTH! Whatcha arresting me for?

Now the question that hasn’t been asked is directed to the neighbor (Mrs. Crabtree). Why didn’t you say anything? Even if you don’t speak to your neighbor you can distinguish that they are your neighbor. Another point is that Dr. Gates obviously lives in a very nice community, since the police arrived on the scene so quickly. I don’t know of many Harvard professors that aren’t making a nice salary.  Another question is if the front door appeared damaged, why didn’t the neighbor who obviously was ‘so concerned’ about Dr. Gates home report that to the police. Most police departments will come to investigate and if no one is home will leave a card, note or some sort of “While You Were Out” we reported a call by a neighbor someone was trying to break-in, but all is well. No I believe the neighbor saw… and called the cops.

I make this conclusion based off of my own similar experiences with individuals who only see me as someone who ‘fits the description’ of their misconceptions. Perhaps this is just another reason why we should consider others.

It’s interesting that this story comes up at the time of CNN’s 2nd documentary of Black in America, because this is commonplace with many Blacks in America in addition to Hispanic and Latino males too. According to some I could extend the ‘fits the description’ assumption to a wise Latina judges too, but I digress.

Tell me what you think about this incident from your perspective.

References & Inspirations
CNN – 07/21/09 “Harvard Professor Gates Arrested
Cambridge Police Department – 07/16/09 “Incident Report #9005127

7 thoughts on “You Fit The Description Of

  1. It’s good that his neighbor was so concerned about his house, but it makes you wonder why she didn’t recognize her neighbor, then why she didn’t say anything when she saw Dr. Gates being arrested.

    Wouldn’t a ‘concerned’ neighbor act concerned about their neighbor?

  2. This story has my a bit stumped, especially in light of President Obama’s comments at the news conference. First of all, I saw an interview with Professor Gates about an hour before the president’s message. During that time I was wondering about the officer’s story.

    Then after the president states he doesn’t know much about the case, he blasts the Cambridge police. How can one issue a strong comment like he did after admitting that he didn’t know much? Personally, I wish he would have taken a higher road.

    I understand that Professor Gates is highly respected. I also understand how profiling, bias, and prejudice are unfortunate, disrespectful, and demeaning. On the other hand, I kept thinking about the officer’s side of the story and wondering the similarities and differences between the two … and that side I still don’t know.

    Unfortunately for me, something doesn’t feel right in me. Maybe … just maybe … there were a lot of unfortunate mistakes that happened … but I simply don’t know.

  3. (I saw in one news story that the person who called the police was just a “passer-by”, so they might not have recognized Dr. Gates personally and been able to vouch for him.)

    I’m a bit conflicted about this case, because on the one hand I support the civil rights of all people who are accused, unreasonably or not, of a crime and believe that law enforcement has been an area in which deep inequities exist. On the other hand, I’m a law-and-order person who believes that if you did the crime, you should be locked up. None of us has any idea what really happened, but if Dr. Gates was standing outside his house yelling at a police officer, I would want that type of person brought into the station to cool down regardless of his prestige or skin color.

    You can check my site for further thoughts (I put up a post late last night). This is a good topic and I’m glad you brought it up here.

  4. This isn’t as complex as it appears.

    Once the cop established Gate’s identity he should have apologized and left the premises immediately. When he failed to do so he violated Gates’ Fourth Amendment rights.
    It’s that simple. This is a 4th Amendment issue, and if the arrest was legit, they wouldn’t have dropped the charges.

    End of story.

    Having said that, Gates should get his publicity and then stop before it becomes whining and let a Federal Judge handle it.
    I’m white as the driven snow and I’ve been treated far worse by certain cops.
    Obama stated that he wasn’t sure that race was an issue. He said it was “stupid” and that’s exactly what you have when a cop either doesn’t know he’s violating the 4th amendment or he does know and doesn’t care.

    This is not the first stupid cop to violate an American’s constitutional rights and unfortunately, won’t be the last.
    And Mass cops don’t exactly have a sterling reputation to begin with. Especially Boston.

    Obama is right.
    Cop is wrong.
    Gates is lucky he wasn’t tasered.

    1. I absolutely agree with you.

      I’ve been stopped or followed in the store a few times, when I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong. The times I was stopped that I felt it was because I was Driving while Black I didn’t act hostile or agitated towards the cop, but was polite. I knew that I couldn’t talk to him like my friend who was White began to do, because I would have been on the hood of the car with my hands behind me. I cut the car off, hands on the wheel, music down or off and remain professional. Most Nashville police force are very nice and have been courteous to me. I know this would not have been the case 40 years ago or even 30 years ago. When my co-worker talked about being stopped because he was going 73mph in a 45 at night (3/17 of all nights) and the cop just told him to slow down next time I smiled. I knew I would have been lucky to just get a ticket if that was me driving through the same neighborhood.

      President Obama made his statements from the perspective of a Black man in America, not the President who is Black. That’s why he said what he did, because if you ask any Black man regardless of politics he probably understood the feeling behind the statement while many others may have understood what he said, but still have a different opinion. Now if this wasn’t a distinguished Harvard professor and was… let’s say 50 Cents, then OK. He may have been profiled, but he probably said quite a few things or have the tendency to act a little more aggressive or hostile than a 50-something year old ivy league school professor.

  5. We have three observations about the Harvard professor incident:

    1. We find it interesting that the fact that this was the professor’s home was evidently not established early on way before the dispute escalated;

    2. We find it fascinating that the versions of two members of society, who most would ordinarily view as responsible and honest citizens (this obviously does not include politicians), would vary so dramatically from a factual point of view.

    3. Finally, considering that the reading and viewing public were not present at the scene (and thus have no first hand knowledge), and that there is no video tape to our knowledge of the sequence of events and what was said, how so many have formed conclusions, and made assumptions, about who did what and who was wrong.

    There are some things which Professor Gates might have considered upon the arrival of the police, no matter how incensed he may have been.

  6. According to the police report, Prof. Gates became belligerent when the police officer asked Gates to step outside and then asked if Gates was alone. I’m not going to quote it but you can find it at the following link if interested.

    Let me propose a fictional scenario.

    Police officer asks Gates to step outside. Gates refuses because a home intruder is inside the door with a gun pointed at Gates’ head. Police officer doesn’t follow up by asking if Gates is alone, thanks Gates and leaves.

    Later, Gates is found dead having been killed by the intruder. Police officer is accused of being racist because he didn’t ensure that Gates was safe after being called to the home to investigate a burglary in progress. Black pundits point out that the policeman should have asked Gates to step outside to be sure that Gates could speak freely and would have followed that procedure had Gates been white.

Comments are closed.