History of racism in America and the issue of racial profiling, Police, Sgt. Crowley
Is Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Above The Law?
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What a hullabaloo at Harvard! You would have thought the People’s Republic of Cambridge in 2009 was the Deep South in 1959.
On July 16th, Harvard University Professor and literary critic Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested at his residence near the Ivy League School for disorderly conduct. His arrest followed a call to Cambridge Police reporting a break-in at Gates’ home by two African-American males.
It turned out that Professor Gates, who had just returned from China filming a documentary for PBS, was having trouble entering his own home. The front door had somehow been damaged while he was out of the country. By the time Gates was able to access his home Cambridge Police turned up on the scene. What happened from that point is in dispute. Gates, through his attorney and Harvard colleague Charles Ogletree, said one thing. However, Sgt. James Crowley said quite another in his incident report. Gates contends Crowley refused to give him identification while Crowley contends it was Gates who had refused to provide identification by stating, “Why, because I’m a black man in America.” Crowley also notes that Gates accused him of being “a racist police officer” and that “he wasn’t someone to mess with.”
Well, Gates was apparently correct about his latter statement. On July 21st, the City of Cambridge and the Cambridge Police Department issued a joint statement requesting the Middlesex County District Attorney not proceed with criminal charges and described the incident as “regrettable and unfortunate.”
Apparently, the threat of the Reverend Al Sharpton being in attendance for Gates’ arraignment was enough for the City of Cambridge and the Cambridge Police Department to back off. Sharpton said, “This arrest is indicative of at best police abuse of power or at worst the highest example of racial profiling I have seen.”
But Gates himself makes Sharpton look conciliatory by comparison. In an interview Gates conducted with The Washington Post after the disposition of the incident, he said of Crowley, “This guy had this whole narrative in his head. Black guy breaking and entering.” Gates went on to say that Crowley “should look into his soul and he should apologize to me.” As for his future plans, Gates says he wants “to make a documentary about racial profiling for PBS.” Gates also told The Boston Globe that Crowley is a “disturbed person” with a “broad imagination” but was willing to forgive him with certain conditions:
If he apologizes sincerely, I am willing to forgive him. And if he admits his error, I am willing to educate him about the history of racism in America and the issue of racial profiling … That’s what I do for a living.
Quite frankly, Crowley doesn’t need any favors from Gates much less a lesson in tolerance. If anything, it is Gates who should apologize to Crowley. Unfortunately, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Crowley and the Cambridge Police Department as well as the City of Cambridge could face a lawsuit from Gates. There could also be demands that Crowley and the other officers on the scene face disciplinary action.
If it comes to that then one must ask why we have police departments in the first place. What should have Lucia Whalen done when she saw this suspicious behavior? Should she have minded her own business? She could have chosen that path but she contacted the authorities instead.
Once that call is made an officer or officers are dispatched to the scene to investigate the situation. When the police respond to a situation they never know what they might find. They could find absolutely nothing. They could find themselves at the wrong end of a gun. They could also find themselves in a situation where things aren’t what they seem and there is a genuine misunderstanding. That is the situation in which Sgt. Crowley found himself last Thursday afternoon.
Crowley investigated the situation, determined that Gates was in fact not breaking and entering. That should have been the end of it. But Gates instead escalated the situation, following Crowley outside to further the confrontation and engaged in disorderly behavior. Gates was warned about his unruly behavior and refused to comply with Crowley’s repeated instructions to calm down. He was placed under arrest. Is the law not applicable to Professor Gates? Is Henry Louis Gates, Jr. above the law?
The most ridiculous aspect of this entire episode is the notion that Crowley racially profiled Gates. When a member of the public calls 911 to report a crime in progress it is usually helpful to the authorities if they know who they are looking for. If the caller doesn’t know the identity of the person allegedly committing a crime a general description of the person will have to do. How tall? What kind of build? What clothes is the person wearing? Are they male or female? And yes, the person’s skin color. That Gates would accuse Crowley of having a “narrative” of a “black guy breaking and entering” demonstrates he doesn’t have a clue of what is involved in law enforcement.
Instead of Professor Gates educating Sgt. Crowley about the history of racism in America and the issue of racial profiling, Sgt. Crowley should educate Professor Gates about what it is like to be a police officer and what it is to risk one’s life to protect the public each and every day. That’s what Sgt. Crowley does for a living.
Aaron Goldstein was a card carrying member of the socialist New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP). Since 09/11, Aaron has reconsidered his ideological inclinations and has become a Republican. Aaron lives and works in Boston.