Gates chastises officer after authorities agree to drop criminal charge
July 21, 2009
Police led Henry Louis Gates Jr. away in handcuffs after his arrest on Thursday at his home in Cambridge.
By Tracy Jan, Globe Staff
Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. chastised a Cambridge police officer today and demanded an apology after authorities agreed to drop a disorderly conduct charge against the renowned African-American scholar.
Gates accused the officer who arrested him at his Cambridge home of having a "broad imagination" when he summarized last Thursday's confrontation in police reports, and he denied making several inflammatory remarks.
“I believe the police officer should apologize to me for what he knows he did that was wrong,” Gates said in a phone interview from his other home in Martha’s Vineyard. “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.”
Gates, 58, was handcuffed and booked last Thursday following a police investigation into a suspected burglary at his Ware Street home near Harvard Square. A passerby spotted Gates and his driver, who had dropped him off from the airport, trying to push the front door open and called the police. The door had been jammed. Police responded and arrested Gates after they said he became belligerent.
Earlier today, the Middlesex district attorney's office announced plans to drop criminal charges against Gates. The City of Cambridge and the police department recommended today that prosecutors not pursue charges in a joint statement from authorities and Gates that called the confrontation "regrettable and unfortunate."
"This incident should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department," the statement said. "All parties agree that this is a just resolution to an unfortunate set of circumstances."
Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons said in a statement that the controversy illustrated "that Cambridge must continue finding ways to address matters of race and class in a frank, honest, and productive manner."
The imbroglio elicited reactions from across the country about race relations and profiling. Representative James E. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina, said today on MSNBC that even though "we've elected an African-American president … these kinds of profiling do, in fact, take place."
"We're a long way from putting this issue behind us," said Clyburn, a Democrat and former chairman of Congressional Black Caucus.
This afternoon in an interview, Gates said he never yelled at the officer other than to demand his name and badge number, which he said the officer refused to give. The officer, Sergeant James Crowley, said in the police report that he did state his name. He also said Gates unleashed a verbal tirade, calling him racist, telling him that he did not know who he was messing with, and threatening to speak to his “mama” outside.
“The police report is full of this man’s broad imagination,” Gates said in response to a question on whether he had said any of the quotes in the report. “I said, ‘Are you not giving me your name and badge number because I’m a black man in America?’ . . . He treated my request with scorn. . . I was suffering from a bronchial infection. I couldn’t have yelled. . . I don’t walk around calling white people racist.”
Gates continued, “I’m outraged. I shouldn’t have been treated this way but it makes me so keenly aware of how many people every day experience abuses in the criminal justice system ... No citizen should tolerate that kind of poor behavior by an officer of the law. . . This is really about justice for the least amongst us.”
Because of his arrest, Gates said he plans to make racial profiling and prison reform central intellectual and political issues he wants to explore. He’s also considering a new documentary on racial profiling.
“Because of the capricious whim of one disturbed person . . . I am now a black man with a prison record,” Gates said. “You can look at my mug shot on the Internet.”