Police responding to a call about “two black males” breaking into a home near Harvard University ended up arresting the man who lives there — Henry Louis Gates Jr, the pre-eminent African-American studies scholar.
Gates had forced his way through the front door because it was jammed, his lawyer said. Colleagues call the arrest last Thursday afternoon a clear case of racial profiling.
Cambridge police say they responded to the well-maintained two-story home after a woman reported seeing “two black males with backpacks on the porch,” with one “wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry.”
By the time police arrived, Gates was already inside. Police said he refused to come outside to speak with an officer, who told him he was investigating a report of a break-in.
“Why, because I’m a black man in America?” a police report written by Sergeant James Crowley quoted Gates as saying.
The Cambridge police refused to comment on the arrest on Monday.
Gates — the director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research — initially refused to show the officer his identification, but then gave him a Harvard University ID card, police said.
“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,” the officer wrote.
Gates said he turned over his driver’s license and Harvard ID — both with his photos — and repeatedly asked for the name and badge number of the officer, who refused. He said he then followed the officer as he left his house onto his front porch, where he was handcuffed in front of other officers, Gates said in a statement released by his attorney, fellow Harvard scholar Charles Ogletree, on a Web site Gates oversees, TheRoot.com.
Gates joined the Harvard faculty in 1991 and holds one of 20 prestigious “university professors” positions at the school. He also was host of African American Lives, a Public Broadcasting Service TV show about the family histories of prominent US blacks, and was named by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential Americans in 1997.
He was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge after police said he “exhibited loud and tumultuous behavior.” He was released later that day on his own recognizance. An arraignment was scheduled for Aug. 26.
Gates, 58, refused to speak publicly on Monday, referring calls to Ogletree.
“He was shocked to find himself being questioned and shocked that the conversation continued after he showed his identification,” Ogletree said.
Ogletree declined to say whether he believed the incident was racially motivated, saying “I think the incident speaks for itself.”
Some of Gates’ colleagues said the arrest was part of a pattern of racial profiling in Cambridge.
Allen Counter, who has taught neuroscience at Harvard for 25 years, said he was stopped on campus by two Harvard police officers in 2004 after being mistaken for a robbery suspect. They threatened to arrest him when he could not produce identification.
“We do not believe that this arrest would have happened if Professor Gates was white,” Counter said. “It really has been very unsettling for African-Americans throughout Harvard and throughout Cambridge that this happened.”