Prosecutors dropped a disorderly conduct charge on Tuesday against prominent black American academic Henry Louis Gates Jr, who was arrested after forcing his way into his own house in what he and other blacks say was an outrageous but all-too-common example of how police treat them.
The city of Cambridge called the arrest “regrettable and unfortunate,” and police and Gates agreed that dropping the charge was a just resolution — though not one that quelled the anger of one of the US’ top academics.
“I’m outraged,” Gates said in extensive comments made to TheRoot.com, a Web site he oversees. “I can’t believe that an individual policeman on the Cambridge police force would treat any African-American male this way, and I am astonished that this happened to me; and more importantly I’m astonished that it could happen to any citizen of the United States, no matter what their race.”
“There are 1 million black men in the prison system, and on Thursday I became one of them,” he said. “I would sooner have believed the sky was going to fall from the heavens than I would have believed this could happen to me. It shouldn’t have happened to me, and it shouldn’t happen to anyone.”
Gates, 58, is director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research and is a documentary host. He was arrested upon his return home from China, where he working on his latest film. He said he is now inspired to work on a documentary about racial profiling.
The city of Cambridge, which neighbors Boston, released a statement saying the situation “should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department.”
Gates had just arrived from the airport when he realized his front door was jammed and he could not get into the tidy house with yellow clapboard that he rents from Harvard. He asked his driver for help.
Supporters say Gates was immediately considered a suspect because officers were summoned by a female caller who said she saw “two black males with backpacks on the porch,” one of whom was “wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry,” a police report said.
When the officers arrived, Gates was already inside and on the phone with the real estate company that manages the property. He had come in through the back door and shut off the alarm, he said.
Police said Gates was arrested after he yelled at an officer, accused him of racial bias and refused to calm down after the officer demanded that Gates show him identification to prove he lived in the home.
Gates’ lawyer, fellow Harvard scholar Charles Ogletree, said his client showed his driver’s license and Harvard ID and repeatedly asked for the name and badge number of the officer, who refused. He followed the officer onto the front porch as he left his house and was arrested there.
Gates told The Root of his “terrifying and humiliating” experience at the Cambridge jail, where he was booked, fingerprinted, photographed and questioned, then locked up in a tiny cell that made him claustrophobic.
He said he does not know the woman who called police, Lucia Whalen, and that “she was probably doing the right thing.”
Whalen did not respond to requests for comment.