Obama Comments on Arrest of Henry Gates For Breaking Into His Own Home

Black man arrested for breaking into his own home

Here’s a thing that’s causing controversy in the United States at the moment.  It concerns a black college professor, who forgot his keys and broke into his own house.  Neighbours called the cops and there was a confrontation, leading to accusations of racism.

Now, I don’t know.  I have no position on this at all, but I do think it illustrates the precarious nature of black-white relations in the US and perhaps on this side of the pond as well, and I’d be interested to find out what people think.

My personal view is that the police report is highly suspicious, reeks of collusion, and has all the signs of being doctored, but there you go.  That’s just me.

On the other hand, if somebody broke into my house while I was away, and if the cops turned up, I think I’d want them to try and establish the identity of the person in my home.

I wonder if it all comes down to the profile of a burglar.   Does Henry Gates fit that profile in the cop’s mind?  If Gates was white, would the policeman still have thought he fit the profile or would he have got back into his cruiser and left without further ado?

Perhaps that’s the issue.

Our regular contributor, Seconds Out, has this.  See what you think:

Barack Obama, who was making a speech on an unrelated issue in the White House today – the one of Pennsylvania Avenue, digressed to tell the audience that the Police Force in Cambridge, Massachusetts had acted stupidly.  He was speaking after  Sergeant James Crowley, a white man,  arrested Henry James Gates Jnr, a black man,  in his own home on Tuesday.

Gates is a professor and head of Harvard’s Institute for African and African/American Research. When he arrived home on Tuesday he broke in through the back door when he couldn’t find his keys.  A neighbour called  the cops and when Sergeant Crowley entered the house, Gates was already inside.  Crowley, according to police reports, asked for identification but Gates shouted that he would not give any information and called the sergeant a racist.

Again, according to the police report, Gates shouted “This is what happens to black men in America.”  and when Crowley tried to calm him down, Gates shouted, “You don’t know who you’re messing with.”

We must always remember that this is according to the police report, and not independent witnesses, but let us proceed nonetheless.

The report continues that the shouting went on after Gates and the officers walked out onto the front porch. When Gates allegedly wouldn’t cooperate or calm down, Crowley arrested him.

Crowley told a radio station that he asked Gates to step outside because he didn’t know who he was, and as a lone officer, didn’t know if his safety was compromised.

“I had no other motive than to ensure my safety, or he could’ve been the homeowner who was unaware that there were people in his house unauthorized. I just didn’t know,” Crowley said.

The professor wrote that he is shocked by the incident.

“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.”

Crowley insists that he is not a racist, pointing out that he  gave CPR to a dying Reggie Lewis, the Boston Celtics star who had a fatal heart attack in 1993 during a practice game at Brandeis University.

“I wasn’t working on Reggie Lewis the basketball star. I wasn’t working on a black man. I was working on another human being,” he added.

Meanwhile, Gates, who is a friend of Obama’s,  has demanded an apology from Crowley, who says he won’t apologise.

“That apology will never come. It won’t come from me as Jim Crowley. It won’t come from me as a sergeant in the police department.  I know what I did was right. I have nothing to apologise for,” he insisted.

Crowley’s Union and his fellow police officers, both black and white, released a statement saying they are fully behind the sergeant.

Obama said that this incident shows that there is a long history of racial profiling in the United States.

“Race remains a factor in the society. That doesn’t lessen the incredible progress that has been made. I am standing here as testimony to the progress that’s been made. And yet the fact of the matter is, is that, you know, this still haunts us,” he said.

“And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently and often time for no cause casts suspicion even when there is good cause.”

Crowley said that he was disappointed with Obama’s statement, pointing out that he didn’t know all the facts.

Meanwhile, black groups have condemned the police – some of the officers on the scene were black – and claim that if  Gates was a white man in his own house he would have been treated differently.

But supporters of Crowley maintain that Obama’s statement has undermined the police and that if Crowley was a black police officer that Gates wouldn’t have behaved so belligerently and would have shown his ID, thus diffusing the situation from the onset.

Who is in the wrong here. Crowley? Gates? Obama? Or all three?

All charges against Gates have been dropped.

26 thoughts on “Obama Comments on Arrest of Henry Gates For Breaking Into His Own Home

  1. Gates is in the wrong. The first time I read this news, I wondered why he didn’t just show some ID – after all, he /had/ broken (literally) through the front door, so of course there was some suspicion on the officer’s part, and with very good reason.

    As far as I can see, the officer did not do or say anything which was racist. Gates just off-the-bat assumed that if a cop is asking you a question, it’s because you’re black.

    I think he should slap some sense into himself.

    This is actually very like that news earlier today of a feminist organisation snubbing some money offered by women because it had been earned by doing a calendar. In this case, they think that because the calendar was nude, there was therefore sexism involved. here y’are

    Everyone should just chill – stop being so damned offended at everything!

    Except for religious freaks, obviously. I really want to see /that/ shit-storm take off.

  2. I think it was the back door. If it was here, you’d probably engage with the cops, maybe bring them in for a coffee or something, but perhaps things in the States are different. Maybe the cops over there are inclined to say Step away from the coffee machine.

  3. Can’t understand why he didn’t just show some ID. It’s a very reasonable request considering the officer had just been called out to attend a suspected break in. Would Mr Gates be happy to find out a white man had broken into his house and was assumed to be the owner by the attending officer on his own say so without any ID check ?
    Mr Gates above all people should definitely not be playing the Ali-G “Is it becoz I is black?” card. Equality doesn’t work the way he seems to think it does.

    Obama has shot his bolt on this one too.

  4. Well I guess thats one safe house now for thieves to raid.They can drive a van up break down the door and clear it out in broad daylight.Dont think the cops will respond to any calls.

  5. Dear Staff,
    My name is Raymond Carnation I along with two other Philadelphia Police Officer that opposed racism
    against African Americans and were fired in 1999 for doing so.
    The case set precedent in federal court, Myrna Moore vs. The City of Philadelphia.
    Below are articles on our story and we want to ask President Obama to place police racism on our national agenda. In order for this to happen we need as much support
    as possible. I hope your staff can join this campaign and write on the wide spread problem in our country. Feel free to contact me if you wish. Thank you and God Bless.
    Warmest Regards,
    Raymond Carnation
    Philadelphia Pa. 19135




    http://www.citypaper.net/article s/060399/news.cb.unfortunate. shtml

    Racism in Police Departments Must Be on the National Agenda

    By Keith Rushing
    I hope that the U.S. Department of Justice in the Barack Obama administration on will he do what no ne have done before: take serious measures to end the rampant racism and abuse of power in police departments across America. OF if course, we can’t expect miracles in the span of…
    URL to article: http://www .justdemocracy blog. org/?p=791

  6. I have read extensively on this topic and come to the conclusion Crowley was well within his power as a police officer. Crowley, who use to teach the topic of “Racial Profiling” at the police academy for 5 years. His partners, who provided backup, one was black, the other Hispanic.

    He was called in from a 911 call about two black assailants appeared to be trying to break in. ( From my understanding the door was jammed, and not keys lost ) Possibly the door was ajar open because being broken, after Gates was trying to fix it, but not sure. So that alone would be enough probable cause for the officer to enter without permission, ( along with 911 call ) Asked Gates to provide identification that he initially refused. Then proceeded to cause a disturbance ( disorderly ) outside his residence. Considering it was late at night it would cause a disturbance to the neighborhood, being most were asleep. Which caused his arrest.

    For one, don’t ever argue with the police officer. Even if they maybe wrong, or you think they are, you might be the one who is ended up justifiably arrested because of it. You can always file a complaint later if you feel you were in the right. That is the correct way to do it.

  7. Who the hell cares, just another case of people in this case Gates having an issue with authority (fine for everybody else but not me). So he pulls the offended minority card, in this case the race card.

  8. Echoing Kae.
    Just imagine Mr Gates while showing his ID smilingly explaining the reason for his break-in and praising his neighbours’ attention …
    Life could (sometimes) be such nice and easy.

  9. Leaving aside Crowley and Gates for moment. Has Obama undermined the Police force? He claimed that the police acted “stupidly”, whilst admitting in the same breath that he didn’t know all the facts. He is also a friend of Gates he admitted. So why are two high profile black men attacking a white man for doing his job? I believe that Obama is the commander in chief of the Police?

  10. He’s the commander in chief of the armed forces. The police are not a unified structure. Each city has its own police force and they don’t answer to the President.

  11. I think it says something about the neighbours and community involved, when the neighbour saw two black men at a black man’s house they automatically called the police! I suspect if it was two white men at a white man’s house they might have gone over to check what was going on first.

  12. @Ruth, I think you’re missing the point here – the neighbours saw two people kicking in the door of a house.

    Whether those people were white or black makes no difference. The /only/ person who called racism on this was Gates himself, who appears to be incapable of seeing this from others’ perspectives.

  13. i wonder why the neighbours did not recognise gates? is it possible gates is looking for some street cred? an interesting anectode for his lectures perhaps. one think i do know, if the guards ever responded to a break in at my house and found someone inside, i’d hope they’d have the cop on to ask for some id.

  14. It must be nice to have friends in high places. It was stupid for Obama to interject his opinion into a matter that was still under investigation and take sides for a friend of his.

    Then Obama and the Mass Gov call in question the actions of the police. What about the actions of a supposedly educated Harvard professor who acted like a damn fool?

    Gates wanted to get into an argument with the police officer and cry racism, and Obama took the bait. The reporting officer was Latino and the other officer was African-American. The photo of Gates screaming and yelling as he is led from the house speaks volumes itself.

  15. @Ruth

    There were previous burglaries in the area and someone had seen the suspects and they were black. Gates even told Sgt. Crowley that someone had broken into his house the week before. By his own admission Gates said that he had been burglarized before.

  16. Obama called Crowley today, and whilst he did not apologise for his comments he expressed regret according to ABC. Meantime, Obama wants Crowley and Gates to have a beer with him in the White House. Crowleys lawyers might have other ideas however.

  17. I live nearby and I can say forcefully that in the People’s Republik of Cambridge racial profiling isn’t much of a problem. Cambridge is a looney, looney far left wing city (the city council, whose actual powers extend to things like parking meters and garbage pickup, voted to impeach Bush a few years ago). Gates is a rich, privileged Harvard asshole and acted like an idiot. This would have been a 2 minute encounter if Gates had just shown his ID and shut the fuck up. He did show his ID, but he then proceeded to act totally insane, which is how one gets arrested for the generic “disorderly conduct” in the U.S. (and on a similar charge everywhere in the world, I suspect). The thing that seems to be consistently left out of the conversation on this is that Gates benefits from the controversy.

    I defer to Chris Rock on how to handle interactions with the police:

  18. An officer of the law is called to what is described to the emergency services as a break-in because that is what it looks like. The officer quite rightly asks the person he finds in the house to identify himself and the man refuses and accuses the officer of racism. Forget the colour of the participants in this vignette or better yet pretend they were reversed or they were the same. How many scenarios could be played out from those computations and how many could have a much worse outcome than this one. I like Obama but I think he made his first silly mistake here. And Mr. Gates owes the officer an apology, not the other way around.

  19. Henry Gates showed the police his drivers license when he was asked for his ID, he was inside his own house and his house address was on the license along with his photo, but when Gates asked the arresting policeman for his name and badge number, which hew is entitled to under the law, the cop refused and walked outside.
    Gates followed him outside demanding his name and this is when he got arrested.
    The police in the USA are a masonic organization who are outside the law.
    This was a case of redneck police, but they will be protected.


  20. Off Topic.
    What has OJ Simpson, Stephen Gerrard, and Amy Winehouse have in common, no awards if you guess this one right.
    Also I am convinced it was Santa Claus who killed Jon Benet Ramsey.

  21. Nice liberal left winger here but in this case I do side with Crowley. Gates is a drama king in real life and I could see him making a major scene. If there is a report of a suspected burglary the cop must establish unequivocably the identity of the person on the scene. Imagine if they did not. That Gates took offense to this is no surprise as he really is a Harvard elite accustomed to being handled with kid gloves. Crowley is well versed in racial profiling and it’s implications as he’s an instructor at the Police Academy on the topic, so above all other white cops he would be the most sensitive to racial undertones in this situation (or overtones, since Gates apparently wasn’t going quietly into the night) . In addition the other cops were both minorities so they too would have been congenitally sensitive:)
    Truly I wish Obama had chosen his words better, and frankly I’m surprised at his looseness intially on this. As I’ve said a million times here I’m a fan of his and worked hard to get him elected.
    Would love to be all anti-establishment in condemning Crowley but in this instance I just can’t. (I hate when I end up on the same side of an opinion as Republicans. It gives me the itches) I think Crowley followed protocol, met an ivory tower privileged guy who made a great drama out of this and unfortunately found himself in a national incident.

  22. i must say bock a very even debate if the facts are as stated then President Obama and Prof Gates owe an apology to Sgt. Crowley and the police force. This must be the first time Obama put his foot in it and should have the humility to appologise.

  23. 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 clearly established long before the dispute escalated and transitioned into other issues;

    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.

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