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.