Henry Louis Gates Jr. is BLACK?! Quick, Call the Cops!
By now you’ve heard that Henry Louis Gates Jr., affectionately known as Skip Gates to his homies, was suspected of, get this, breaking an entering…through the front door…of his own house… Yes.
So basically what happened is a young woman saw the very famous Gates Jr. struggling to get into a house, and of course she did the only natural thing that anybody else woulda done- she assumed that negro was breaking and entering! Thank gawd for cell phones- she was able to alert authorites right away!
In her defense, yes, Gates says through his lawyer that he did have to force the door because it was jammed- but does that make him a criminal? Ever break into your own car before? Sent a kid through the window because ya’ll somehow got locked out? I’m reading people who find it “suspicious” he couldn’t get his door open. Oh please.
And people over-react and misinterpret situations all the time. I had a neighbor call the police on me once. My crime? Parking in front of my house (in a rental) but not getting out of the car. Minding my P’s and Q’s when suddenly a cop is tapping on my window with the butt of a flashlight asking me what I’m doing there and to step out of the car? Uhhh, no, I won’t step out of the car.
At the start I have to say, I have a very soft spot for this man, mostly because he is brilliant, he is fair, and he is balanced. He doesn’t excuse the inexcusable. He doesn’t stretch to connect dots that otherwise wouldn’t go together. From where I sit I can look at one of the many places I keep books in the house and see one that he co-authored: African American Lives.
Gates currently serves as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard, as the Direct or the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. He is, in a word, brilliant.
But I digress.
While attempting to enter his own home, Gates “got into it” with the cop who responded to the call.
And well he should have.
You can read the police report yourself, which is comedy and will stink right through your computer screen, it’s so full of shit, but at one point Gates says to the officer, “I’ll see yo mamma outside…”
I’ll take a bit of writer’s liberty with the official translation: Fuck. You. Copper.
There was no crime. No crime. The man has NO record. He was at HIS OWN house. It should have been over at that point.
But it was just getting started. Because in any scenario where you have a cop and a non-cop, there is a play for power. The police always think they have it, that they should have it, and that they’re never wrong, even when they’re wrong. So rather than getting his ass back into the squad car- he tried to push his power onto the Professor.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. is not some smart mouth thug. He’s not one of those famous people that throws his fame around to get what he wants. He’s an educator. The entire thing is laughable, really, except…
Years ago, my Uncle had a run-in with the cops. He made the mistake of going to his bank of 25 years and trying to deposite a check in his name into his account. Can you imagine that?
His crime? He didn’t have his driver’s license on him; it was in the car.
But the policy is that ID is only required on such a transaction if the customer wants cash back. Unc didn’t want cash back. He wanted to deposite the full amount. The branch manager, using her “discression”, denied him. He didn’t get ignorant (he doesnt know how), but he did protest. The check was a few hundred dollars. His balance more than covered it.
She insisted on refusing. And then she called the police. I might not have believed what happened next if I hadn’t read the trascript of the call myself:
Threatening, menacing Black man. Over 6 feet tall. Big, large, very big man. Those were the words she used to discribe Unc.
Unc can’t be taller than 5′ 8″ (sorry Unc), and I really wanted to say 5′ 7″. He’s smaller than me and I’m on the tall end of short (work with me). Threatening? Menacing? Never. I mean never. It’s just not possible. One of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. No criminal record. Hard working, loving family man.
The police came and arrested him. Took him out in handcuffs. It’s things like that- it’s hard for our men, it’s so damn hard, for so many damn reasons.
Now, up until that point, yes, I’d seen racism in action, I’d seen discrimination at work, I’d seen friends get jacked up by the police, but Unc? Unc?! I was a teenager, so that took the equation in a new direction for me. It was the frist time that I realized that people who are racist or who turn the wheels of racist institutions have the power to see Unc, you, me, us, in a way outside of our control. I was young, so for, me it was simple, we had good Black people and bad Black people, and Unc was so obviously one of the good ones so…why did they do that to him? Because he was Black. And because of what they thought that meant, because they had the power to make him something other than what he truly was- which was a customer with a legal transaction. I’ve done that same thing probably hundreds of times; deposit money with no ID, you don’t need ID for that transaction. Think about it, anyone can deposit money into your account, they don’t have to prove who they are for that- ever.
But again, I digress.
Henry Louis Gates Jr is 58 years old. What is a 58 year old salt and pepper bearded Black man doing breaking into a house- dressed like the smartest coolest nerd on campus AND has bags to carry? That just doesn’t make sense.
And quite frankly, when CRIMINALS see the police coming and they are in the process of COMITTING a crime- they don’t stay there (they also don’t break into houses via front doors- hello, back wondow, duh)- they run. Fast. I mean really, really fast.
Protecting and serving is about common sense. Comon, mofo sense. I was edumakated in criminal justice so I’ve taken the same damn training that idiot took. Rule number ONE for protecting and serving; use. common. sense.
They didn’t have to know who he was. This isn’t a situation of the professor vs any other Black man. They’re all lumped together here.
What was he wearing.
What was his reaction initially when police arrived (not much)?
What did he say (before the mamma crack, which was brilliant)?
I think it was Dave Chapelle who joked that all Black people are certified paralegals. The joke implies that because Black people get screwed over by the system so much, they have to know the ins and outs of the system- and the law, and that such knowledge is a Black birthright, if you will. We know that racial profiling is real and happens a thousand times a day across this country. We know the “rules” for driving while Black, shoot, we know the rules for breathing while Black.
Running with that theory, it’s easy to understand why Gates wasn’t playin’ this shit. Can’t say I would’ve either. Once I prove I am who I say I am, get the hell of my porch.
Instead, Gates was arrested and charged with, you guess it, disorderly conduct, AKA the trump 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.
If you’re Black then you know what it means when people accuse you of being loud- it means you might actually be eloquently and calmly advocating for yourself to a person who really doesn’t want to hear it.
Tumultuous is another matter altogether. wtf does THAT mean? The root word, tumult, means a disorderly commotion or disturbance. What they’re trying to say is Gates got ignorant with them and carried on like a fool.
You may think I’m just ranting, so here’s a much more eloquent examination:
The officer was responding to a report of a felony in progress. It was appropriate for him to come to the porch and to interact with Professor Gates and to ask questions such as how many persons are in the residence, etc. It is arguable that the officer had probable cause to enter the residence based on the citizen report of a break-in.
However, once Professor Gates has been identified, the probable cause for entry disappears. Absent any other reason to be present, the officer should have expressed regrets for the inconvenience (although at this point the officer had done nothing wrong or outside either policy or procedure) and left the house.
It is on the porch, where Professor Gates and the officer were clearly most upset, where I feel that his Federal civil rights and human dignity were grossly violated.
Ordering a person to calm down is widely known to be a serious error in police work. Dr. George Thompson’s seminal book “Verbal Judo,” which is widely used to teach police officers, states that ordering a person to calm down never works. This is consistent with training I have received and my own observations in the field.
Displaying a weapon (handcuffs) is also not a technique used to calm a person. It is an escalation which generally culminates in a use of force, as it did in this case.
Moving immediately from verbal arrest to overcoming physical resistance is also not a recommended law enforcement technique, in the absence of any urgent or threatening circumstances. The presence of several officers negates officer safety concerns.
Last but not least, it is not at all clear to me that the public conduct in question is not protected 1st Amendment speech. The officer’s prior accuracy in relating the contents of the speech is abruptly missing — calling him a racist and statements of self-importance (mislabeled by the officer as ‘threats’) suddenly turns to “yelling.”
The other officer states that Professor Gates shouted, “This is what happens to Black Men in America!” Sounds like protected 1st Amendment speech to me.