It's about our community and our spirituality!

The Audacity Of A Belligerent Black Man

Harvard Scholar Disorderly

Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested!  One of the most respected African scholars in America was arrested.  What prompted his arrest?  Mr. Gates was trying to break into his own home.  He was having trouble with his front door.  And like some people who get locked outside their own home, Mr. Gates decided to get in right then and there the best way he can.

According to the news report, somebody saw a black man trying to break into a house.  The police made a visit to the house.  By the time the police showed up Mr. Gates was inside the house.  He was asked to provide proof of his identity and proof that he lived there.  Mr. Gates produced a driver’s license and his university identification.  But then what happened dissolves into a case of his side, their side, and the truth.

The police say that Mr. Gates became belligerent.  Imagine that!  Mr. Gates arrives from an overseas trip from China, a pretty good distance and a very considerable amount of time away, only come home to find his front door stuck and he has to force himself into his own home.  Shortly thereafter, the police are knocking at his door asking him to prove he owns his house.  It isn’t hard to believe that he was upset.  Dude was probably tired.  Instead of the police recognizing an angry man in his own home, the police want the respect from a black man that they feel that they are due.  Since the police didn’t get their props from Mr. Gates, they felt it was in the best interest of the Cambridge community to pull Mr. Gates out of his house and book him on charges that amount to being angry.

The spokesperson for the Cambridge police says that mistakes were made on both sides of this issue.  As is the custom when confronting black people, the police made the mistake of following the standard procedure of throwing any and all forms of compassion out the window in favor of the heavy hand of law.  On the other hand, Mr. Gates made the mistake of being a black man and thinking he was entitled to be angry on his own property.  Both sides have made key mistakes.

Mr. Gates is only the latest black man to be hauled off to jail or harassed by police for being accused of having a bad attitude.  And contrary to what a lot of people would like to believe, this is far from being an isolated incident.  I was listening to people making their comments during a program on the radio and a lot of white people were recalling their stories with police.  How come when they were harassed by police it wasn’t racist but this case was?  What makes Mr. Gates’ arrest different?

Off the top of my head I would say that none of the stories told were about police coming into their homes and arresting people when no crime was committed.  I would say that the fact that Mr. Gates identified his self and had proven that he was entitled to be in his house.  After such a long trip, it’s pretty reasonable to think that Mr. Gates was cranky.  Add a stuck door to the picture and it’s easy to believe that he’d be pissed.  Put cops on top of that and I could see him being angry.  But Mr. Gates has no criminal record and has a history of being a good citizen.  The fifty eight year old man is an asset to the community.  But good behavior doesn’t buy much these days.

Unless he had threatened somebody the police should’ve simply walked away.  But instead of allowing good judgment to prevail, the police felt that whatever damage their egos suffered from Mr. Gates’ anger required compensation.  A black man needs to have more respect for the agents of law.

People are entitled to their anger.  As a social collective we are told that our children are entitled to be angry with their parents, we are told that spouses are entitled to be angry with their significant other, some of us believe that we are entitled to give god the middle finger if we are so moved.  But then on the flip side of these anger management coins, many of us think that the lines of anger that are so crossable in other areas of our lives must be held fast and strong lest black people lose their proper regard for law enforcers.

Instead of people seeing this incident as the latest manifestation of the collective disrespect for black people, people want to sweep it all under the rug as nothing more than an unfortunate misunderstanding between two parties who both contributed to a series of mistakes being made that resulted in the harassment of another black person.  This was just another one of those cases where cops are too quick to trample the rights of a high profile black citizen by mistaking him for the typical black person without the resources to call attention to their abuse, and a case of a black man forgetting his place in our social structure.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 - Posted by | African Americans, Black Community, Black Culture, Black People, Life, Racism, Thoughts


  1. Brother Peacemaker,

    Did you see the picture of Professor Gates being hauled away in handcuffs from his porch, escorted by several police officers? Who was it that took this photo? How were they notified that an arrest was imminent? I’ve encountered quite a few arrests. Never once were they memorialized by photo. It just seems odd…

    Comment by Carmencita | Wednesday, July 22, 2009 | Reply

  2. Carmencita, it was just a cell phone photo taken by one of Prof. Gates’ neighbors, who had noticed all of the police standing around.

    I don’t know about other situations, but if I were across the street when police swarmed the home of a neighbor as distinguished as Prof. Gates, I would certainly be watching, and would be worried enough about him to take a picture as evidence if he were handcuffed and taken away.

    Comment by James | Thursday, July 23, 2009 | Reply

  3. And pay Prof Gates did. For his show of anger at the police he lost his self respect, his dignity and his humanity. For a police officers bruised ego he is handcuffed in front of onlookers(humiliating), dragged to a police station where undoubtedly he is strip search and fingerprinted(dehumanizing) and placed in a cell. All to be done away with several hours later when the charges are dropped but can Prof Gates drop that experience from his psyche as quikly as the charges were dropped?? Now he gets to carry this until the next time he comes in to contact with the police(like we are all conditioned to do) and act accordingly.

    Comment by Aaron | Thursday, July 23, 2009 | Reply

  4. Just curious: Angry much?

    So, I come home at night and realize I’ve left my keys in the house. I start jimmying the window, and a concerned passer-by reports an attempted break in. The popo arrive. Do I become belligerent? I suppose so, if that is my nature. Or, I can idnetify myself, politely asking the officer if he would care to reach into my pocket(book) where my Driver’s License is. He does so. Mystery solved. I thank the officer for – OH NO! – protecting my property.

    Comment by Tischa | Thursday, July 23, 2009 | Reply

  5. Just curious: Racist much?

    Yes, black people need to thank police officers for protecting their property from the owners. That makes perfect sense. Thank you Mr. Policeman for protecting my property from me by pulling me out of my own home and taking me to jail. Thank you so much for putting me through so much trouble and stress because it was so obvious that my property was in danger from me! What was I thinking when I wanted to get into my own house? Thank you for setting me straight and keeping me out. Thank you so very much.


    Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Thursday, July 23, 2009 | Reply

  6. I so totally agree with your post. No matter how angry Gates got, the fact of the matter is that he was in his own house. I can think of so many things that would put me in a bad way coming home from a long trip and the door being jammed? I would have to put myself in some kind of serious meditation mode to stay calm, cool and collected because of that. Add in some police officers harassing me in my own home? It almost takes a superhuman to not be yelling and highly upset. It really should have been as simple as taking out an ID card but sadly it wasn’t. And it’s really stupid (I can’t think of any other word) to act like race didn’t have anything to do with it.

    Tischa, “Do I become belligerent? I suppose so, if that’s my nature.” I would like to come study under you to learn how you would stay so magnificently calm in such a situation. As a Black woman raising two Black boys, it may certainly come in handy one day. And are you saying that belligerence is Mr. Gates’ nature? Wow. Just wow.

    Comment by Chi-Chi | Friday, July 24, 2009 | Reply

  7. Bottom line. Dr. Gates was in his house doing nothing wrong. He showed his ID to the officer. Maybe he was a bit rude (though I find some of the language in the police report to be non-credible).

    Anyway, he shows his ID and asks for the officer’s name and badge number and HE GETS ARRESTED.

    1. This is grossly unfair.

    2. All of those police at the house for ONE person who was annoyed with the police and who wasn’t a threat to anyone else??? Do we citizens want our police to focus their resources on (possibly crotchety) old guys?

    Is anyone afraid of Professor Gates (save Harvard students who haven’t done their homework)?

    This episode is ridiculous and frankly I was a bit annoyed that President Obama felt the need to try to calm people down.

    Comment by blueollie | Friday, July 24, 2009 | Reply

  8. All in all, a sorry episode.

    I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about how African Americans have learned procedures for dealing with the police: procedures that Gates didn’t follow I presume because he felt it important to express his anger and outrage. The police, as a result, seemed to be confused and worried because the expected behavior didn’t happen.

    A white person has not been trained to expect a problem with the police, so also tends to behave according to another known script: i.e., saying something like, “I’m really glad my neighbors are so attentive to protecting my property,” or “I’m glad your doing your job, but as you can see, this is really my house.” etc., in a calm and friendly voice, probably because there is no threat expected. I don’t actually know if this kind of a response would work effectively for an African American in this situation; it would probably be hard to pull off.

    On a related note: From what I’ve observed, white Americans from an Anglo or northern European background are often trained from childhood to keep their anger under some kind of control, meaning that anger exposed or expressed is truly threatening. On the other hand, many African Americans and white Americans from other cultural backgrounds may be more open with their emotional expression, including anger, without being “out of control.”

    I suspect that training police get to prevent racial profiling training doesn’t address issues of how to be flexible yet accurate in your judgement about when someone is threatening or when someone is merely expressing anger, or how to communicate effectively with another person who is more emotionally expressive. Instead, it probably tends to train people to close their eyes to differences of color and cultural background, and to try to treat everyone exactly in the same manner. So if I only yell and scream when I am totally out of control, then I probably assume that everyone else is just the same. But it’s not true.

    Comment by Bettina Hansel | Saturday, July 25, 2009 | Reply

  9. I’ve heard 2 different stories from both Professor Gates and Sargent Crowley. The only ones who know what really happened are the two of them. Someone is lying. No one can say for sure who the person is. We will probably never know.
    I’m just curious of one thing: How do we jump from something that could have been just bad judgement from a cop with a chip on his shoulder to playing the race card?

    Comment by Joe | Saturday, July 25, 2009 | Reply

  10. Police should have known that if the person was still in the house by the time they got there it was not a criminal.

    Comment by Chris Tidman | Sunday, July 26, 2009 | Reply

  11. The answer to your question, Joe, is that a police officer with “a chip on his shoulder” who exercises that “chip” by arresting innocent people is an affront to our liberty, our security, and our sense of common decency.

    Now, I agree that there is some dispute about the facts here, and police do routinely (and appropriately) arrest persons who are being hostile towards officers in the line of duty.

    However, there is a long history in this country of law enforcement treating black citizens differently than white citizens. This still happens, quite frequently, today.

    Is it easy to tell, from the conflicting accounts here, whether race played a dominant factor in what happened? In one sense, no. This might or might not have been a police officer exhibiting racial bias … and that’s precisely what’s so troubling about the incident.

    In another sense, race was surely the key factor in this situation. Both accounts agree that Gates immediately started talking about race, it was clearly an important factor in his mind, and it seems to have been an essential ingredient in how this situation got out of hand. Why was Gates preoccupied with race from the start of the encounter? Because that is the historic black experience with law enforcement in this country, and this fact is not lost on anyone who walks through our society with dark skin.

    Comment by James | Sunday, July 26, 2009 | Reply

  12. James,

    Thank you for pointing out that Gates was the first to talk about race. Would he have brought up race if Crowley was black?

    No. Gates called Crowley a racist because of the color of Crowley’s skin.

    I am not disagreeing with the history of cops vs. black citizens. But if history is what motivated Gates to call a white cop a racist before the cop had demonstrated any racial bias, who’s the real racist?

    Comment by Joe | Sunday, July 26, 2009 | Reply

  13. Joe, you say that you know Gates called Crowley a racist because Crowley is white.

    However, the central contention offered by Gates was that the police, collectively, were privileging the word of a white woman over a black man. That has nothing to do with the race of any particular officer on the scene.

    So you might want to be careful about assuming you know what Gates would have done in another situation.

    It’s easy for you to say that citizens should wait patiently, even if they have reason to suspect they may be the victim of official mistreatment on the basis of race, until they have proof.

    It’s not so easy if you have to live, every day, never knowing which incidents, large and small, are the result of racial bias.

    Comment by James | Monday, July 27, 2009 | Reply

  14. What white woman? If you are referring to the 911 caller, she is described as having “olive colored skin and is of Portuguese descent.”
    I guess what you are saying is that Gates assumed that a “white woman” reported the incident and that is what made him play the race card.
    I guess it IS easier to call everyone a racist when you can’t pick the real ones out if the crowd.

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Comment by Joe | Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | Reply

  15. Joe, Gates apparently said, in the heat of the moment, that a white woman reported his break-in. And he was right.

    Portugal is a European nation, and those of Portuguese descent are of European descent and are classified in modern American society as being racially white.

    If you don’t think the Portuguese are “white enough,” then that’s your issue. Gates would agree that many European groups, including the Portuguese, were once considered in this country to be racially distinct. But they aren’t any more, and if they are sometimes considered to be ethnically different, it’s not the same as being seen as black (or Asian, etc.).

    Comment by James | Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | Reply

  16. I stand corrected.
    At least Gates was able to identify the portuguese woman as white within seconds of being confronted by the police. What a gift! I would hate for his racist remarks to be inadvertently aimed at the wrong race.
    Besides, I doubt the identity of the woman as given to him by anyone at the time he was questioned by Crowley.

    Comment by Joe | Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | Reply

  17. Joe, why are you disputing what Professor Gates said, if you aren’t familiar with the facts of the case?

    In fact, it’s been reported that the woman who placed the 911 call came outside and spoke with Crowley, so Gates could easily have seen her. Crowley is also heard on the radio and in the police report making a big deal out of the race of everyone involved, so it’s hardly surprising if he mentioned the race of the caller (or the original witness) to Gates.

    Far more important than these red herrings is the issue of whether race played a role in Crowley’s behavior, and why race was so important in how Professor Gates approached the confrontation. I think these issues speak volumes about the state of race relations in our country today.

    Comment by James | Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | Reply

  18. Joe,

    The recognition of racism is not a gift. It is simply a matter of opening eyes and taking a good look at the world around us. A lot of people act like police arresting law abiding citizens out of their own houses when no crime was committed is a natural thing. But really it’s not. And since it predominantly happens with one group of people, the majority of us aren’t concerned with this brand of injustice. People want to paint Mr. Gates as the real problem here. There is no law against being angry or saying mean things that are without threat. Whether or not Mr. Gates knew for a fact that a white woman called the police on him is not the issue here. The fact that Mr. Gates was angry over nothing is not the issue either. He is entitled to his emotions. The issue is that we have a black man being arrested for being angry.


    Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | Reply

  19. No doubt this was a bad situation for all parties.

    You stated: Whether or not Mr. Gates knew for a fact that a white woman called the police on him is not the issue here.

    According to James, that WAS the issue. And it is for me too.

    If we could stop the clock at the moment Gates brought up race, and just for now focus on the situation that existed BEFORE he was arrested.

    You have said that police have a history of treating blacks harshly. I will say again that I am not disputing that fact. But if the actions of others in the past(cops, white women, etc.) is what caused Gates to suggest that race was an issue, isn’t that the behavior of a racist?

    I won’t argue about the arrest. That part we agree on and I don’t think it should have happened.

    Where we do disagree is that the issue is not that we have black man who is angry. The issue is that we have a black man who is a racist.

    Comment by Joe | Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | Reply

  20. James, I agree with your last statement. Race relations in our country need alot of work. Race shouldn’t be an issue. My purpose here is to expose the fact that racism can go both ways. I understand that it is a part of your daily life and I sympathize, but I experience it too, just not every day.

    Comment by Joe | Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | Reply

  21. Joe,

    “The issue is that we have a black man who is a racist.”

    This is the issue for a lot of people who feel that the real problem is a black man who might be racist instead of the fact that we may have racism in our police departments. How can the fact that Mr. Gates was correct about a white woman calling the police on him make him a racist? If Mr. Gates knows he is the only minority in his neighborhood would it make him a racist to assume his neighbors are white? If this is the case, by that very same logic, would it be safe to assume that the fact that you assumed that Mr. Gates is a black racist would make you a racist? And how come you focus on the fact that he said that the woman was white? Would the fact that he assumed it was a woman mean that Mr. Gates is also a sexist? But for some reason, you are only focused on the race issue. Would the fact that you might be ignoring the gender issue confirm your racism?

    According to this police report, Mr. Gates was looking out the window as Officer Crowley conversed with a white woman holding a cell phone outside Mr. Gates’ house. It appears he made an assumption that the woman the officer was talking to was the person who called the police. How can this observation and assumption make him a racist and the issue here?


    Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | Reply

  22. Joe,

    You make little sense to me. Why are we focused on something that is besides the case. Did the police arrest Mr. Gates because he correctly identified the race of the person who called the police? If not then it is after the actual incident.

    If you looked at the police report, or listened to the police tapes, you would have heard early on that the police officer identified Gates as being the home owner. So now there is only one issue. WHY ARE THE POLICE STILL IN HIS HOME ASKING QUESTIONS OR WHATEVER?

    They know he is the homeowner so now the case is closed, GOODBYE! It becomes harassment after that. The police would not have encountered an angry Gates if they had moved on after the incident was over. They don’t have any business nor any right to continue bothering a person once they see the call was wrong.

    That is the problem! Everyone wants to ignore what was happening and focus on what Gates was doing. He was in his home and THAT IS NOT A CRIME! So let’s focus on the REAL crime, and that is false arrest.


    Comment by theblacksentinel | Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | Reply

  23. I was only answering James’ comment. He specifically said that the issue is that a white woman called the police. I was answering to that. That is why this was my area of focus.
    Before this incident, I didn’t give race a second thought. The Gates arrest is what got me thinking about racism in America and that is how I found your site. I am not a racist, but I see “reverse racism” in my daily life and always turned away. I felt that it was time to at least try to identify that it is possible for the black community to realize it goes the other way too. I’m not trying to get you to fight, I just wanted to spark a discussion. Your article that you posted yesterday comfirms that you are aware of the “reverse racism” issue.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Joe | Thursday, July 30, 2009 | Reply

  24. Joe, I didn’t say that this was the main issue. I said that what Gates was arguing at the time involved the idea that there were a white woman and a black man in the situation.

    I also said that this was a “red herring,” and that there were more important issues here.

    Part of the problem with race in this country, Joe, is that so many Americans who benefit from our racial divide don’t even “give race a second thought.” It’s an invisible issue to them, or they believe that they are color-blind and that there are therefore no problems with race–or if there are, they aren’t part of the problem. Race is more subtle than that.

    Comment by James | Sunday, August 2, 2009 | Reply

  25. New essay “The Gates Affair:Why We Care” yours to publish
    Dear readers and webmasters,

    Author Daniel Bruno Sanz has written an essay about Gatesgate. We encourage its publication and distribution.


    Navas S.

    “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

    – 4th Amendment to the The Constitution of the United States of America

    Comment by Daniel Bruno | Thursday, August 20, 2009 | Reply

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