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Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Harvard professor who has been much in the news this week – and was a big topic in our news roundtable  today – had a thought-provoking conversation with Tom in 2006. They discussed Gates’s journey as he explored the African heritage of black Americans. It’s as relevant today as ever. You can listen to the full hour here.

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  • Gail Rush

    Seems to me, from reports I’ve read and heard, that it was Mr Gates who brought race into the conversation. If he had presented his identification when first requested, instead of accusing the officer of racism, things would not have progressed to the point of his being arrested. The officer was doing his job, protecting Mr Gates residence from intruders reported by a neighbor. Though, once the officer was satisfied that Mr Gates had a right to be in the house, he should have just left. Both parties behaved badly for the same reason, arrogance. This situation demonstrates what happens when two people used to getting their own way behave when resisted. Media has blown this up WAY beyond it’s importance…

  • Monte Rowe

    I am a 48 year old black male who has lived in the U.S. for twenty nine years and I have had mostly positive experiences with police officers but an incident about two years ago provides me with me some insight as to what might have happened in Professor Gate’s case.

    On May 16th 2007 I was walking home from the gym when two police cars drove by me. I discovered later that they were on their way to investigate a burglary at a vacant house next door to my home. As I walked past one of the officers I said “Good evening” but instead of a response, he gave me what I would describe as a dirty look and shortly thereafter I saw him conversing with his partner. I felt an impulse to inquire about what was going on but the unfriendly look that the officer gave in response to my greetings made me decide to leave them alone and I went into my yard.

    As I prepared to enter my house I heard voices and saw two officers aiming their revolvers at me. I was surprised to see this but I was not really worried. I was thinking, they are the police, they are good guys and whatever the problem might be it will go away as soon as I show them my identification and let them know that this is my home. As I turned and walked towards them they were yelling, “show us your hands”. As I got close enough to where they could hear me I told them my name, that I lived here and that I had identification. The officers ignored everything that I said and began yelling; “get on your knees!!” I told them I had not done anything wrong and that I will not get on my knees.

    One of the officers threatened to tazer me if I did not get on my knees. I refused because I was so angered at their behavior that I would rather be tazed or shot than submit to such humiliation. The officer calmly put his revolver away, got out his gun tazer and blasted me twice in the chest. Between blasts I stood thinking this cannot be happening in the United States and when will this crazy man simply take my wallet and see that he is abusing an innocent man on his own property. To make a long story short, the officers pulled me to the ground, handcuffed me and charged me with hindering the duties of a public servant. They also wrote a false report that stated I was trying to escape from them. I had no criminal record, a good job, a college degree and a home and yet a couple of white officers think it is okay to treat me in such an unjust manner. After spending $5000 in legal expenses the case was dismissed but I often wondered about the plight of other minorities who do not have the financial resources and personal resolve to defend against police abuses.

    I still believe that police departments consist of mostly good men and women who provide valuable services to their communities. However, there are also officers who allow their negative perception of minorities to undermine their professionalism. I understand the anger of Professor Gates for being hassled in his home after he had shown the officer his identification as proof that he actually lived there and I would be critical of the officer’s report that Professor Gates was behaving in a disorderly manner. Had Professor Gates and myself been white men I believed the officers would have behaved differently and I hope that the publicity this incident has generated will help change the perception among some members of the law enforcement community that all black men are not criminals and that each encounter with members of the black community as with the white community should be treated with objectivity.

  • Walter James

    I have lived in Cleveland my entire life and have been a victim of crime 5 times. Each time the criminal was a young black male(s). Enough said.

  • Monte Rowe

    I am sorry that you have been a crime victim on so many occasions and particularly distressed the perpetrators belonged to my racial group. However, I doubt that you truly believe that black men are the only people that have committed crimes and that all members of a socially and economically diverse community should be regarded as criminals and subjected to abuse by the police. I understand that your experiences have created a negative image of blacks in your mind but this does not make your statement reasonable.

  • http://factxchange.wordpress.com/ Joseph Edgecombe

    There are both race and class issues here in the gates case – the situation is a perfect example of the black situation an America – of black American professionals both older and younger… trying to live the American dream but constantly have their dreams turned into nightmares via institutional Racism and / or the acceptance of deviant (American freedoms) behavior by establishment types or what is sometimes called white establishments, people or (old boy) club/networks. In 1991 Wesley Snipes played the (generally true) role of an aspiring black architect at a white only architectural firm who did not want to promote Wesley snipes to partner after he spent years helping the company grow, they can hired more large populations of white people and continued to use Wesley Snipes as a token black employee. After Snipes huge effort for advocating the hiring of more people of color were denied over time and seeing the covert, subtle, or indirect racism discrimination and prejudice that was the accepted culture of the company as well as After arguing (in a very upset manner), that he was the one that was responsible for the generation of growth of the company (because of the designs that he generated), and that the company will miss him as an important factor(in meetings/Presentations) his actions were belittled therefore-Wesley snipes decided to quit, soon after… while in a white social setting… a call was made to the police about a possible disturbance, Wesley Snipes was nearly shot in the head by white police officers who did not take the time to assess the situation in the proper manner. Americans need to learn from the past in order to move America ahead and presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm provided the country with this leadership we have to follow her lead not only the current trend or hype and not cover-up the factors that helped change this country for the better.
    Joseph Edgecombe (Part one of two)
    In the city of Boston institutional racism is part of the culture at the Boston (anti) Architectural Center (BAC) and/or the so-called Boston Architectural College, where the address of diversity and racial issues are not emphasized and is ignored which is quit opposite to atmosphere in many other colleges that emphasize race and diversity. The BAC has a token Oreo-like black as president which they use as a power to continue to belittle, degrade and detour black students because the culture of racism, institutional racism and the acceptance of the deviant behavior racism that has not been addressed is covered up or swept under the rug and still exists at the school which has the careless way of turning black American dreams into nightmares which leads to economic poverty in America and the underdevelopment of our cities, neighborhoods and urban communities and the loss of the American Dream. At the BAC Negative- counter productivity trumps the productive good leading the school to now be in a failed state of existence. I hope that the Cambridge police department does not follow the policy of mis-leadership and misguidance of institutions like the Boston architectural center/college. But in order to resolve this situation in Boston/the Boston area (Cambridge), In a city which has often been called racist, we should inquire or investigate as to what are Boston top racist institutions… The BAC I believe is the top, and I hope the Cambridge Police department is not following closely in second place.
    The only thing that saved Wesley Snipes -Architect (of dreams) was a white woman (girlfriend). It would seem that if Henry Louis Gates had a white woman or another white person there to save him he may not have been degraded and arrested.
    Joseph Edgecombe (Part two of two)

  • Michele

    I am a white female. I was pulled over recently in NH for speeding (I had not seen the 30-mph sign on the rural road). I was on my way to a job and risked being late and couldn’t afford to be detained any longer than absolutely necessary.

    The very first thing that came into my mind when I was pulled over was the video of the gross police misbehavior in Plano TX involving NFL running back Randy Moats. That police officer was obviously on a power trip, and so with the idea in mind that the policeman who was pulling me over might also be on a power trip, I decided to be incredibly cooperative. I sat quietly, did exactly what he asked, and poured on the yes sirs and no sirs and tried not to appear impatient.

    The officer detained me for about ten minutes, checking my license, checking my registration papers and lecturing to me a bit. The fact that I am white could have helped, but the fact that I was cooperative and have only one ticket on my record (from the early 80s) was probably the reason I was let go with only a warning.

    No one knows what went on within that house. However, if Skip Gates reacted like Monte Rowe did above, I have to say he used poor judgement.

    No question there is racial profiling in our society, and there are many people who are afraid of black men simply because they are black men. I feel very badly for Prof. Gates for Mr. Rowe that they have experienced plenty of unexplained disparate treatment that makes them more apprehensive of the police than I am. However, I can’t help but think if they had been exceedingly cooperative as I was, they would have had more pleasant experiences.

  • Monte Rowe

    Thanks Michele for your comments. I have noted in the beginning of my post that I have had mostly positive experiences with police officers. When a police officer speaks and acts in a professional manner I have no problem, but when an officer is on a “power trip” as you described it and demand that a citizen, black or white, grovels before him/her in order to avoid going to jail then we have a situation in which the officer is abusing his authority. Those who advocate that we should do whatever an authority figure demands is forgetting what it means to be an American citizen. If our nations’ founders had chosen to grovel at the feet of British colonial officers there would have been no United States as we know it today. Their resistance to an abusive authority preserved their dignity and established the foundations of a great nation. Likewise, in the 21st century Americans should not tolerate abuse from bullies who chose to use the power of the state to harass and humiliate law-abiding citizens. Are you suggesting that I should have knelt at this officer’s feet on my own property? Knowing that I have done nothing wrong? I would have been guilty of cowardice if I did what you are suggesting and would have had to live in shame for the remainder of my life. If you review my initial post you will see that I was never disrespectful to the officers, but rather they chose to disrespect me.

    During your traffic stop, as a woman and a citizen, you should not have to be fearful or massage the officer’s ego to avoid detention. When Americans begin to fear and distrust their own police then we are slowly drifting away from our ideal of freedom and democracy.

  • Mary Zaggy

    Last week, I posted a comment concerning the Professor Gates:Police incident. My thoughts and the facts which I cited stemmed from an incident wherein my son and another White friend were arrested by well-meaning but misinformed police officers while the my son and his friend were assisting another youth.

    During the incident, a third youth, who is Black, and who had also been equally involved in the incident, was NOT arrested. The Black youth,indignant at his friends’ arrests, asked the arresting officers “Why don’t you arrest me too?” Still, the officers only arrested the two White youths. (Of course, none of the young men should have been arrested, in that they were helping to save the life of a friend, which letters from the recipient of their help, and his parents, clearly stated to the authorities in the ensuing weeks.)

    While the arrests of my son and his friend were eventually thrown out of court, the case was not dismissed immediately: my son and his friend had to undergo being handcuffed, being taken via squad car to a holding cell, being booked, and being threatened with an arrest record. My son and all of the other youths involved in this incident are model citizens, and the spectre of having to report an arrest on one’s college applications was no small problem for these high school seniors.

    Was this uneven treatment of the youths in this incident racially motivated, or were some fatigued police officers making an honest mistake when dealing with an ambiguous situation? I hope that you will post this to show that there are stories to tell on both sides. My initial post was taken down fairly quickly, and it is dissimilar from most of the other posts. We do need to be balanced in this discussion if we are to get at the truth.

  • Marc

    Perceived racism is an industry. Jackson and Sharpton are two obvious and overused examples, but how many people are making their living by encouraging the perception that different groups are disadvantaged? Many politicians, community activitists, newspaper columnists, talk show hosts owe their livings to this. On the conservative side, Hannity wouldn’t have his show if he didn’t convince a lot of people that the media (and other groups) are against them. Going beyond this, doctors, lawyers, professors got into their schools and professions by taking advantage of this perception.

    This doesn’t mean racism doesn’t exist. But it does mean that even if we became a completely color-blind society, the perception would remain. An industry will defend its’ existence.

  • Joe B.

    It’s ashame Gates didn’t live in Chicago, he could have sat next to the Obama’s in Rev. Wright’s church.

  • Jo Ann

    Today on NPR there was a comment about how the police often try to silence a black male when he is being detained or questioned – the guest stated he likes to exercise his God-given right to speak and police try to intimidate him by telling him to shut up. Guess what? Police treat everyone like that and well they should. They are preserving order and safety, not having a political debate with people they stop. Gates is just lucky they didn’t shoot first and ask questions later.
    I hold him (Gates) and Barack Obama completely 100% reponsible for the whole problem – 1) fix your alarm systen or be prepared to thank the police profusely for showing up if it goes off, while you are putting your hands up and offering your identification, don’t start running your mouth and claiming your rights. You have the right to be a good citizen and not waste police time with faulty alarms. The photo of Mr. Gates on his front porch says it all to me – out of control, raging anger and disrespectful to authority.
    2) Mr. President, you made a huge fool of yourself, as usual, and had no business even commenting on Mr. Gates’ disrepect for authority. I hope you are not planning to spend taxpayers money on the little beer get-together Thursday night – I am so disgusted…
    Jo Ann N.

  • Mike

    sickening that so many on this post would give up there rights, freedoms, and democracy to the police……. wait its only okay as long as they dont have worry about it..

    This is troubling “Gates is just lucky they didn’t shoot first and ask questions later” if this the manner we wish to hold our police to. shoot first, power trips,abiltity to racially profile and no recourse yet obama staying stupid that a officer still arrested a man in his own home after finding he lived there is Heresy. talk about not supporting everything our country stands for, and freedom and democracy.

    how sad.

  • frederic c.

    Perception Professionalism and reality.

    Put race aside for a moment.

    Sergeant Crowley knew he made a mistake the moment he stepped into Henry Louis Gates’ home.

    He tried to get out and evade H. L. Gates’ request to identify himself.

    The only way Sergeant Crowley could gird himself against a complaint filed by Gates was to arrest him and cast him in a bad light.

  • Monte Rowe

    Not every negative encounter between a citizen and a police officer has racial overtones. For example, if there is a fight in progress the police have an obligation to intervene and arrest the participants. However, in the case of Professor Gates, no laws were broken and yet he was arrested. One can only speculate about what transpired between the two men that turned what should have been an otherwise positive encounter into a hostile situation. In a normal situation Professor Gates should have been appreciative of the officer for protecting his property. Clearly professor Gates had cooperated with the officer when he provided identification, as he should because the officer was investigating a burglary, but something must have gone wrong that would cause a 58-year-old professor to become upset. The fact that Professor Gates has lived for 58 years and has had no prior problems with the police suggest that he does not have a habit of losing his cool over something insignificant.

    I am also saddened by the submissive attitudes of some individuals that have posted on this forum. I hope this attitude is not representative of the majority of U.S. citizens otherwise we are destined to become a police state. “Shoot first and ask questions later” would be unacceptable to the lowest peasant in the most totalitarian state on our planet much less to Proud Americans.

  • Mike

    Just to make a point about this case, it was found out by the witness recording with the police and her lawyer that she did not tell crowley the color of the 2 mans skin, but in crowley’s report he stated that this same witness stated there were two black man.

    could it be that the police dropped the case because they found that officer crowley had knowingly false information in it?

    yet he stood by his statement’s in the report, as well as the unions. I ask to those that said he did everything by the book than please explain how having false information in a report legal?

  • Legal Immigrant

    God, what more do you African American people want? The president is African American, the attorney general is African American. What else will it take for you not to cry foul and say this is racism everytime you don’t get your way? No promotion, racism. No consideration, racism. I don’t think there is any other ethnic minority that cries racism as much as African Americans do. So we could hang a likeness of Sarah Palin and it’s not racism? I bet the reaction would be very different if it were Obama.

  • Legal Immigrant

    For all the crazy rants that some obviously African American people have uttered in this, you have kept them. NPR is obviously so left wing. Too bad you will not get my financial support.

  • Mike

    Some seem that staying mute and sub servent is the way to go,But unlike some countries some may have immigrated from abuse of power is not tolerated and since it happens to blacks, latinos often it needs to be addressed if you dont like blacks than that your own problems.

    Sickens me some people come to our country to escapes theirs and than cries about people standing up for themselves who they themselves are ranting about a African prez and attorney general like it means all the injustices are over because of that.

    How naive.

  • Monte Rowe

    I think some of the comments posted in this forum that are critical of Professor Gates’ conduct are a manifestation of the racism that exists in our society. I believe that if Professor Gates had been a 58-year-old White male the outcome would have been different. For one thing, Officer Crowley would have been more likely to accept his identification and reason for being there at face value and likewise if the responding officer had been of the same race as Professor Gates the outcome would have been different, therefore it is fair to say that race did affect the outcome of this incident. Some of the posters who are angry with Professor Gates for confronting an officer who may have acted unprofessionally would have expressed righteous indignation had it been one of their own that was unnecessarily hauled off to jail.

    Those who say that blacks cry racism too frequently have only to reflect on the state of race relations 50-60 years ago when blacks were denied positions of authority within American society and were relegated to service and laborers duties as the only means of earning a livelihood. This was the result of institutional racism that was developed over centuries and it will not disappear simply because the United States citizens have elected their first ethnic minority president. Racism seems to be a part of the human condition because it exists in most society in some form. Blacks in America can overcome racism by continuing to increase the number of educated people within the racial group thereby leading to greater social and financial success, which everyone will respect. Education and financial success are the great equalizer in society. An example is the case of the Jewish people who are known for these qualities; despite an abundance of anti-Semites in the world, they have prospered and no one messes with them because of their strength.

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