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Post-racial my ass! On the arrest of Henry Louis Gates in his own home

July 29, 2009

by Carl Dix

In this photo taken by a neighbor, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. is arrested at his home in Cambridge. – Photo: Bill Carter, Demotix Images
In this photo taken by a neighbor, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. is arrested at his home in Cambridge. – Photo: Bill Carter, Demotix Images
Harvard professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates is arguably the most prominent Black intellectual in the U.S. On July 14, cops in Cambridge, Massachusetts, forced him to do a perp walk from his own home to a police car in handcuffs. The charge was disorderly conduct, but Gates’ real offense was being Black and unwilling to bow and scrape when ordered to do so by a white cop.

The cop responded to a report of a daytime break-in into the home Gates rents from the university and asked the professor to step outside. Gates refused to do so and demanded to see the cop’s ID. This challenge to the cop’s authority led to the arrest, which happened AFTER the cop had found out that Gates was indeed inside his own home! In this cop’s mind, a Black man questioning his authority and asking to see his police ID constituted “loud and tumultuous behavior” punishable by the humiliation of being taken from your home in handcuffs.

The charges have since been dropped, and the Cambridge Police Department has issued a statement saying Gates should not have been arrested. But this incident was very serious. Had Gates not been able to quickly call his secretary who got his lawyer down to the jail in short order, there’s no way to know what this could’ve escalated into.

Those who blame Gates for escalating the situation and causing his own arrest are saying he should’ve been more servile, with his head bowed and shuffling. These people either don’t know what all too often happens when cops confront Black people, or are trying to cover this reality up.

Black people are disproportionately stopped, harassed, beaten, arrested and even killed by cops. The Stolen Lives Project of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality documented over 2,000 cases of loss of life at the hands of police in the U.S. between 1990 and 2000. Most of the people killed were Black or Latino and most weren’t involved in any criminal activity when they lost their lives.

Some of the people this has happened to were well off, had played by the rules and done everything they were supposed to do to make it. Yet none of this mattered. Black people face inequality and discrimination in virtually every facet of life in this country. This oppression is built into the very fabric of this country, and it will take revolution and going on to build a whole new society to replace this messed up one to eradicate it once and for all.

Right wing talk radio, Fox News and other such forces were quick to charge racism in response to this incident – against Gates! These people were upset that Gates not only questioned the cop, but that he had the audacity to say he was being targeted because he was a Black man. They also took Barack Obama to task for saying during a news conference that the police acted “stupidly” in arresting Gates inside his own home.

There’s multiple irony involved in all this. Some of the very people who cite the election of Obama as proof that the U.S. has become a post-racial society respond to cops arresting a Black man in his own home by calling the Black man racist. At the same time, the president who has repeatedly lectured Black people to stop using racism as an excuse for the inequality and oppression they face gives a white cop a verbal slap on the wrist for the way he treated this Black professor.

Obama and his team felt compelled to address this only because he has been called out for carefully avoiding even addressing the hell Black people continue to catch in the U.S. Obama’s tsk-tsk to the Cambridge cops doesn’t address the seriousness of this incident. And this mild rebuke to the cops for this incident (which the White House began to back away from the next day with “clarifications”) in no way makes up for the way in which he has blamed Black people for the conditions the system he presides over enforces on them.

Obama’s “no excuses” speeches (see his speech at the recent NAACP convention for an example of this) have never been about tough love. The problem with them isn’t that they don’t go far enough. They go in the wrong direction! They say Black people face the problems they do because of their own faults and shortcomings. They cover over the oppression brought down on them by this system. And they threaten and justify the even more vicious attacks this system has in store for Black people.

What was done to Gates opens a window into the way this system oppresses Black people. This ugly and continuing reality needs to be fully dragged out into the light of day, and all who oppose injustice need to condemn it unequivocally and build opposition to it. And those who are sick and tired of it for real need to check out the revolution and understand that THIS system has always thrived on and reinforced oppression of Black people, in one form or another – never has, never can and never will create a society where Black men and women can truly breathe free, day in day out – and must be replaced with a revolutionary communist one where this and all other forms of oppression can finally be eliminated.

Carl Dix is a founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. In 1970, Carl was one of the Fort Lewis 6, six GIs who refused orders to go to Vietnam. He served two years in Leavenworth Military Penitentiary for this stand. In 1985, Carl initiated the Draw the Line statement, a powerful condemnation of the bombing of the MOVE house in Philadelphia. In 1996, Dix was a co-founder of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality. In 2006, he coordinated the Katrina hearings of the Bush Crimes Commission. He recently participated in a dialogue with Cornel West at Aaron Davis Hall titled, “The Ascendancy of Obama… and the Continued Need for Resistance and Liberation” and was interviewed with Dr. West on Democracy Now. He can be reached through yipzzz@gmail.com.

9 thoughts on “Post-racial my ass! On the arrest of Henry Louis Gates in his own home

  1. Malaika H. Kambon

    ok.

    Riddle me this, and riddle me that:

    HARVARD PROF GATES IS HALF-IRISH, RELATED TO COP WHO ARRESTED HIM
    http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Henry-Gates-has-50-Per-Cent-Irish-Roots–51568452.html

    Gates reputedly ‘speaks proudly’ of his ‘Irish roots,’ allegedly linked – with James Crowley, arresting cop – to the ‘legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages, a famous Irish chieftan.’

    Ergo, what is it, precisely, that Gates is screaming about?

    m

    Reply
  2. PJ

    Crowley’s partner in the arrest was a black officer who said he stands “100 percent” behind Crowley and that Gates acted “strange.” Sixteen years ago, Crowley gave CPR to an unconscious black Boston Celtics star, Reggie Lewis, in an attempt to save his life. The memory of his failure caused Crowley to break down in tears and haunts him to this day. Crowley was selected by a black police lieutenant to teach fellow officers about racial profiling. He has been doing this for five years.

    Watching TV coverage for a week, one has yet to hear one cop anywhere condemn Crowley’s handling of the incident. Outside the fevered imagination of Louis Henry Gates, then, where is the evidence Crowley engaged in racial profiling? There is none. The victim here is Sgt. Crowley, not professor Gates.

    Reply
  3. Malaika H. Kambon

    Yet, the person who reported the attempted ‘break-in’ has since re-phrased the original statement to be that she ‘wasn’t sure’ that a break-in was being attempted…

    And – here is an equally intriguing article:
    HENRY LOUIS GATES, TROY ANTHONY DAVIS, and the 21st CENTURY COLOR LINE
    http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=108491305027&h=Z0zvD&u=Beetd&ref=mf

    Racial profiling and police brutality are significant acts of repeated terrorism globally, make no mistake. I am also under no illusions whatever that any police force anywhere is the friend of any person of color – particularly AFRIKANS – anywhere.

    One of my concerns with the Gates case is, however, that given Professor Gates’ propensity for lauding his IRISH heritage, and not his AFRIKAN heritage, what precisely – I repeat – is he screaming about?

    Robert Nesta Marley’s father was a member of the British military, but I have not ever once heard him ‘speak proudly’ of any ‘English roots…’

    I am perfectly willing to believe that Henry Louis ‘Skip’ Gates felt and was terrorized and abused and has a right to feel so, for being accused of attempting to break into his own home, ostensibly due to his – outward – AFRIKAN appearance.

    This speaks of racial profiling, stereotyping, racism: call it what you will, i.e.; the ancient rule of thumb followed by many in authority within imperialism: that, per the infamous Dred Scott Decision, an AFRIKAN has no rights that a white person is bound to respect.

    I’m just mildly curious as to what is going on in Henry’s Head: does he scream oppression because he’s Irish, or oppression because he’s AFRIKAN?

    Riddle me this, and riddle me that…

    Forward,
    m

    Reply
  4. Irish Me

    Everybody is overreacting to this. If my neighbor called the police thinking they someone breaking into my home and the police arrived while I was trying to jimmy my own door I would have to admit that I looked pretty foolish and the police had every right to question me as to my motives. All one can do in such a situation is admit stupidity and provide the required documentation. It’s not like the police were cruising the neighborhood looking for a black man to harass, they were CALLED. It’s fine to wish for a society where the police are not needed but even neither great philosophers of ancient Greece or the great citizens of Rome could exist in such a fashion. When you’re caught acting suspicious you will have to answer in order to protect the peace. Grow up and get over it!

    Reply
  5. Malaika H. Kambon

    LIBERTE
    1 AUGUST 2009

    Over reacting?

    yep.

    How many people do u know that can look African, accentuate their Irish roots, get busted for busting into their own house, scream racial profiling, & end up having a beer with the cop who busted them & the president of the u.s.?

    At the white house?

    Oscar Grant III was African. His assassination has been seen globally.

    His white murderers are still at large, one not arrested, one attempting to get a venue change & all charges dropped… Apparently neither of his assassins can tell the difference between their genitalia, a gun, & a Taser.

    Yet we haven’t heard a peep from the house of whites…

    Oh, & according to Officer Justin Barrett & other member(s) of the Boston Police Department, Henry Louis ‘Skip’ Gates, the president’s Irish-Negro friend, is ‘just a(nother?) ‘banana eating jungle-monkey…’

    Can’t u just tell that he doesn’t have enough potassium in his diet?

    Sort of like ex-cop Dan White assassinating Supervisor Harvey Milk & SF Mayor George Moscone in 1978 November.

    He hated homosexuals, pot smokers, & cynics. He’d eaten too many hostess Twinkies that day, had a major sugar rush, so he was convicted of manslaughter instead of a double 187 that would have seen a Black Man executed.

    Folks found out after the fact that White had wanted to kill Carol Ruth Silver, & Willie Brown, too. Carol is female. Willie’s not gay – but he is black…

    Dan said he was ‘on a mission.’ Ole’ Officer Justin Barrett wants ‘the women around him to be quiet when they serve him … coffee & donuts on a Sunday morning’ BOSTON COP ON LEAVE FOR GATES RACIST ‘JUNGLE MONKEY’ EMAIL http://chattahbox.com/us/2009/07/30/boston-cop-on-leave-for-gates-racist-jungle-monkey-email/

    & let us not forget the derogatory uses of the words, ‘sand n*gga,’ by the Euro-American military in reference to peoples of the so-called ‘Middle East’ whose lands/peoples Obama is so blithe about continuing to invade & to aggress against…

    yep.

    ‘overreacting…’ u gotta love it, Irish you.

    it broadens your mind.

    so have a beer.

    have two.

    Forward,
    m

    ———————————————-
    PROFILING TRAINING PAYS!!!
    BOSTON COP CALLS GATES ‘JUNGLE MONKEY’ in E-MAIL

    http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=238929435617&h=tVk91&u=uaGq3&ref=mf

    BOSTON — A Boston police officer was placed on administrative leave after he allegedly used a racial slur when referring to Henry Louis Gates Jr.

    In a mass e-mail, Officer Justin Barrett, 36, called Gates a “jungle monkey,” according to Elaine Driscoll, a spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department. Gates, a black Harvard scholar, was arrested at his home earlier this month on a disorderly conduct charge after he tried to budge open the door of his Cambridge home.

    Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis found out about the e-mail on Tuesday and immediately stripped Barrett of his gun and badge, Driscoll said. The e-mail was sent anonymously to his Barrett’s fellow guard members and the Boston Globe.

    Boston Mayor Tom Menino called Barrett a “cancer in the department.” “He should be fired. He should be gone,” Menino said.

    Barrett, who is also a member of the National Guard, is assigned to District B-3. He was placed on administrative leave pending a termination hearing.

    The July 16 arrest sparked a national debate about race relations in America and set the stage for a meeting between President Barack Obama, the arresting officer Sgt. James Crowley and Gates.

    The trio is set to meet at the White House on Thursday and discuss the incident over a beer.

    Earlier Wednesday, the woman who called 911 to report the possible break-in at Gates’ home said she was vilified and called a racist after the incident and hopes the release of the police tapes “will help heal the community” as they have helped restore her reputation.

    Whalen told the 911 dispatcher that she saw the men trying to push open a front door.

    “I don’t know if they live there and they had a hard time with their key, but I noticed they had to use their shoulder to barge in, and they got in. I didn’t notice if they had a key or not, because I couldn’t see from my angle,” Whalen said.

    “Are they white, black or Hispanic?” the dispatcher said.

    “There were two larger men. One looked kind of Hispanic, but I am not sure. The other one entered, and I did not see him at all,” she said.

    Reply
  6. junya

    Yawn…yet another vapid celebrity-distraction du jour in post-rational America.

    “What it made me realize was how vulnerable all black men are — how vulnerable all people of color are and all poor people to capricious forces like a rogue policeman,” said Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

    Gates’ entire career centers on the study of black culture, yet this recurrent theme of African-American narratives – captured in countless books, movies, songs, and raps – somehow escaped him until now. All academia should be screaming: “Fraud!”.

    Fraud Alert! America’s leading exponent of post-racial blame-the-victim ideology, who never spoke out when Oscar Grant or countless others were murdered by police, suddenly wants to pimp the tribe he regularly denounces when his own elitist bubble is pricked.

    Fraud Alert! America’s post-racial president – who also was mute on the murder of Oscar Grant in Oakland, yet sent a letter of condolence to the families of the four Oakland police killed in March – suddenly wants to talk tough and pimp the tribe he recently denounced at an NAACP talk, when one of his own crew is bum-rushed.

    Fraud Alert!
    Thank God for Beer-Drinking Police
    Statement from Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
    WASHINGTON, July 30
    http://news.prnewswire.com/ViewContent.aspx?ACCT=109&STORY=/www/story/07-30-2009/0005069538&EDATE=

    “Let me say that I thank God that we live in a country in which police officers put their lives at risk to protect us every day, and, more than ever, I’ve come to understand and appreciate their daily sacrifices on our behalf. I’m also grateful that we live in a country where freedom of speech is a sacrosanct value and I hope that one day we can get to know each other better, as we began to do at the White House this afternoon over beers with President Obama.”

    Attention young black/brown males: The next time police cannot provide a reasonable justification for stopping you, just suggest that he or she work it out with you over a glass of beer. If either of you don’t booze, then perhaps a cup of tea? Go ahead – just try it…

    But remember: insist that the cop pay, because we know what happens when a cop sees you reach for your wallet…

    Reply
  7. Malaika H. Kambon

    LIBERTE
    2 AUGUST 2009

    As I live & breathe – finally – someone who is not mesmerized by the Henry-’Skip’-Gates-As-Poor-Living-Too-High-On-The-Hog-To-Be-Victimized-Professor-Willing-To- Forgive-&-Forget-Over-A-Keg-of-Beer-Syndrome…

    This is worse than the poorly written soap operas of television.

    Thank all spiritual entities for Junya!

    Fraud Alert indeed!

    But considering the following excellent article by the same author, one is not surprised:

    DID BART COP WHO KILLED OSCAR GRANT MISTAKE GUN FOR TASER?
    by Junya
    http://www.sfbayview.com/2009/did-bart-cop-who-killed-oscar-grant-mistake-gun-for-taser/

    Let Gates tell it, and he’s just made another ‘one small step for mankind’ while negotiating the end of racism by having a beer with a raging imperialist in power and a representative of its good right arm of the law enforcement.

    I know now why Ancestor Babatunde Olatunji was reputed to have said, ‘Wake Me When I Am Free,’ while he was still living…he was obviously freer and more awake than most people recognized – which was probably the point.

    I did however, have to think for a moment to discern what on Earth – or rather when, was ‘America’ ever ‘rational’ so as to be delineated by Junya as ‘post-rational’ today?

    The ultimate conclusion is that rationality existed when this geography was uninhabited by humans – and then was inhabited only by peoples who lived with the land, not against her: indigenous hue-mans, mislabeled as ‘Indians’ and visiting, exploring, and then settling AFRIKANS…long before it was again mislabeled as ‘America’… both mislabels occurring at the hands of conquerors.

    That time span definitely pre-dates Henry Louis Gates and his Irish ancestors, and was definitely a more coherent time – before the advent of the ‘lost’ conquerors beginning w/ Columbus in Haiti; spurred on by a papal bull decreeing all but themselves as infidels; and those who stumbled to these shores bringing with them the very dis-eases & persecutions that they were alleged to have been fleeing.

    But that is another story…one that both Gates & Chieftain Niall of the Nine Hostages apparently missed.

    Forward,
    m

    Reply
  8. junya

    Malaika – thanks for the positive feedback.

    Actually, despite the pomp and circus dance, Gatesgate did have a serious side: self-serving race-baiting serves and protects the system of unchecked rampant abuse by police. Both Gates and Obama sought to shift the blame to the individual policeman (Crowley), rather than to the system of policing that that policeman works under. In short, the national discussion of Gatesgate should not be about “race”, but about policing.

    As I was pondering how best to express this, deja vu struck and I recalled that I’d been here already, when former San Jose police chief Joseph McNamara used similar race-baiting tactics in April to shift discourse away from the murderous practices of Oakland police (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/04/10/18587558.php). That analysis applies here as well:

    Is discriminatory policing (aka “racial profiling”) the fundamental concern? Have any voices cried for police to shoot more unarmed white females? No. And civil and criminal cases rarely allege discrimination – that’s too difficult to prove. The fundamental concern is not discriminatory policing, but both indiscriminate and systematic police violence that, unchecked, leads to human rights abuses: disproportionate force, torture, degrading treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention. While there is ample evidence that suggests that this abusive policing is frequently based on perceived ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, or “mental health”, that is a different problem that aggravates the main problem of brutal police practices. To put it another way, no one is asking for equal opportunity in US police brutality. Conversely, if US policing had a reputation for being biased but otherwise humane and accountable, how many would still have the issue of police practices on their agenda? Members of marginalized communities in the US face discrimination every hour of every day – and deal with it. The tension in the community comes not from only a “strained racial relationship”. That relationship merely fans the flames ignited by a police system of unchecked brutal power, that can abduct, torture, and kill at will.

    The issue of human rights abuses of US police is not a “controversial”, “adversarial”, or “confrontational” issue, to be solved by “good faith on both sides” (and certainly not beer-buddying!). It is neither a moral issue nor a police/community division. US policing simply does not meet international standards of law enforcement practices set in covenants agreed to by the US, particularly Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. The human rights record of US law enforcement agencies is far below that of other developed nations. And, as even casual browsing of YouTube will show, the brutality of US police took its toll on ALL kinds of people – especially when they are organized in dissent.

    But, of course, don’t expect “the devil;s advocate”(Obama), or his culture-pimping buddy to go there.

    Reply
  9. Massa

    Typical.

    Some self-inflated wannabe black activist (oh excuse me, I think you all call him “scholar”) defiantly shoots his mouth of to a cop, who’s only mistake is that he shows up to a call about a break in, not knowing if he’s going to be facing a cracked-out homicidal maniac ready to send him to the grave, and expects cooperation from the perp (yes, I said PERP), and all you moronic Neanderthals can do is pull out ye olde faithful race card.

    Hell, why not? It’s worked for over half a century, right? You whip out the race card & all of a sudden you get all the attention & sympathies you could ever ask for. Gotten you plenty of perks too, hasn’t it? Ya, welfare is a pretty good scam, ain’t it? Free education and appointment to jobs you didn’t earn or qualify for is pretty great too. “Some slave I have no relation to nor ever even heard of was somehow wronged a few hundred years ago, and that entitles me to stuff that I didn’t earn and don’t deserve!!”. We’ll never hear the end of this garbage will we?

    Nah, as long as you people can continue to publish biased, racist garbage like what is seen on this site & in this article, and people are still “afraid to offend” by calling you the filth of the earth that you really are, and take back the rights & liberties from which you’ve so conveniently hushed away from us, we will unfortunately see no end to it.

    For as much complaining as you people do about how hard you all have it in this country “because of your skin”, I don’t see why you don’t just do us all a favor & LEAVE. Go back to the “land of your people” & enjoy trying to actually earn your way in a country that isn’t stymied by your bullshit & will put you in your proper place when you try to pull the garbage that you’ve gotten so used to pulling in the Land of the Free.

    Good riddance.

    Reply

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