Dr. Gates, Malcolm X Said A Black Man With A PhD Is.....
In 2009 in Cambridge and in most other towns in America, even with his Ph.D., Henry Louis Gates Jr. is still an African American male in America. Youâ€™re objective during an encounter with the police is to leave in one piece. You can challenge the officer later in court.
[View From Potomac]
By now we’ve all heard about the arrest of Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. by Harvard police.
On Thursday July 16, 2009 after returning from a trip to China, the Harvard scholar had difficulty opening the front door of the home he leases from the university.
After he and his driver struggled with the front door Dr. Gates gained entry through the back door of the home, shut off the alarm, opened the front door, and the driver left.
According to Cambridge Police Department Incident Report #9005127, a neighbor called the police and reported a possible breaking and entering at the residence.
The woman "observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch," according to the report. Her suspicions were aroused when, "…she observed one of the men wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry."
The uniformed police officer went to the front door, saw Dr. Gates standing in the foyer and asked him to step out onto the porch. Dr. Gates reportedly refused.
According to the Incident Report, after identifying himself as Sgt. James Crowley and explaining that he was "investigating a report of a break-in in progress" at the residence.
Dr. Gates opened the front door and reportedly said, "Why, because I’m a Black man in America?"
After supplying the officer with Harvard University identification, the officer radioed for Harvard University Police. One thing that is not discernible from the Incident Report is the demeanor of Sgt. Crowley.
All too often police officers introduce "attitude" into a situation with an aggressive or condescending tenor and tone that can quickly escalate an already naturally tense situation. When the element of race is injected into the equation, all too often a simple traffic stop or investigation by the police can escalate into confrontation.
It has not been indicated by any of the reported statements made by Dr. Gates’ attorney, Professor Charles Ogletree that Sgt. Crowley injected any "attitude" into the situation. This gets to right to the heart of my point.
As an African American male I have always been taught to show respect to the police, even when or if I feel that the officer is wrong. As a survival technique, I am teaching this to my son and I convey this to my students and all of the other young people that I engage in my lectures.
My parents and other elders have always taught me: "An argument with a cop is an argument you will always lose—if you don’t get along with the police; you will probably go along with the police and that’s a trip you do not want to take. Even when you’re right, if you fail to comply you’re wrong. You’re objective during an encounter with the police is to leave that encounter in the same manner in which you entered it, in one piece. You can challenge the officer later in court. "
That’s "Black Man – 101." Instead of simply and calmly complying with the officers request, showing proof that he lived at the residence, and thanking the officer for protecting the neighborhood; Dr. Gates decided to follow the police officer outside and berate him in front of a gathering group of people.
According to Sgt. Crowley’s report, "As I descended the stairs to the sidewalk, Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him."
Even after the officer warned Dr. Gates that he was becoming disorderly, according to the officer, Dr. Gates continued to yell. "Gates ignored my warning and continued to yell, which drew the attention of both the police offices and citizens, who appeared surprised and alarmed by Gate’s outbursts—It was at this time that I informed Gates that he was under arrest."
Once Dr. Gates embarrassed Sgt. Crowley, in Sgt. Crowley’s eyes, he was left with few options. Sgt. Crowley may not have been right. If Dr. Gates ignored the warning and continued to yell, there are very few police officers that would allow themselves to be humiliated in front of their co-workers and the public.
The police operate from legal as well as perceived authority. Once the perception of authority is challenged, in their minds, they have difficulty being effective. With the number of people who had gathered at the scene, it should be fairly easy, later, to determine who is telling the truth. I am sure that this will all come out in court or through another fact-finding process.
Dr. Gates is a 58 year old African American male. He is the director of Harvard’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research. As a Harvard University professor he failed "Black Man – 101." Don’t argue with the police unless you want a beating and to go to jail.
Has he not seen the arrest data? Has he not seen the incarceration data? Has he failed to learn the lessons from his elders that I have learned from mine? Some of Dr. Gates’ African-American colleagues are saying that this is part of a pattern of racial profiling in Cambridge. Some believe that the arrest would not have happened if professor Gates was white.
These points may very well be true and we all wish for and are working towards the day when racial profiling is no longer a reality in America. In 2009 in Cambridge and in most other towns in America, even with his Ph.D., Henry Louis Gates Jr. is still an African American male in America.
The lesson to be learned from this; if you don’t get along with the police you will probably go along with the police and that’s a trip you do not want to take. Even when you’re right, if you fail to comply you’re wrong.
Is this fair? No, but it’s real!
Black Star News columnist Dr. Wilmer Leon is the producer and host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program "On With Leon" and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, DC.
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