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Divergent Reports on Professor Gates' Arrest

by Professor Will Huhn on July 21, 2009

in Wilson Huhn

     I intended to write about the constitutional aspects regarding the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates for disorderly conduct, but I was distracted by the divergence in the news reports and reactions to the incident. And, of course, the facts make all the difference.

     On the following facts all reports agree. On July 16, Gates, who is a prominent African-American academician, had to force open the door of his house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with the help of his driver upon returning from a trip. A passer-by called the police, worried that the two men were committing a home invasion. When the police arrived, Gates was already inside; one policeman entered while other police officers waited on the porch ⦠Gates followed the policeman outside onto his porch, demanding to know his name and badge number. That was when Gates was arrested and booked for disorderly conduct. He was held for over four hours.

     What happened inside Gatesâ home that led to the arrest? That is where the media reports diverge. At 7:14 p.m. on Monday evening, which is carried by the Drudge Report, chose to report this version of events:

Gates, who declined to identify himself to police, repeatedly told officers who arrived at the scene: "This is what happens to black men in America."

After the professor, according to the police report, kept on "yelling" at the officer and loudly protesting the situation to passersby, he was arrested.

Gates, who in 1997 was declared to be one of the 25 most influential people of United States, also repeatedly told the officer that he had "no idea who (he) was 'messing' with."

     At 7:26 p.m. The Root published a statement from Professor Gatesâ attorney which included the following version of events:

Professor Gates immediately called the Harvard Real Estate office to report the damage to his door and requested that it be repaired immediately. As he was talking to the Harvard Real Estate office on his portable phone in his house, he observed a uniformed officer on his front porch. When Professor Gates opened the door, the officer immediately asked him to step outside. Professor Gates remained inside his home and asked the officer why he was there. The officer indicated that he was responding to a 911 call about a breaking and entering in progress at this address. Professor Gates informed the officer that he lived there and was a faculty member at Harvard University. The officer then asked Professor Gates whether he could prove that he lived there and taught at Harvard. Professor Gates said that he could, and turned to walk into his kitchen, where he had left his wallet. The officer followed him. Professor Gates handed both his Harvard University identification and his valid Massachusetts driverâs license to the officer. Both include Professor Gatesâ photograph, and the license includes his address.

Professor Gates then asked the police officer if he would give him his name and his badge number. He made this request several times. The officer did not produce any identification nor did he respond to Professor Gatesâ request for this information. After an additional request by Professor Gates for the officerâs name and badge number, the officer then turned and left the kitchen of Professor Gatesâ home without ever acknowledging who he was or if there were charges against Professor Gates. As Professor Gates followed the officer to his own front door, he was astonished to see several police officers gathered on his front porch. Professor Gates asked the officerâs colleagues for his name and badge number. As Professor Gates stepped onto his front porch, the officer who had been inside and who had examined his identification, said to him, âThank you for accommodating my earlier request,â and then placed Professor Gates under arrest. He was handcuffed on his own front porch.

     At 3:53 a.m. this morning Daily Kos published a post entitled "Gates Arrest Brings Issues of Racism to the Forefront" from State Representative Mark Cohen of Massachusetts, who led with this question:

Is Cambridge, Massachusetts, the storied home of Harvard University, the new Selma, Alabama?

     This morning the City of Cambridge dropped all charges against Gates and released a statement absolving both him and the police of any misconduct. Here are todayâs news reports from ABC and CBS about the incident.

     I am not someone who thinks that there are different âtrueâ versions of events, depending upon different peopleâs point of view. I think that there is such a thing as objective reality, and that people often simply misperceive or misremember events because of their experiences, beliefs, or emotional state. That apparently happened here to either Professor Gates or the arresting officer or both of them. It certainly happened among people reporting and reacting to the events.


Balkanize July 21, 2009 at 9:07 pm

What's to report? The guy acted like a typical, entitled minority, that didn't have to answer to law enforcement authority, and he got arrested. He got lucky, in my opinoin.

Tom McCombs July 22, 2009 at 8:18 am

If this same set of facts was connected with a non minority person situation, would there be a story here? I for one, would appreciate being challenged by law enforcement (or even concerned neighbors) if I were breaking into my own house. Thus would indicate to me that I was being protected, and I would be happy to provide whatever ID was requested. What would I think if this had not been me breaking into my house and others noticed it but did nothing?

j.l.paine July 22, 2009 at 12:30 pm

For sake of discussion; lets ASSume the police report is accurate. (cause we all know the cops never lie, right!?!?). BTW, Cambridge P.D. has issued a public apology & dropped charges.

Was Gates acting like an Entitled Minority OR like an Entitled Elite Academic?
Who happens to be black.

He is an Elite Academic. As such, who thinks that MOST academics/professionals of his ilk would NOT have acted along similar lines? (If he was white: sans the race talk). If Gates acted this way, I do not excuse him. Let's just be honest about each aspect of this.

And no, there probably wouldn't be a story if Gates was a white man, at least not a national one. So what! Everybody (reading this blog), should know enough of U.S. history to understand why. You may not agree, but you understand.

End the Electoral July 22, 2009 at 1:27 pm

I simply do not like all of the coverage leaning in Gates' favor, without all of the facts. It is not Politically Correct to support law enforcment, these days. The P.D. only dropped the charges because they were minor and the press coverage made it a zoo. It wasn't worth it. Do we have all the facts, yet? Didn't a law enforcement officer respond to a report of a possible B&E? He doesn't know who lives there. He doesn't know the proper owner. The person claiming to be the owner, could very well be the perpetrator. In any police reponse, it takes time to sort out facts. Some of the entitlement crowd jumps the gun, and gets angry quick, and starts throwing around the race card. Once this happens, it doesn't help sort out who the home owner was, and only complicates it. It is amazing what a cordial attitude can do for you, when dealing with authorities. Many officers escalate to arrest when they start getting the hostile attitude that we see so often with certain people.

Dan S. July 22, 2009 at 9:44 pm

"Divergent" is an understatement based upon the versions of 'reports' posted here. They are so obviously opposite that it should be relatively easy to determine which is closer to the truth by interviewing the passersby who reported the initial incident and those who allegedly heard Mr. Gates 'yelling' at the officer(s).

This seems to be a situation that, regardless of the facts, some groups will find a way to bend light around the cornerstones of their beliefs.

j.l.paine July 23, 2009 at 12:31 am

@End Electoral: define "certain people" PLEASE. @DanS.: define "some groups" PLEASE.

And further Dan, name a group or advocate or activist of ANY stripe who does not 'bend the light around the cornerstones of their beliefs'? So what's new?

Let me just put this out here…
1st – Historically disadvantaged people (notice I am NOT assigning blame here), can and OFTEN do become SPUN into a psychosis that sees external forces as the reason for virtually ALL their ills. This is poisonous AND debilitating. A recipe for a never ending death spiral. They are sooo far into the victim mentality they cannot see their own hand as decisive in creating, maintaining or changing their OWN lives.

2 – Historically ADVANTAGED people (notice I am not assigning blame here), can and OFTEN do become SPUN into a blunted state of mind that totally blinds them to the fact of – and the reasons surrounding their own built in advantages. With this tunnel vision, they can be as myopically sighted as group #1 is wide angled. Group #1 can't focus on the mirror shot – Group #2 can't see much past it's mirror shot.

I have not defined "(dis)advantage" above because it would become terribly di-gressive; not good here.
What I will say is that (dis) advantage is about MUCH more than just money…way more.

I admit; the problem of race in America is easier to understand than the possible solutions. That is not an excuse for dismissing the reality of it. Besides, to quote my father when investigating his boys' fights; "who started it"?

Rick July 23, 2009 at 10:39 am

It is stories like these and people like Gates that destroy Martin Luther King's dream and keep racism alive. The police were doing there job and ran into a high profile racist. It does not matter what color you are or who you are, when the police are trying to do their job and you refuse to cooperate, you are not above the law because you are black or a professor. This is all nonsense. Anybody who thinks Gates should not have been arrested is racist and he should not have got special treatment because he ran his mouth.

Dan S. July 23, 2009 at 3:04 pm

RE: "@DanS.: define "some groups" PLEASE."

Although my intent was to be purely general with that choice of terms, I suppose some people (whoops, there I go again) could distill a narrow perception of what I meant by 'some groups'. My purpose was to rephrase the old saying that 'facts are facts….but perceptions are reality'. Cops, robbers, summa cum laudes, dropouts, haves, havenots, colorful characters, and those who choose to hide behind masks are possible examples. My point, as I hope most readers realized, was that until the 'facts' are discovered, ALL rhetoric in this thread is just opinion…..including my own. Good enough explanation?

Partial Shade July 23, 2009 at 7:00 pm

I'll try to say my piece in a way that won't be interpreted to have racial undertones or implications:

First,………………………….. and secondly,……….

Thank you, I await your responses.

j.l.paine July 24, 2009 at 10:28 am

@Partial Shade: LOL and you are so correct. That is the inconvenient truth…(no I'm not a Gore guy).

@ Dan: An artful re-framing. And Touchee (somebody correct my spelling please).

Joseph B. Radle July 24, 2009 at 3:29 pm

It would appear from the know facts of this case that there were two racists involved. First racist, Mr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard Professor. But in reality, a black racist who detests authority, especially a white representative of that authority, who was in the process of trying to protect him and his interests and was actually putting his life on the line during the investigation. There is no doubt in my mind as to the inherent racism of Mr. Gates as demonstrated by his refusal to identify himself, and then the insulting remarks about the investigating officers mother and other outbursts.
Second racist, Mr. B. Hussein Obama, who admittedly, without knowledge of the incident, vilified the Cambridge police Sgt. and the department. True colors [ pun intended ] rise to the surface when anyone pre-judges an incident without knowledge of the facts. Mr. Obama is a black racist! First impressions count! You apologize to the world about your country, and have no right to do so, yet you are not man enough to apologize for your own stupid [ your own words directed at others ] words and behavior as the chief law enforcement officer of the U.S.A. Shame on you! You ought to resign, because we need real men, not racists leading this country.

Dan S. July 24, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Wow, I really shouldn't add to this, but I just can't help myself!!!

RE: "True colors [ pun intended ] rise to the surface when anyone pre-judges an incident without knowledge of the facts"

I wonder if he considered looking in the mirror after he posted this?

Of course, if he had made those comments in another country, just a few years ago, regarding another man named "Hussein", he probably wouldn't have lived to smell the sweet desert air the next morning. Gotta love the USA!

Chalk up another proponent of the First Amendment, and I bet he has the cleanest white sheets on the block too!

Joseph B. Radle October 1, 2009 at 10:42 am

Dear Dan S. Thanks for your comment to my entry. For your information, at the time of this entry of mine, we were all privy to the facts of the case, thanks to Fox News. It appears that you are prone to deny the facts. Words have meaning, but perhaps you can't comprehend even though you might be able to read. Comprehension is important! BTW there are many colors of racism, but the predominant one is that Black can call someone racist but White, or anyone else , for that matter,can't. Actually Racism is not the proper word here, but I use it because most folks do, even though wrongly. In all actuality, Bigot, or prejudice would be more proper, so Mr. Gates and Mr. Obama are obviously guilty on both counts. Your problem, Sam S., seems to be that you latch on to a specific word and miss the the meaning of the context. In this case, it is not to color these two people, black but to color them, Racist, Bigoted, prejudiced.
I hope that makes it clear for you?

Please pardon the delay in my response to your comment as I only just now checked up on myself and my entry here and found your response. I usually don't dwell on such things, but found in your response the typical liberal [ read commie ] response, " Don't discuss the facts, but try and distort by name calling, and / or misdirection." Nice try,but you actually said nothing, which is the usual, par for the course, progressive way.
In spite of it all, have a nice day, Dan S. Joe Radle :o)

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