The Arrest of Leading Black Studies Expert Henry Louis Gates

The well-publicized arrest--soon to become a hot national and international civil rights issue--of Harvard Black Studies Professor Henry Louis Gates will bring new attention to issues of race, racism, and police discretion across the country.

Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct after falsely being accused of breaking into his own house in the upscale Cambridge neighborhood where he lives near Harvard University. Harvard, ironically, has received national attention for using its vast financial resources for generous scholarship program in which the average student gets to pay a tuition of only $10,000 out of $47,000, making Harvard one of the more financially accessible universities in America as well as one of the more academically elite universities in the world.

The Gates arrest for essentially disrespecting the authority of a policeman to challenge him for entering his own house pits the Cambridge Police Department against the "my home is my castle" attitude of most Americans. I have no doubt Cambridge will ultimately drop the charges: the earlier today that they do so, they smarter they will prove themselves to be.

Coming near the beginning of the Domelights controversy--whose ending would ideally be a top priority of the Nutter Administration--the Gates arrest shows the great discretionary power that individual police have, and the importance of them having the community experience, sociological and legal knowledge, and emotional intelligence to keep things in proportion and not escalate minor matters into major ones.

Across the world today, people will be discussing the role of race, racism and police discretion in the making of arrests and the bringing of criminal charges. It obviously matters in some cases as to whom one is in terms of what charges are brought, how they are adjuciated, and what sentences are given.

Would a white wealthy Harvard professor living in an expensive house near Harvard in similar circumstances have been arrested? The odds are prety good that the answer is no. A multitiered system of justice is a limited system of justice.

Cambridge, Massachusetts has long been a liberal enclave. Now it is being cast as the liberal Selma, Alabama. It is unlikely it will stay that way for long, and its likely corrective actions will send a good message to Philadelphia and other cities around the world.

It is amazing that this issue--and the Valley Swim Club issue--both came up in the first year of the Obama Administration. We may well be moving in the direction of a less angry, post-racial era, but we are clearly not there yet.

Gates Charges Dropped Today

I am please to have posted--on the Daily Kos and Twitter as well as here--what may have been the only demand that the City of Cambridge drop the charges against Professor Gates TODAY.

The dropping of the charges was officially posted by the City of Cambridge at 2:06 p.m. in a joint statement with the Police Department and Professor Gates. It is certainly a positive sign that the issue was settled so quickly; the hearing had originally been set for August 26,2009.

Racist cops are the worst!

I hope this cop gets harshly disciplined.

There is an excellent article written about this by Philadelphia journalist Dave Lindorff. Here is a link to the full article, with a few paragraphs pasted below:

http://thiscantbehappening.net/?q=node/342

There is no suggestion by police that Gates physically threatened the arresting officer. His “crime” at the time was simply speaking out. As the officer wrote in his report on the incident, by way of explaining his reason for arresting Gates: "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."

What is unusual is not that the officer arrested Gates for exercising his rights. That kind of thing happens all the time. What’s unusual is that this time the police levied their false charge against a man who is among the best known academics in the country, who knows his rights, and who has access to the best legal talent in the nation to make his case (his colleagues at the Harvard Law School).

Very little of the mainstream reporting I’ve seen on this event makes the crucial point that it is not illegal to tell a police officer that he is a jerk, or that he has done something wrong, or that you are going to file charges against him. And yet too many commentators, journalists and ordinary people seem to accept that if a citizen “mouths off” to a cop, or criticizes a cop, or threatens legal action against a cop, it’s okay for that cop to cuff the person and charge him with “disorderly conduct.” Worse yet, if a cop makes such a bogus arrest, and the person gets upset, he’s liable to get an added charge of “resisting arrest” or worse.

We have, as a nation, sunk to the level of a police state, when we grant our police the unfettered power to arrest honest, law-abiding citizens for simply stating their minds. And it’s no consolation that someone like Gates can count on having such charges tossed out. It’s the arrest, the cuffing, and the humiliating ride in the back of a cop squad car to be booked and held until bailed out that is the outrage.

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