Renowned Af-Am Professor Gates Arrested for Disorderly Conduct

Gates, who was trying to enter his own home, reportedly accused police of being racist

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Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. was arrested Thursday afternoon at his Cambridge home for disorderly conduct. Police reports say that Gates claimed that the arrest was racially motivated.

UPDATED: 9:30 P.M.
Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, Jr., professor and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Studies, was arrested on Thursday at his Cambridge home for disorderly conduct, according to a Cambridge Police Department report.

The report, obtained from the Cambridge District Court, said that the 58-year-old professor was arrested by Cambridge police shortly past noon for "exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior," during which he allegedly accused police officers at the scene of being racist. The report said that a woman had called police to the scene after seeing a man "wedging his shoulder in the front door [of Gates' house] as to pry the door open."

When a police officer arrived on the scene to investigate the tip, Gates was reportedly already having an altercation with another sergeant inside the home. The professor allegedly shouted "[t]his is what happens to black men in America" when asked for identification and repeatedly told the police officer that "[y]ou don't know who your [sic] messing with," according to the report.

The two then moved to the front porch, the report said, where Gates continued to shout that the sergeant was racist, catching the attention of roughly seven "surprised and alarmed" onlookers.

Joanne Kendall, Gates' assistant, said that the professor was away from Cambridge for the summer filming a documentary and would only be making periodic returns. Gates could not be reached for comment.

But according to an e-mailed statement from law school Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., a friend of Gates' who is now representing him, Gates was returning on Thursday from a week-long trip to China and tried to enter through his front door, which was damaged. Ogletree said that Gates had forced open the front door with the help of his car driver, who also helped carry Gates' luggage into the home, after first entering through a backdoor and turning off his alarm.

"I think that the charges should be dropped because Professor Gates was a suspect for being a burglar in his own home," Ogletree said in an interview with The Crimson. "This was precipitated on a false assumption that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time." He added that Gates has been "traumatized" by the entire affair and is now resting comfortably in his summer home in Martha's Vineyard.

According to Ogletree, Gates noticed a police officer on his porch while he was on the phone requesting a door repair from Harvard Real Estate Services, which owns the home. The professor reportedly stayed inside when the officer asked him to come outside, but provided the officer with both his Harvard identification card and his driver's license as proof that he lived at the home and taught at the University. Ogletree said Gates then asked the police officer for his badge number and name several times but received no response.

But the police sergeant who first arrived on the scene said he had told Gates his name multiple times when requested, and that Gates simply shouted over him. The sergeant said he was forced to step out of the home because of Gates' uncomfortably loud yelling, according to the report obtained from the Boston Globe. He said he told Gates that they could discuss the matter further outside, to which Gates allegedly replied, "ya, I'll speak with your mama outside."

The officer said he warned Gates multiple times that his behavior was becoming disorderly before the actual arrest, but Ogletree says the officer did not provide his name or give any indication that charges would be filed. Ogletree says the officer simply exited the kitchen to leave the home, and that Gates followed the officer to the front door only to see multiple other police officers standing outside. When Gates stepped onto the front porch to ask for the police officer's name, the officer said "thank you for accommodating my earlier request" and placed Gates under arrest, Ogletree said.

The police report says that Gates complained that the handcuffs were too tight and that he was "disabled," prompting officers to handcuff him with arms in front for comfort and to search for a cane in the home. Gates was held at Cambridge Police Station for roughly four hours before being released from custody Thursday evening, Ogletree said.

Ogletree declined to comment on whether he believes Gates was racially profiled, as some media reports have suggested, instead saying that his statement of events "speaks for itself." But other prominent black Harvard professors, including medical school professor S. Allen Counter and social sciences professor Lawrence D. Bobo, have suggested that race influenced the police actions. According to the Associated Press, the Reverend Al Sharpton has vowed to attend Gates' arraignment.

"This arrest is indicative of at best police abuse of power or at worst the highest example of racial profiling I have seen," Sharpton said. "I have heard of driving while black and even shopping while black but now even going to your own home while black is a new low in police community affairs."

Ogletree said that he and Gates believe the professor did not violate any laws and are hoping the matter will be resolved promptly. According to the police report, disorderly conduct carries a maximum penalty of a $150 fine.

The Cambridge Police Department declined to release further information, citing the ongoing investigation in the District Attorney's office. Corey Welford, a spokesman for the Middlesex District Attorney's office, declined to comment further on the arrest "unless and until an arraignment occurs." He said an arraignment has been scheduled for August 26.

The woman who reported the incident to police did not return a call to her cell phone on Monday.

Gates, who served as chair of the department of African and African American studies from 1991 to 2006, earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Cambridge after completing his undergraduate studies in history summa cum laude at Yale. Gates was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" in 1981 and was named one of Time magazine's "25 Most Influential Americans" in 1997.

He is one of roughly 20 Harvard faculty members who hold prestigious University professorships, which are given to honor academic achievements that cross disciplinary boundaries.

—Staff writer Peter F. Zhu can be reached at pzhu@fas.harvard.edu.

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