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The World According to M.I.S.S.: Was Skip Gates’ Arrest an Act of Racial Profiling?


The World According to M.I.S.S. Was Skip Gates Arrest an Act of Racial Profiling?

The World According to M.I.S.S. Was Skip Gates Arrest an Act of Racial Profiling?

On July 16, 2009 literary critic, Harvard University professor and public intellectual Henry Louis ‘Skip’ Gates was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct outside of his home in Cambridge Massachusetts after an altercation with Cambridge police. When Gates had a hard time opening the door to his home, a neighbor called law enforcement and informed them that two black men were breaking and entering into the home. Once police showed up at the Gates’ home a slight altercation ensued. According to the police, Gates refused to show identification and was arrested due to “loud and tumultuous behavior”, but according to Gates he showed proper identification and also asked for badge numbers and identification from all police officers involved. Gates then said he was followed outside where he was promptly arrested.

Racial profiling is a phrase that has come up very many times in the debate and discussion of of this incident. According to several prominent Harvard professors, media personalities, and even President Obama himself, this incident was both unfortunate and managed poorly by the Cambridge police. Although the charges against Gates have since been dropped, many are still outraged that police would jump to conclusions, and allow the situation to escalate as it did.

Now, I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.

I’m not completely sure if this was a open and close case on racial profiling, but I know that a situation such as this could have been avoided by deescalating the situation and communication. Or at least that’s what I like to think in my head. I just know that if this type of racial and economic profiling can happen to a prominent figure in our society like Skip Gates, then it can happen to any one of us.

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3 Responses to “The World According to M.I.S.S.: Was Skip Gates’ Arrest an Act of Racial Profiling?”

  1. Amanda Carr says:

    Being a resident of Boston I am not outraged but instead I am supporting the Cambridge police department in their choices on that day. They were simply reporting to a complaint that got out of hand due to a law professor’s out of control ego.

    This same man has his house broken into about a year ago. This same man lives on a street where break ins happen all the time.I believe there were about 20 or so reported this year so far. So for someone to say that the Cambridge police department acted in a manner that was not justified is not right.
    This same police officer that arrested this man is used in sensitivity training all though out MA.
    Obama, Al S, and everyone else should maybe do a little research before they jump down the cambridge police department’s throat.

  2. Gabriella GDK says:

    Hi Amanada,
    You’re entitled to your opinion. The sad fact is that racial profiling happens everyday right under our noses – and most people who are unaffected by it don’t notice it.

    I studied criminal procedure and to test my skills I would often watch “Cops” and “Cops” is living proof that (1) cops exceed their authority more often than not and consistently infringe on people’s rights; and (2) racial profiling happens all the time.

    There are 2 sides to every story – the problem in this case is that the cops had proof that he was in his own home – and they continued to exceed their authority. To say that the same officer is used in sensitivity training is consistent with a racist’s statement that they have “a black friend.” His words may say one thing, but his actions say another.

    The cops have been given the authority and responsibility to protect their citizens. There have been many instances when cops have betrayed the trust of the public. When this happens, people have every right to be angry – the cops need to be accountable to someone.

  3. I agree with Gabriella….once they had proof that it was this man’s home, they should have been on their merry way. I suspect in this case, there is also a power struggle at play in terms of pride. In some cases, when one assumes/exhibits authority in a situation and his or her authority is undermined (i.e., the cops were wrong about assuming Gates was breaking in), he or she does not back down simply because they have incorrect information. In other words, people still act as if they are in the 5th grade. They know they are wrong, but they feel stupid admitting it, so they continue in the escalation of the disagreement. I have seen my fair share of cops that are really just bullies in disguise, and most of these types don’t handle it well when people they are “supposedly” in control of challenge their authority or question their judgement.

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