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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