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Updated on July 30, 2009

Speaking my mind on the recent incident in Cambridge, and my views on this controversial issue

On the surface, what happened to Henry Louis Gates, noted Harvard University scholar and an expert on racial issues, would seem like a cut-and-dry example of racial profiling: He was arrested in his home after the police were called with a report of two black men trying to break into a dwelling.

Being African American and male, and having been racially profiled more than once, including being handcuffed just a few feet from my house because I "fit the description" of a stalker, I understood Gates' view; he felt that he was being unnecessarily mistreated in his own home.

At the same time, the whole thing has seemingly turned into a he-said, he said affair; Gates saying that the policeman who arrested him had entered his home without permission and would not give him his name and badge number.

Meanwhile, James Crowley, the Cambridge, MA police sergeant who was involved, stated that Gates was the one being uncooperative and escalating the situation.

After reading stories about this from two news websites, I say that both sides were at fault in this case.

While it was understandable that Gates reacted the way he did, he could have done a better job of keeping his cool, as it's common knowledge in the African American community that black men, no matter what status level they are in, are often seen as suspects and potential criminals by the (predominantly white) authorities.

If Gates had kept his head and not been provoking - as Crowley has claimed - then the arrest would not have happened.

On the other hand, Gates claimed that Crowley was uncooperative with him by not providing what he asked for and generally being disrespectful in his view.

It seems to me that if Crowley had asked permission to enter Gates' home - which he didn't according to Gates - and had simply apologized for the inconvenience and left when Gates' identifications were produced, everything would have been squashed.

What it comes down to is a question that must be asked...

If Henry Louis Gates were white, would he have been arrested and treated the way he was?

Many whites, I reckon, would answer in the affirmative.

I, however, do not agree.

What white communities, as a whole, do not understand(though I know there are lots of whites that do) is that there has been a long history of mistreatment of blacksĀ by white police; many cities, particularly the Boston, MA area where Gates lives, have been notorious for racism among the ranks of white cops.

African American men have been brutalized and jailed for no reason other than skin complexion throughout America's existence, the rationale being that they "fit the description" of some criminal.

This targeting of black males has continued across the country. This has particularly been the case along the nation's roads, as the term "DWB" - Driving While Black - has been a common one in recent years.

It is almost inevitable that many, if not most, black men in America would feel threatened when stopped by a white cop while doing something simple as driving to work or walking down a street. I have certainly felt that way, and will likely feel that way again if a white policeman stopped me while I was merely attending to my business.

I know that many whites feel that blacks who claim racial profiling and harassment are unnecessarily playing the race card and behaving like the boy who cried wolf. I know that in their opinion, the police are merely doing their jobs, that any racist mistreatment they may have suffered in the past is ancient history in a "post-racial" society where a black man is Commander-In-Chief, and that blacks should stop whining and just "get over it".

What those people don't get is that while law enforcement is obligated to be equal, impartial, and without bias in their dealings, it rarely has been - or is - as long as there have been police and black people in these United States.

Putting it in a different way - how many white males have been handcuffed and harassed in a predominantly black neighborhood for "looking suspicious"? How many have been stopped on a street or highway for "Driving While White"? And how many white men have been accosted, beaten, and called racial epithets by cops for no other reason except for the color of their skin?

If there is even one while man who has experienced any of the above things, I would absolutely love to meet him.

As for Gates, while he could have taken a calmer approach in his interactions with Crowley, he shouldn't shoulder the entire blame in this incident.

When any ethnic group has been treated the way African American men have been treated by law enforcement for as long as it has, it's nearly impossible to simply "get over it" and forget such history. Not when it continues to happen.

Most blacks who are stopped by police while having done nothing wrong will feel as if they are unnecessarily attacked, harassed, and profiled.

That is the essential point that needs to be made here.

All that I'm asking is that whites try to understand the black point of view in this issue.

Perhaps then some real dialogue would result from all of this. Or even a solution.


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    • profile image

      B-Dawg 5 years ago


      I am a biracial man 31 years old. I have never been pulled over by the cops. I think police would rather horass white folks now adays.

      It is racial profiling to assume that just because a cop is white that he is a racist. If I were a captain of the police department I would make every white cop on the force spray tan their skin black and cut all their hair off and pass as black men so that they could do their jobs without all the racial politics. I see black skin for what it truly is in america. Protection. A shield. Black skin = Protection. My mom told me that she always wanted to have biracial kids so that they would be more protected. Peace.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      ChristopherD., why not stick to the issues? Thanks for your prayers.

    • profile image

      ChristopherD 8 years ago

      Poor deeds, all you can do is attack like the Democratic Party. Going over your Hubs which are all pictures or videos hardly anything written on them, what is up with that? And you go around and critic others. I feel sorry for you my friend. I will say a prayer for you and the rest of your friends as I always do.

    • danny8 profile image

      danny8 8 years ago from lubbock, texas

      i commend your efforts Dhart, but check out my article; i promise u will learn from it

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 8 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Unfortunate situation. I believe both parties share some culpability. Mr. Gates was NOT the victim of racial profiling. He fit the profile of the man described by the 911 caller. Had the caller seen a white male or a Hispanic male and Mr. Crowley jumped on Mr. Gates anyway -- that would be suspect.

      I can understand Mr. Gates being upset. Probably he was jetlagged from a long trip. He'd already had trouble getting into his house. He sure didn't need some cop busting him. However, it's been my experience that nothing good EVER comes of challenging a police officer. I do believe Mr. Gates provoked his arrest.

      For the record: Racial profiling is REAL. If it were not a problem, why would police forces around the country offer sensitivity training in the topic?

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      And you might better stick to Hubs on water skiing, a topic on which you appear to have credibility.

    • profile image

      ChristopherD 8 years ago

      Sorry but it is a description for the purposes of discussion. Racism is not saying the words black or white. Racism sir since you need help in this is if you think a group is inferior or superior over your own. I do not think any race as a whole is either. I do believe some people no matter what color they are can be smarter or more creative than others but at the same time can suck in others. But that is not racism.

      I suggest you pull out a dictionary prior to making comments.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Generalizations like yours stereotyping "black people" and "white people" are racist.

    • profile image

      ChristopherD 8 years ago

      No Deeds I am not a racist. I am a realist and see things for how they are. I stay very neutral in how I live and the answers I give via my feelings and personal beliefs. But when I see something I will say it like how I perceive it. Just like you are a socialist and want everything handed to you.

      And you know what! If blacks are pulled over more and arrested more often - a way to look at is just maybe they ARE doing these things more often than everyone else. Just because all other races may get arrested 25% of the time and blacks get arrested 40% of the time doesn't mean the cops are after blacks because they are racists. It could be that they create more crimes!

      Look at all the possible answers before just stopping at what is convenient for you and others.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      You strike me as a very prejudiced person.

    • profile image

      ChristopherD 8 years ago

      Stop! Okay a white cop walked into his home along with a black cop partner. (The report was a black individual was snooping around the house. So, when the cops come, weather its me or a different white guy, I hope they walk into my house, question me or the intruder, and try to verify home ownership.

      Lets say Gates was not the one who just used a crowbar to break into his home but somebody else. Would Gates like it if the cops just left after talking to the other individual and he claiming he lived there and Crowley as most say not "racist" and accepted the individuals answer he was the owner so please leave? What would have Gates done then? Probably would have used the excuse - hey I am black and look the white police wont even protect my house because I am black!

      White folk have learned this already. Blacks will blame us no matter what we do. It is just like a wife. The woman will holler at her husband even with the best intentions he uses.

      Black people have become a whining class of individuals. Nothing is good enough. All the laws currently benefit you and especially screw the 18-25 year old white individuals. This is very true in looking for work. If blacks would put as a whole more effort into fighting off their own black on black killings and learn how to respect the white person, possibly the white trailer trash that are out there might start respecting you like all of the others.

      Yes I said respect the white person! Interview you youth like a news channel I believe did here and your youth will admit to going out of their way to harass the white person. Go to any Chucky Cheese restaurant and see the little ones run into us and their parents see it but offer no apology. They will even steal tickets from our children in front of their parents and nothing gets said. We have black people running inner city groups that get tons of gov't money to help them help the poor. Where is the money? Well they bought hundreds of a/c units and the one year it hit over 100 for a week plus, they never even passed them out. Look at the books and the President is taking personal vacations and using the money to buy cars and whatever. It is non stop in our city. But do you hear one black legislature or leader scream and shout out how they should be convicted - NO! So how are we suppose to respect a group of people if they do not respect themselves?

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      This op-ed from today's NY Times sums up the unfortunate Gates-Crowley incident and puts it in perspective from the viewpoint of African-Americans

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      If you bothered to read the taped 911 call there was no description that matched Gates.

    • elb22 profile image

      elb22 8 years ago from California

      This situation wasn't even newsworthy! If the president wouldn't have prematurely opened his mouth we wouldn't even be discussing it. This kind of BS just perpetuates the problem of racial profiling. Bottom line a 911 call said there were men breaking into a house. Police came and arrested a person in the house matching the description. This isn't one of those cases where a crime is commited and an APB is put out for "..a black man, mid thirties, about 6 feet tall" and then he was pulled over in a car in that neighborhood!

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Just about everyone agrees that unjustified police stops and overreaction are a much greater problem for African-Americans than for whites. In the area where I live it almost seems that police have radar that can detect skin color judging from the predominance of African-Americans pulled over on their way up Woodward avenue from Detroit to Pontiac. However, the issue of police over-reaction when they feel they have been "dissed" is not confined to African-Americans. Anyone who disses a police officer is asking for a ticket. I learned that the hard way.

    • Dhart profile image

      Dhart 8 years ago from Culver City, CA

      Richard: OK, you have a point.

      However, that still doesn't change the fact that many whites don't seem to understand the black point of view in this issue.

      You say that you've been stopped 5 times in 15 years. Many black men should be so lucky. For them, try 50 times in 15 years. In broad daylight. And just while driving, either; the times I was stopped I was walking.

      Again, all I'm asking is that you try to understand.

    • profile image

      Richard Howard 8 years ago

      You bring an interesting perspective to this issue Derek. I agree with your basic premise, that both sides played a part in unnecessarily escalating the incident. I do want to respond to your challenge: ‘How many have been stopped on a street or highway for "Driving While White"?’

      I live in a small, affluent, and yes predominantly ‘white’ community. Working infrequently on projects late into the evening and then driving home at 2 or 3am (or even later in some cases) has gotten me pulled over by police more than 5 times in 15 years. In all cases they have claimed some small infraction such as driving too fast/slow, weaving, or some other plausible but factually false reason for the stop. Each time I have been questioned, my ID checked, and then once they were satisfied that I wasn’t drunk or up to something unlawful, they drop their pretense and I am sent on my way.

      As tempting as it was at the time, I’m certain that these situations would have turned out for the worse (for everyone) had I been irate or overtly disrespectful to the officers.

      These episodes have been frustrating for me to be sure – but were they profiling of some sort? Probably not. As another commented on your article, I think law enforcement in some cases finds trouble simply because they are looking for it. Since their job and training center around dealing with criminal behavior, they are prone to reading activities into situations where none is present. As frustrating and even angry as these bogus traffic stops made me at the time, I am ultimately glad to know that my police are actively looking for drunk drivers or other shady activity.

      I have come to accept the fact that doing something grossly outside of the norm (driving at 2am apparently counts in my town) raises my chance of looking suspicious to the police. They’ve got a job to do – just like me.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      I agree. But I would add, based on several personal experiences, that whites sometimes also experience over-reactions by thin-skinned bully policemen, albeit much less frequently.

      Several factors contribute to the problem--racial prejudice, lack of training and leadership for policemen to insure that they treat every citizen, including criminals, with courtesy and respect and not lose their cool even when they are "dissed," and finally a belief that, as members of the law enforcement community, they can mistreat citizens with impunity.