“Cambridge is the spirited, slightly mischievous side of Boston, located just across the bridge,” says the New England town’s tourism office, but don’t commit any “tumultuous behavior” there. Even in your own house.
Just ask Henry Louis Gates, Jr., PhD, Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Returning from Logan Airport to his Cambridge home after a week in China filming a PBS documentary, Dr. Gates found his front door damaged. He entered by the rear door, turned off his alarm, and opened the damaged front door with help from the car service driver, who then carried in the luggage (Dr. Gates walks with a cane).
Professor Gates called the Harvard Real Estate Office to report the damage and request repairs when a uniformed Cambridge Police officer appeared. Professor Gates produced his University identification and driver’s license, both with his home address, and asked for the officer’s name and badge number. The officer did not respond, whereupon Dr. Gates asked other officers on his porch for that information. He was handcuffed and brought to the police station, where he was detained for four hours.
According to public documents, Dr. Gates “was arrested for Disorderly conduct after exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior.”
Harvard sociologist Lawrence Bobo drove Dr. Gates home from the police station Thursday night and told the Boston Globe: “I felt as if I were in some kind of surreal moment, like ‘The Twilight Zone.’ I was mortified. . . . This is a humiliating thing and a pretty profound violation of the kind of trust we all take for granted.’’ After Dr. Gates presented his identification, “The whole interaction should have ended right there, but I guess that wasn’t enough. The officer felt he hadn’t been deferred to sufficiently.’’
Dr. Gates is African American; the arresting officer is not. The incident, not the first of its kind involving Black faculty in Cambridge, raises issues of racial profiling and “town” vs. “gown.”
An award-winning scholar, Henry Louis Gates has been named one of the 25 most influential Americans by Time magazine. He is not without honor in the Cambridge community: the menu at Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage features a “Professor Skip Gates” burger (teriyaki burger with grilled pineapple and onion rings).
UPDATE: Cambridge Police dropped the charges against Dr. Gates. Now the real tumult begins.
Image by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com
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