You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up.

Henry “Skip” Louis Gates, the venerable Harvard professor, was arrested for, uh, not breaking into his own home. No, seriously.

He was booked for disorderly conduct after “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,” according to the Cambridge police log.

Friends of Gates said he was already in his home when police arrived. He showed his driver’s license and Harvard identification card, but was handcuffed and taken into police custody for several hours last Thursday, they said.

The arrest of such a prominent scholar under what some described as dubious circumstances shook some members of the black Harvard community.

“He and I both raised the question of if he had been a white professor, whether this kind of thing would have happened to him, that they arrested him without any corroborating evidence,” said S. Allen Counter, a Harvard Medical School professor who spoke with Gates about the incident Friday. “I am deeply concerned about the way he was treated, and called him to express my deepest sadness and sympathy.”

Counter has faced a similar situation himself. The well-known neuroscience professor, who is also black, was stopped by two Harvard police officers in 2004 after being mistaken for a robbery suspect as he crossed Harvard Yard. They threatened to arrest him when he could not produce identification.

The police report is here.

This brings to mind that old Chappelle routine, where a cop knocks out a black man he think is breaking into his own home.

“Open and shut case, Johnson,” he says to his partner. “I saw a case just like this  when I was a rookie. Apparently, this nigger broke into this house and hung up pictures of his family everywhere!”

UPDATE: Skip’s lawyer releases his statement.

Professor Gates then asked the police officer if he would give him his name and his badge number. He made this request several times. The officer did not produce any identification nor did he respond to Professor Gates’s request for this information. After an additional request by Professor Gates for the officer’s name and badge number, the officer then turned and left the kitchen of Professor Gates’s home without ever acknowledging who he was or if there were charges against Professor Gates. As Professor Gates followed the officer to his own front door, he was astonished to see several police officers gathered on his front porch. Professor Gates asked the officer’s colleagues for his name and badge number. As Professor Gates stepped onto his front porch, the officer who had been inside and who had examined his identification, said to him, “Thank you for accommodating my earlier request,” and then placed Professor Gates under arrest. He was handcuffed on his own front porch.

How do you think these two statements align?


30 thoughts on “You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up.

  1. FilthyGrandeur July 20, 2009 at 4:53 pm Reply

    i guess that’s why it’s a “sad, but true” thing with Chappelle’s stand-up–i’m kinda glad you bring it up though, i was certainly thinking of it.

    this is so fucking ridiculous. do we know if the arresting officers are going to be held accountable for their error???

  2. shani-o July 20, 2009 at 5:44 pm Reply

    Going on the record here as saying that I think Skip Gates was a bit out of order. That doesn’t mean I think the officer was right, but that I think there’s some nuance here.

    • shani-o July 21, 2009 at 7:49 am Reply

      Having read Gates’ statement, it’s clear that the sequence of events align, but his statement makes him look completely reasonable. I still don’t doubt that he was probably on that “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM” stuff, but I don’t really see what prompted the arrest, except for the officer getting pissed at being called a racist (assuming Gates did that). Either way, my opinion remains the same: that the officer was wrong and Gates was being extra.

      • quadmoniker July 21, 2009 at 8:23 am Reply

        I think that’s my biggest problem with the way police interact with the public, especially the nonwhite public. People are almost always extra when police are around because it’s an inherently stressful situation. Whether a person is arrested on some bullshit charge or whether the officer acts like an officer should and calms the person down, de-escalates the situation and leaves, depends way too much on the officer’s ability and the officer’s discretion. And those are the places where racism kicks in. But I think discon is a pretty hard case to make when Gates was on his own property. That’s why all those made-up statements about passers-by being “shocked” and “alarmed” were thrown in, because that’s what’s necessary for disorderly conduct.

        • shani-o July 21, 2009 at 9:27 am Reply

          I agree. Although, my first reaction to reading the police report was “has Skip Gates never interacted with an officer of the law before?” Because I’ve rarely heard of or seen a black man get so rowdy with the police. Being extra isn’t a reason to be arrested, but I was surprised.

          • quadmoniker July 21, 2009 at 12:34 pm Reply

            Well, remember, that’s the officer’s version of events. He has to claim those things, or then he’s admitted that the arrest is completely unjustified.

      • kingsmomma July 21, 2009 at 8:52 am Reply

        I agree. I’ve read the police statment, the article and not Gates Statement and while some things align there is a drastic difference in the way the story was told. Gates’ statement makes him the victim of an overambitious and racist officer. I don’t understand why people continue to say if this had been a white professor. I do believe things would have been different but I think the actions of the white professor would have been drastically different than the actions of Professor Gates, thus resulting in a non arrest.
        I think the officer could have handled this a bit differently but I definitelty think Gates is not as innocent as he proclaims himself to be and could have also handled the situation differently.

  3. ajuaorangemoon July 20, 2009 at 6:12 pm Reply

    Seriously, I’m not sure how much of this I believe. I don’t know if I’ve ever taken a police report (narrative) at face value…EVER. That being said, if what they quoted him as saying in the narrative is true…I’m not mad at Crazy Uncle Skip. Who knows how many times he’s dealt with something similar. This particular officer/incident, just happened to release the beast. I had a Black professor once who was arrested/harassed on our college campus (director of his dept. as well). He got a half assed apology from the University, but that was really it. Personally, I can only imagine what kind of psychological damage that does to someone so accomplished, even at their age.

  4. Jackie July 20, 2009 at 6:13 pm Reply

    I think it’s interesting that all the comments I’ve read about this through Twitter have inferred racism on the part of the officer and, while I think that’s not an unusual reaction, having read the police report it seems like the caller is the one who should take the heat. Although, I have a hard time accepting the fact that Gates would have been yelling so amazingly loud as to warrant arrest. That’s the only facet of the report that makes me wonder about the cop – fear of an angry black man. But please. Skip Gates? Really?

  5. jc July 20, 2009 at 6:33 pm Reply

    WHY CAN’T HE YELL AS LOUD AS HE WANTS IN HIS OWN HOUSE?!? Somebody please help me here, what part of the story am I missing???

    • Molly July 21, 2009 at 12:38 pm Reply

      oh because they probably have public disturbance laws. It is a puritanical state–and the “People’s Republic of Cambridge”. Texas it ain’t.

  6. ladyfresshh July 20, 2009 at 6:36 pm Reply


  7. Leigh July 20, 2009 at 7:54 pm Reply

    Ugh and everything else in this thread is right – but I’m especially with Jackie – what gives that his NEIGHBOR sees her African-American disabled neighbor in a nice neighborhood near Harvard Sq and somehow that translates into two black men w/backpacks attempting a B&E? (IIRC the police report, which I read earlier on fb.)

    I also don’t know what to make of a police report’s authenticity, but concur w/Shani-O based on it, particularly given the “town-gown” relations we enjoy up here in the Ivory Tower. But I’m having a really hard time imagining them cuffing our average white male puffed-up Harvard faculty.

  8. bitchphd July 20, 2009 at 8:08 pm Reply

    Dudes. I can’t believe anyone actually believes (1) police repots; (2) that Gates yelled YO MAMA at a cop.

  9. Kiana July 20, 2009 at 8:18 pm Reply

    I wish Gates wasn’t black so we could all be discussing how ridiculous it is for ANYONE to be arrested for yelling at a cop. Regardless if Gates called the officers mama all kinds of foolishness, it’s not a crime to offend someone and if we believe the report, that’s essentially what Gates was arrested for. I don’t understand how ANY of Gates actions were cause for arrest.

    • ladyfresh July 21, 2009 at 7:33 am Reply

      i concur, the cop’s questionable behavior should be under examination.

      the covering of his badge and not offering his name when asked repeatedly

      and the, what is now, quite typical response of arrest when specifically asked for identification

      (and i don’t mean the uniform and shield i mean specifically their name and badge number so they in turn can be identified)

      needs to be addressed

  10. Leigh July 20, 2009 at 8:46 pm Reply

    The more I read about this and the comments that follow at places here and TNC and Wonkette, etc., the more I see how ludicrous it is. I guess living in the Cambridge bubble, I can’t get past the idea of the prof yelling “Don’t you know who I am??” – i.e., I believe that would happen. Sadly.

    But people smarter than me have made this point repeatedly: being an ass should not equal an arrest. And I should have known this, as I dated an asshole for several years in high school, who was arrested more than once for it. lol

  11. Winslowalrob July 20, 2009 at 10:35 pm Reply

    Not Skip! Lets ask Jeremy to plan a jailbreak. Free the Harvard One!

    On a serious note, I love Gates, and this is some straight bullcrap.

    • ladyfresh July 21, 2009 at 7:34 am Reply

      we needs t-shirts, something with a play on ‘gates’

      • Winslowalrob July 21, 2009 at 11:11 am Reply

        With the collective intellect of PB, we should be knocking out puns by the hour.

        I hope to god Harvard goes to bat for him and something gets worked out (can we just get a yearlong suspension or something for the officer?)

    • Jeremy July 21, 2009 at 2:10 pm Reply

      Winslow – you’re a fool for that one!

      • Winslowalrob July 21, 2009 at 3:16 pm Reply

        As opposed to the other ‘non-foolish’ things I say :)?

  12. rikyrah July 20, 2009 at 11:07 pm Reply

    we have a new one..


    I don’t believe a damn word of that PO-Leez report.

  13. […] Post-Bourgie helpfully links this Dave Chappelle bit.   […]

  14. Molly July 21, 2009 at 12:07 pm Reply

    I am usually completely on the side of the accused. However, I lived in Cambridge for several years and most of my family is from Cambridge and it has some of the most sensitive, conscientious police I have ever encountered. Also, it is highly elitist, and its extreme classism–especially in all realms relating to Harvard–saves it from a certain kind of racism experienced in other parts of the country. A well-off person is a well-off person, no matter his race, creed, gender, sexual preference, etc. Cantabrigians are very sensitive to the nuances of money and academic renown and I would be astounded if anyone in that scenario regarded Prof. Gates as a regular ol’ joe. There are plenty of places in the world–I live in one right now!–where the community would be too one-dimensional to recognize the subtleties that denote Gates’ academic fame and treat him accordingly, but Cambridge is not one of them. Arresting a famous academic in Cambridge is like arresting a famous actor in Hollywood. I dont approve of the class hierarchy in Cambridge, but classism such a strong value that it takes precedent over all other values, including racism.

    • Redstar July 21, 2009 at 4:56 pm Reply

      “I dont approve of the class hierarchy in Cambridge”

      word. there’s multiple reasons the Charles River feels like such a tremendous barrier b/w Cambridge and most parts of Boston…

      • Molly July 21, 2009 at 8:20 pm Reply

        yes! I live in the South right now and I hate it–I cant believe how blatant the racism, sexism and homophobia can be, but I recently went back to the Boston area and was astounded by the class politics–particularly in Cambridge. Yes, it is the perfect utopian culture for those who are highly educated and wealthy, but that excludes a huge percentage of Boston.

  15. Jeremy July 21, 2009 at 2:11 pm Reply

    Everyone probably already knows by now, but the CPD has decided to drop the charges. It just ran in the Times.

  16. […] question. I’ve been unscientifically reading a lot of the blog commentary on the event (here, here, here, here, here, and especially the 2k comments here), and while trying to extract anything […]

  17. Quote(s) of the Day. « PostBourgie July 22, 2009 at 9:42 pm Reply

    […] You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up. […]

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