Obama Weighs in on Gates Arrest — Denouncing Police As Acting “Stupidly”

225px-official_portrait_of_barack_obama180px-Henry_Louis_GatesPresident Barack Obama’s press conference took a surprising turn when the President decided to weigh in on the controversy over the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. by the Cambridge Police. While admitting that he did not know all of the facts, the President called the police stupid in their response to the call of a suspected break in.

The President stated that “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.”

The President admitted that Gates is a friend and that “I don’t know all the facts.” However, he felt that the matter should have ended with proof that this was Gates’ house. He raised the specter of racial profiling: “I guess this is my house now. Here I’d get shot.” He noted that “[s]eparate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African-American and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.”

Ironically, the arresting officer Sergeant James M. Crowley is one of the academy experts who teaches a course on racial profiling, here.

The incident has caused an intense debate on this blog and other sites. A neighbor saw someone forcing open a front door and did the right thing in calling police, in my view. It would be a bit unfair to suggest that this neighbor Lucia Whalen was clearly racist in making such a call. Assuming that we agree that she was correct in making the call, the main controversy focuses on the police and their response. The officers insist that Gates became immediately belligerent and refused to come out of the house. On the other hand, accounts suggest that Gates was willing to show this proof of residency and eventually did come out on to the front porch. Even assuming Gates acted in a boorish and insulting manner in allegedly calling the police racists and pulling rank, I fail to see why an arrest was warranted.

pic-240-1211452Police officers, however, may be a bit put out by the President’s intervention. The police insist that Gates escalated the matter and could have simply resolved the dispute by cooperating without the alleged outburst. I am not sure that we will ever know the facts with complete certainty. The issue of profiling is an obvious concern, though most people (I think) would agree that a call is appropriate when someone is seen forcing their way into a home. Moreover, the police may argue that they needed Gates to come out on to the porch to match his identification with his face and confirm that there was nothing suspicious occurring. I would expect that officers would be equally insistent on speaking directly to me if I were seen forcing a door at my own home.

This may be a case of everyone allowing a routine police call to get out of hand.

The officer, Sergeant James M. Crowley, denies that he is a racist and refused to apologize, here. Below is Gates’ account.

For the full arrest report, click here.

For the story, click here.

Statement on Behalf of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. — by Charles Ogletree

This brief statement is being submitted on behalf of my client, friend, and colleague, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This is a statement concerning the arrest [1]of Professor Gates. On July 16, 2009, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 58, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor of Harvard University, was headed from Logan airport to his home [in] Cambridge after spending a week in China, where he was filming his new PBS documentary entitled “Faces of America.”

Professor Gates was driven to his home by a driver for a local car company. Professor Gates attempted to enter his front door, but the door was damaged. Professor Gates then entered his rear door with his key, turned off his alarm, and again attempted to open the front door. With the help of his driver they were able to force the front door open, and then the driver carried Professor Gates’ luggage into his home.

Professor Gates immediately called the Harvard Real Estate office to report the damage to his door and requested that it be repaired immediately. As he was talking to the Harvard Real Estate office on his portable phone in his house, he observed a uniformed officer on his front porch. When Professor Gates opened the door, the officer immediately asked him to step outside. Professor Gates remained inside his home and asked the officer why he was there. The officer indicated that he was responding to a 911 call about a breaking and entering in progress at this address. Professor Gates informed the officer that he lived there and was a faculty member at Harvard University. The officer then asked Professor Gates whether he could prove that he lived there and taught at Harvard. Professor Gates said that he could, and turned to walk into his kitchen, where he had left his wallet. The officer followed him. Professor Gates handed both his Harvard University identification and his valid Massachusetts driver’s license to the officer. Both include Professor Gates’ photograph, and the license includes his address.

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’ 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’ 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.

Professor Gates was taken to the Cambridge Police Station where he remained for approximately 4 hours before being released that evening. Professor Gates’ counsel has been cooperating with the Middlesex District Attorneys Office, and the City of Cambridge, and is hopeful that this matter will be resolved promptly. Professor Gates will not be making any other statements concerning this matter at this time.

74 thoughts on “Obama Weighs in on Gates Arrest — Denouncing Police As Acting “Stupidly””

  1. Cindy, you mean to tell me that Prof. Ogletree has advocated the payment of reparations to the descendants of slaves? How dare he! After all, slaveholders did not receive reparations when their property was taken by that shameful Abraham Lincoln. What’s fair is fair.

  2. “If the Jews want to get it on,” he said, “tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.”

    Perhaps the adjective brilliant didn’t come to your mind, but then I assume you know little about the Crown Heights Community and about the ethnic tensions there. I do, more than most. In 1972 I became par of the spearhead group to establish an Office
    of community Services in Crown Height. This was to bring together in one office all the varied government social services offered.. It what Mayor John Lindsay’s attempt to destroy the local party ward offices that historically in New York provided a range of services to citizens. since these were Democratic and Lindsay then a Republican, there was of course political motivation Our office was located in a three story Brownstone at 823 Eastern Parkway. We we diagonally across the street from the Lubavitcher Hassidim Sect’s World Headquarters.

    I became the liaison to the Lubavitcher’s because they knew I was Jewish and had long hair and a full beard. I was also 29 at the time and they saw me as a potential recruit, since with the hair/beard all I would need was to cut the hair to shorter length, don their 17th Century attire and I would look like one of them. As liaison I attended services a few times at The world Headquarters and was invited to Shabbos dinner at a Rabbi’s house. I came to know the community very well.

    Now the Lubavitcher’s, as I see them, are a cult. I could give you the reasons but that is easy enough for you to find out. They had a large presence in the Crown Height Community that almost equaled that of the Black population. However, they received a disproportionate number of City services and perks from the City. The reason is simple. The Lubavitchers voted as a block. In any given election you could get almost 100% of Lubavitcher’s voting the same way. This as you might surmise made them a voting bloc with power that far exceeded their neighbor’s. They also were a closed knit group, that didn’t particularly like blacks, or try to coexist with them, but reasonably they didn’t like anyone from the outside as is the wont of most cults. There was also an occupied police car stationed 24 hours a day outside of the 770 Eastern Parkway World Headquarters. This was an affront to members of the community for not only special privileges, but because it seemed a symbol of who had power in the community. The ironic thing was I learned many years later that the car was there because the Satmer Hassidim of Williamsburgh, an even more radical cult that didn’t believe in Israel, had made death threats against the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

    That was the festering background of the Crown Heights Riots and the Lubavitcher’s remained an unequal power in the Crown Heights Community into the 90’s, when the riots developed.
    That he car that his the child was part of the Rebbe’s motorcade was a last straw that burst years of festering and in many cases justified resentment.

    Now I also made clear that I hold no brief for Sharpton, or Jesse Jackson. Certainly Sharpton’s remarks were over the top.
    However, given that to the Crown Heights Community the face of Judaism was seen as this cult, that in every way equals Fundy Christian cults, it was a bigoted yet understandable remark. Please let me be clear Mespo, I am not just some guilty apologist for the oppressed of this world colored by my radical political beliefs. I could fill pages with critiques of black politics in the US and of some black attitudes. However, understanding the history, knowing the culture as well as a white man can and having had first hand experience with certain situations and finally being quite aware of the still underlying racism and stereotyping that exists in this country, I can understand, if not particularly like Al Sharpton. By the way he is brilliant at times in his political analysis.

    Finally, I find it more than telling that an entire range of basically racist Republican pundits, let’s start with the crooked clown Newt Gingrich are treated respectfully by the media and weight is given to their ideas, while Sharpton and Jackson are derided. Do I think that Al and Jesse are just as corrupt as Newt, yes I do. However, they are far less vicious and racist then Newt, et al. are and they are certainly much smarter.

  3. There are a lot of things white people say to other white people, but not to people of color.

    A white friend of mine moved to a wealthy suburb. A white neighbor spoke to her children. She told them that, if they ever saw a black man on their street who was not in uniform, they should call the police immediately.

    It happens.

  4. Dredd, good analysis. The officer filed his report with the case law (posted above) in mind, and seemed to report some legal conclusions as well as facts in the original short report. He said “tumultuous” because that is the term applied by the MA courts. He said Gates speech served no legitimate purpose, because that is another element the courts look to, since political expression cannot be disorderly conduct there.

    The cases the court described all took place in areas that were clearly public places. Gates seemed to have been on his own covered porch, just outside the door of his own home, and was a single individual surrounded by six or seven officers, so he had little chance to stir up a crowd, even if a crowd had gathered on the street. All he did was talk. Prosecutors probably looked at this and groaned audibly at the prospect of bringing this case.

  5. Bdaman,
    Bad example. when I was an undergrad student at college I received perhaps $1,000 in parking tickets. The problem was I went to a school that had thousands more students driving in than it had parking facilities. If you were late for class, you parked illegally and hoped the Campus cops missed you. My wife had the same thing happen at another school in NYC, as did bother my daughters when they were undergrad students at the same school as my wife’s. If you’ve ever been to Cambridge and/or Boston you know parking is tough and tickets help pay the municipal budget, as they do in NY. Your point is either uninformed or stupid and really is totally vapid.

  6. Bdaman 1, July 24, 2009 at 9:00 am

    BOSTON – President Barack Obama got more than an education when he attended Harvard Law School in the late 1980s. He also got a healthy stack of parking tickets, most of which he never paid.

    The President shelled out $375 in January – two weeks before he officially launched his presidential campaign – to finally pay for 15 outstanding parking tickets and their associated late fees.

    The president is thought to have said that the police had issued tickets to him because he was acting stupidly even though he was president of the law review. Momma always said stupid is as stupid does.

    Did I read he paid them? Ya would think that the SOL would have run by that time and therefore no legal obligation to pay. Moral is a different story.

    Who has ever gotten a parking ticket that they have not paid except the President and I? Humm…..

  7. BOSTON – President Barack Obama got more than an education when he attended Harvard Law School in the late 1980s. He also got a healthy stack of parking tickets, most of which he never paid.

    The President shelled out $375 in January – two weeks before he officially launched his presidential campaign – to finally pay for 15 outstanding parking tickets and their associated late fees.

    The president is thought to have said that the police had issued tickets to him because he was acting stupidly even though he was president of the law review. Momma always said stupid is as stupid does.

  8. Dredd:

    “Regardless of the racial argument, the arrest of Professor Gates was illegal under Massachusetts case law.”


    Since no one wanted to press this issue to court and thus no findings of fact were made, that is something we will never know for certain.

  9. erykah:

    I note with some interest that Sgt. Crowley, the so-called racist, rogue cop in the Gates affair, was the same officer who, 16 years earlier, attempted to save basketball star Reggie Lewis by administering mouth to mouth resuscitation during a fatal heart attack. Said the officer, “I wasn’t working on Reggie Lewis the basketball star. I wasn’t working on a black man. I was working on another human being.”

    To answer your question, “Now who’s the fool”? Well, I ‘ll let you figure it out.

  10. Mespo
    Resorting to name calling says a lot about you. You are just as sure of your position and refuse to believe there is no room for error in your own thinking. So this is the pot calling the kettle black. But no matter how you slice it, Dr. Gates’s arrest was an error. If it were not he would still be facing charges and the Cambridge police would not have called the arrest “regrettable and unfortunate.” These are the facts which you refuse to accept. Now who’s the fool?

  11. I found Vince’s post interesting about Charles Ogletree is representing Gates, and is very tightly connected to Obama, having been one of two (the other being socialist Cornell West) on Obama’s campaign Black Advisory Council, & having when Obama applied to Harvard law received a letter of recommendation for him from Percy Sutton solicited by Khalid Al Mansour, ex-Black Panther & advisor to Saudi Prince bin Talal, plus Ogletree is also known for advocating reparations.

  12. Mike S:

    “The fact that Rev. Al got involved in this says a lot about his need to enter the limelight, but while the media portrays him at time as a clown, if one listens to his points you find a brilliant man.”


    “If the Jews want to get it on,” he said, “tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.”

    –Al Sharpton, On the Crown Heights riots

    The adjective “brilliant” didn’t immediately spring to mind when I heard this line.

  13. Mespo.

    “Racism is a heavy axe”.

    There is racism and then there is extreme racism. The heavy axe you refer to is extreme racism.

    The real problem with racism is that sensible discussion about is impossible because in one sense of the word the vast majority of humans are racists. Most racists acknowledge that racism sometimes or somewhere exists or did exist and that it can be a serious problem, but when they think of it they are thinking of hatred of other races so much beyond what they themselves feel that they are aware of it or they are thinking of the hostility that members of other races feel towards their own race.

    Consider the white people of Jasper Texas. They were shocked when a couple of their neighbors attached a nigger to the bumper bar of a light truck and dragged him to death. Their nigger neighbors on the other hand were not in the least surprised. I have no doubt that the two perpetrators were also surprised when they received the death sentence, they expected that other white Texans would approve of what they did. The difference between the two nigger draggers and the other white residents of Jasper is that between the extremely racist and the merely racist but the extreme racists would have experienced more than enough reinforcement of their views of black people from the good people who later became shocked.

    It is not possible to summarize racism with a single number, but if we could we would find that there is no zero level. Even Jesus Christ, Mohomad and The Buddah (not our one) I am sure had irrational prejudices about some group or other.

    Most people are racist but very few are aware that they are. their outrage when someone accuses them of racism is not feigned, they really feel hurt and indignant. Those who are aware of their racism can be split into two classes, one consists of extreme Ku Kux Klan types who are proud of protecting the legitimate interests of their own race, the other contains people whose racism is of the lowest levels because they are conscious of it and try to suppress it.

    Racists are not necessarily evil or even nasty. I remember reading an article about a Jewish man who infiltrated a white supremacist group. He found that he liked many of the members, apart from their racist ideas they were nice people.

    Most racists if made aware of their attitudes would try to change their ideas. This is the idea behind Jane Elliotts techniques for sensitizing people to their own prejudices as shown in the documentary films “Blue Eyed” and “A Class Divided”.

  14. Carlyle:

    “I suppose you would deny that the multiple murders in Russia of human rights workers journalists and lawyers are obviously the work of the authorities, just the works of lone nut gunmen.”


    I don’t know (though I doubt one gunman is the culprit), but I also know that you don’t know either.

  15. Mespo.

    I suppose you would deny that the multiple murders in Russia of human rights workers journalists and lawyers are obviously the work of the authorities, just the works of lone nut gunmen.

  16. erykah:

    “Yeah, American loved King and his peaceful message so much that they thanked him by putting a bullet in his neck. Give me a break!”


    I always enjoy an opponent who is absolutely certain of his position and will admit no possibility of error. It is even more useful when he uses hyperbole to make his points;most see him as the zealot, or fool or both. I think the latter applies here.

  17. erykah,
    Any one who thinks Dr. King’s murder was a one man job also believes in the tooth fairy. however, it is to be expected also from people who don’t know who H. Rap Brown was. Part of the unconscious racist game played by the media with black people is to choose the most outlandish people as Black “leaders.” This allows them to ignore the multitude of true leadership and intelligence that resides in the Black community. I learned long ago that black people have the right to choose their own leaders.

    The fact that Rev. Al got involved in this says a lot about his need to enter the limelight, but while the media portrays him at time as a clown, if one listens to his points you find a brilliant man. I say this not as a fan of his or of Jesse Jackson. However, truthfully who are better and more intelligent people: Sessions, Graham, Lott, Barber, Sanford, Gingrich, et. al. I’ll take Jesse and Al in a landslide.

    As for doctor king, the addition of his birthday does not cover up the fact that he was reviled in his own time by a majority of Americans and the hatred spread when he voiced opposition to viet Nam and poverty for Blacks and White. Then he became a danger and had to be eliminated. Just as Malcolm X, one of the greatest men of the 20th Century had to be eliminated when he broke with Elijah Mohammed. At that point Malcolm, who was equally as articulate as dr. King suddenly also became a threat because he was reaching across racial lines. Had he and Dr. King gotten together, you would have had two of the most intelligent and articulate men in America leading a movement of change for all Americans.

    However, I’d best not get started or I’ll be writing again how the CIA help airlift heroin to America and help unleash it on black people to effectively kill off the civil Rights movement. I’m not Black, but I lived through those times and worked in the Black community. I didn’t recognize either the people or the communities portrayed in the media as being black. In 15 years, in the places in NYC where supposedly police were never to go alone, I walked those communities day and night and never had an ill word said to me. Was there crime yes and were there dangers, perhaps, but the portrayal of the black communities was one of stereotypes that failed to capture the richness of the intelligence and the culture of African American people. I don’t say this as some innocent naif and I understand that oppression does not breed saintliness per se. The fact is though many older whites still don’t accept or get the destructiveness of racism and my only hope is that seems to be fading to an extent in our youth, no matter how hard the media tries to still sell the stereotypes.

  18. Jim B,
    You can google HRap to find out who he is. As for my comment about King, my point is that King was not as beloved at the time as many believe him to be. Honestly, he had a large following but King was seen as a trouble maker by many. He was viewed as Al Sharpton is today. Many love Sharpton but many more hate his guts. Time has erased all of that. Yeah one man fired the shot but America is responsible for King’s death. Had we lived up to our ideals we would not have needed a King in the first place. We wouldn’t need one now. God Bless America. Indeed!

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