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Sgt. Crowley, President Obama, Professor Gates

The arrest of Harvard Professor and African American leader, Henry Louis Gates Jr.

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Gates-gate: A Case of "Racial Pimping"?

  • Jul 31, 2009
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Update on 09/15/09: Apparently, this case pretty faded into obscurity the day after Beer Summit, which was also the day after I posted this review, as it should.  Since my posting of this review, a few positive things have happened: the men vaguely commented about Beer Summit and how it was a good experience, Justin Barrett was terminated from his job for his racist and misogynistic email, and Gates sent Whelan flowers, for reasons that haven't been disclosed, but I just thought that that was a nice gesture.  And, back to regular programming...

In 1972, there was Watergate (hello, Nixon and Deep Throat).  In 2002, there was Fajitagate (hello, SFPD).  In 2004, there was Nipplegate (hello, wardrobe malfunction).  And in 2009, we have Gates-gate (hello, Professor Gates).  Believe it or not, though, Gates-gate is the most ridiculous of all the -gates that I've mentioned, and mind you, Fajitagate and Nipplegate were over a bag of fajitas and a nipple shield, respectively.

I'm not even sure how to rate Gates-gate because it's still developing, but I'm going with neutral leaning towards negative because as far as I can see, nobody wins in this case.  In fact, President Obama failed when he commented on how Sgt. James Crowley acted "stupidly" when he arrested Professor Henry Gates before Obama got the story straight, and Professor Gates super failed when he decided to play the race card and throw a hissy fit that ended up in his arrest.  Personally, being someone who's not white in the United States, I can emphathize with him, but come on, accusing someone of being racist while they're simply doing their job routinely is a really cheap shot.

When news first broke about this case, every article was from Professor Gate's perspective, I actually felt bad for him because I thought that he had been racially profiled.  However, after reading ensuing news reports where the arresting officer, the woman who made the 911 call, and others involved in the case spoke out, I now honestly believe that the case had nothing to do with race initially at all. 

What it sounds like is a woman, Lucia Whalen, was walking through the neighborhood when she was alerted about a possible break-in by an elderly lady nearby who did not have a cellphone.  Being a good samaritan, Whalen called 911.  In the 911 call recording that was released, she was quoted as saying, "I don't know if they live there and they just had a hard time with their key" of if they were breaking in, and when asked by the dispatcher what the races of the two men were, she said she wasn't sure and that maybe one was "Hispanic".

When Sgt. Crowley arrived at the scene, it sounds like Professor Gates started the "You're giving me a hard time because I'm black" race card, and then the arrogant "Do you know who I am?" card.  In the police report, it says that he was highly uncooperative, and ultimately, he ended up getting arrested for, not breaking and entering, but for disorderly conduct.  If anyone of any race, gender or social class behaved in such a way, I would think, and hope, that he or she would've gotten arrested, too.

I applaud the arresting officer for standing his ground and not apoligizing despite all the criticism and controversy that arose from this case when the details of it hadn't yet emerged, and I applaud the woman who made the 911 call for speaking up and defending herself, even though she really didn't have to.  I even give props to Obama for recanting and apologizing for his earlier statement where he said that Crowley acted "stupidly" in arresting Gates, and then invited the two men over to the White House to chat over beer in what is now known as Beer Summit.

In regards to Beer Summit, I'm glad that Vice President Biden decided to show up.  I would've felt really bad for Crowley otherwise.  I mean, afterall, he did arrest Gates, and Obama did pretty much called him stupid.  That would've been awk-waaaaard, not that it still isn't.  One thing that bothers me about Beer Summit though, is how Whalen wasn't invited.  She is a key player in the case and seems like the only person who acted rationally.  If I witnessed what looked like a possible break-in, I would call the police, too.  And if someone witnessed what looked like someone breaking into my house, I would hope that that person would call the police.  We're lucky to have such vigilante people like Whalen around.

If you're curious as to where I got the term "racial pimping" from, you should check out the iReport video that I found via CNN below with commentary about the case from one fierce lady.  I interpreted her use of the term as Gates exploiting and profiting from his racial background.  This video is several days old, so just ignore the part where she talks about how the neighbor was racially profiling Gates; this video was made before new details emerged about that.  Otherwise, this video offers a very interesting perspective and analysis of Gates-gate.

I'm curious as to how this case will develop.  As I'm writing this, President Obama and Vice President Biden are knocking back beers with Professor Gates and Officer Crowely at the White House.  Some good better come out of this because this case has just been... ridiculous.

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August 05, 2009
Nice review and interesting responses. Well I am not White and I am in LE field, so I know first hand how a situation escalates in a matter of seconds....fractions of seconds. The neighbor did what anyone would want their neighbor to do call the police, it is not her responsibility or job to do anything other than that (picture your mom making that call)! Whoever an officer encounters in a home on a call like that should cooperate immediately with everything the officer says only and only for Their Safety and the Officers Safety, period and trust me on that. Going home at the end of the day is paramount! The officer arrested Gates for Disorderly Conduct, this has nothing to do with the original call offense. Unless you were there or have FULL video and audio you cannot pass judgment on Crowley's arrest. It is an ordinance/offense that was violated, a tough one for some courts and States but still a violation. As for all those who want to beat the US and Law Enforcement down for racism, please take a look all around the World the US did not corner the market on racism/discrimination. Coming from a person who's entire family escaped from the Middle East to the US, due to religious persecution such as death. Take a real good look at what is happening within religious sects, social class and racial discrimination throughout the world. Take a stroll in Iran and pop off to the police see what happens, try your luck in Iraq, China, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Cuba, Italy, GB, France..... I recommend everyone clear their calender and go to your local police sector and request a ride along if you have never experienced a day in the life of an officer. As for racist officers, it is awful that exist but they do like in any other arena. Unfortunately they have to actually do something racist to be exposed, and that makes the entire LE community look like racists. Crowley so far seems to be the type of officer I would want to respond to my house or my mothers house to protect life and property.
August 07, 2009
Thanks for your comment, Bhaddad. It's nice to hear the views on this case from someone who comes from a different culture and work's in the L.E. field's perspective. It's interesting how you bring up the differences in how other cultures' people and legal system would perceive and handle this case. I've traveled all over the world, and I've seen and heard of all the bureaucratic corruption that goes on in some third world countries that purposely get overlooked. Every time I meet an anarchist, or meet someone starting legal trouble over something completely absurd, I always ask them if they've ever traveled out of the United States before, specifically third world countries. The majority of the time, the answer is no. If they had ever traveled the world before and seen how bad things can be, they probably wouldn't be making such a big deal out of their relatively menial problems, and would probably be really, really grateful for the U.S.'s system.  The U.S. system, though not 100% ideal, is pretty evolved, and works.  Thanks again for your comment, Bhaddad, you've got me thinking!
July 31, 2009
Hi Sean......you make a good point. I feel bad for the woman who was trying to do a good deed. She's really the innocent party here and she's getting slammed by the media. For me, media falls under the category of "dont' get me started." That's an entire review in and of itself, and one I'll write about at some point. They blow so many things out of proportion for the sake of entertainment and they hurt a lot of people. Many folks never recover. I really believe the whole thing was a misunderstanding. Gates may have been tired and maybe the cop was too, but time now to move forward. Hopefully, the media will let it rest so that we can in fact advance as a nation. We've come a long way and I do have faith that we CAN get past all this.
August 01, 2009
Hey Deb, where did you read the part about Whelan knowing that Gates was actually the legal occupant of the house?  I was under the impression that she didn't know that fact since she didn't actually live on that street and was merely walking through it when somebody else told her to call 911.  I'd love to read the article on that if you have the link.  In regards to Justin Barrett, @SteveMate actually brought it up in one of the comments below, and I agree, totally racially degrading, and not only that, but misogynistic as well.
August 03, 2009
That's a very interesting take on the situation.  From my understanding of what happened, Whelan was outside the house and the altercation between Crowley and Gates happened inside the house.  At least that's what I read from several news sources, and that's what they've led the public to believe.  Well, like I said in some of the comments below, the only people who know what really went down are the people who were actually there, and even then, they obviously all have different truths.  Us outsiders can only speculate on what happened.  Since I've written this review, a few positive things have happened in this case: the men vaguely commented about Beer Summit and how it was a good experience, Justin Barrett was terminated from his job, and Gates sent Whelan flowers, for reasons that haven't been disclosed, but I just thought that was a nice gesture.  Thanks for your comment, Debbie.
July 31, 2009
Hi Devora......good review. We always seem to have some kind of "gate" going on, don't we.....and you bring up some valid points here. I admire Crowley for hanging tough in this situation, and if I were Gates, I'd get town on my knees and thank Whelan for having the guts and taking the time to call police. Everyone should be as vigilant. She got a bad rap out of this, which is one of the reasons people often don't become more involved. I also agree with Sean that's there's more to the story than meets the eye....there always is. Unfortunately, the media only tells what they want us to know.
July 31, 2009
Very true but both parties should be admired. I still dont understand why Whelan is being ostracized by the public for being a good neighbor. I would have called the police if I was witnessing what i believed to be a break-in in my neighborhood. I think any decent person would. The media is definitely to blame for this situation getting blown out of proportion. The responsibility isnt just to educate and entertain but to help the population advance as a nation.
July 31, 2009
I'm with you two.  If someone witnessed what looked like a break-in on my house, I'd want him or her to call the police.  Granted, if I were in Gates' shoes, I'd be upset, but I'd also be grateful that somebody was watching out for me even though he or she didn't have to.  I just watched this YouTube video of Whalen's press conference.  I feel really bad that she got caught up in all this when her actions were well-intended.  The fact that she's getting death threats, or worse, people are calling up her elderly mother, is terrible.  And yes, the media is to blame, I just hope something good comes out of this.
July 31, 2009
In all honesty, I think the media blew this out of proportion much more than anyone else.  They keep coming back to this story and making it seem bigger than it actually is.  People like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck don't help either as they've used this incident to push a very racially heated agenda, and even call Obama a racist.  Did the police act stupidly?  Well, who knows.  Let's be honest... we weren't there.  As a result... we don't know.  In truth the only people who DO know are Gates and Crowley.  Regardless of what we have heard... there's even more we have not. 

Now in terms of Gates getting arrested, I'm of the belief that some of it WAS racially motivated.  Even if Gates acted disorderly and was arrested for such, there are plenty of people who act disorderly in that way and suffer no consequences at all.  Could Gates have behaved better?  Sure.  But could Crowley have also behaved better?  Definitely.  In our society we often like to put forth different reasons for why we do certain things.  So was it REALLY disorderly conduct or is it that they don't want to admit to a mistake and they're able to use this as an alternate reasoning?  No one likes to be caught with their fly down, and people fall back on excuses and alternatives all the time to save themselves from being embarassed.  The point of the matter, however, is that we don't know what happened and the only two that TRULY know are Gates and Crowley.  We can't even be sure everything in the police report is 100% accurate.  Disorderly conduct or not: Crowley could've easily taken the high road rather than jumping the gun and arresting.  To put it simple, most others in Gates's situation probably wouldn't have been arrested. 

As far as the race card... watch the political pundits.  Listen to Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or just watch a couple of the news shows.  Who exactly is playing the race card?  Either directly or indirectly?  Some of the comments that have stemmed from this seem to be from certain people hoping to use this to incite a bit of racial rage where it isn't needed or wanted.  I don't understand how Obama's "stupidly" comment brands him a racist.  And I don't know why five minutes of a press conference turned into this when the other 55 minutes were about healthcare.  As I said, I think the media really blew this thing into a bigger monster than it should've been.  They blew Obama's comments up... but not Justin Barrett.  I understand that Obama is the President... but what people have been saying about Obama's comment has been far more widespread than the incident between Gates and Crowley itself... just because of one word.

And here's an interseting fact: After Obama was elected while America kept celebrating this, "Racial barrier destroyed..." a paper in the UK was noticing something different... that shortly after Obama's election hate crime increased.  The story is from November 17, but I think you get the idea.  It's good to talk race, but the race card isn't just thrown out by minorities.  Look at how Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have been using it to say Obama hates white people... It's still the race card. 

Not everything is about race.  And I understand your point.  I don't think this is entirely about race, but this incident has shown two things.  The first is that people are scared to talk race and that racial tensions are bad.  The second is whether or not America was actually ready for an African American president.  We elected one... but was it a little soon for that?  If this small incident could spark such vasts racial tension and say... the realization that hate crimes increased when Obama was elected didn't raise an eyebrow in America... what exactly does that say about our country?  Especially when you consider our history...

By the way, an excellent write up!  I really enjoyed it, even though I disagree with a few parts.  But I do understand.

July 31, 2009
I don't keep up with conservative political commentators like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck because they annoy/enrage me too much, though it is always interesting/a trip to see their perspective on things once in a while.  The notion that Obama's comment could be perceived as racist was something that never even crossed my mind though.  I just thought that he meant that Crowley acted "stupidly" for arresting a typically respectable and prominent citizen.

And you're right, we weren't there, and the only people who do know the truths are all those who were, and obviously, those truths are all different, so us observers can only speculate.  In regards to Gates actually getting arrested, I'm sure Gates was cranky after having just gotten off a 20 hour flight from China, but that's no excuse to mouth off at an officer and act uncooperatively.  And on Crowley's front, the woman in video that I posted pretty much summed up how I feel, arresting Gates "wasn't the most diplomatic decision, but it wasn't the stupidest either".  I still believe that if any person of any race, gender, or social class behaved as Gates had, they probably would have gotten arrested, too.

I think the Justin Barrett situation just came to light... yesterday?  It'd be a shame if those commentators didn't have a discussion about him in the near future because he definitely brought more to the case than anyone could have anticipated by opening this can of worms.  When I first read about him this morning, I thought, "Well, if this case didn't have any solid instances of racism before, it does now".  His actions shed light on something really ugly that probably would've been otherwise left unturned.  It needed to, and would've been turned eventually anyways be it through this case or not.

Around the time after election, I remember reading about an increase in hate crime as well.  Really unfortunate.  The one that really stood out to me was the group of youths who I believe were in New York, who decided to go terrorize random black people once Obama was elected.  I think it's pretty clear that this whole race situation still has a very, very long way to go.

Thanks for your perspective, Sean, that was really interesting to read.  Much appreciated!

July 31, 2009
I would certainly agree that if someone behaved as Gates did to the officer, they would probably get arrested.  What I'm actually contesting to is that his race made him "more likely" to be arrested.  In some places there is this sort of perception that ethnic minorities are just all around more dangerous.  It's weird. 

As for Justin Barrett, I heard about that a couple of days ago, but I'd like to see a big discussion about that rather than Gates arrest or Obama's comments.  I think that's where the discussion on race really needs to be made.  

March 26, 2010
Gates was arrested after being warned and given a "pass" for his outrageous behavior. He followed the officer OFF the porch and continued shouting at him and causing a public scene. Crowley was wrong...he should have arrested Gates before Gates ever escalated the situation. Gates went far beyond where most people would have ended up in cuffs. Go to a problem neighborhood and see how far that kind of behavior gets you.

Policing is as a difficult job. People are quick to judge police having never walked a mile in their shoes. Crowley should immense control in this situation and should be applauded for being the only person (Obama and Gates included) that showed any sense here.

People who keep claiming racism (Duke comes to mind) when it doesn't exist numb the public to the true cases of racism that still exist. People tire of hearing the trumped up claims of racism and stop listening when the situation actually happens.

Having policed in urban areas, I have often encountered (minority) people in the public that would rather deal with a white cop than a black cop because the white cops show far more restraint (for the reasons outlined in the above situation...over-sensitivity to the issue).
July 31, 2009
I understand where Gates is coming from but I believe that he blows it out of proportion. Im an inner-city baby. Ive been gettin pulled over since i was like 14-15 & that was on foot or bike so at the age 27 it dosent phase me. There has to be more to this story than what is being said to give a good opinion. So my suggestion is to flush the situation and be happy that things got no further than words. A win for non violence.
July 31, 2009
Ugh, I'm sorry that you've had to experience that. Even where I live in the fairly liberal Bay Area, I still see that, so I can't imagine how it'd be in some other parts of the U.S. It's good to hear that it doesn't phase you anymore though. All the developments and twists in this case are coming out really fast. I can't wait to hear the details of Beer Summit, if we'll ever hear them at all, I can't wait to see what Gates and Crowley plan on talking about/working on when they meet up in MA again. And yes, a win for non-violence for sure. I'm glad that all the guys were able to talk it out over beer. Even though they made it clear that no apologies were said by anyone, they still seemed to have come to some sort of understanding.
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devora ()
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When I'm not Lunching, I'm a jeweler, and an all around, self-proclaimed web geek. My passions include social media, the interweb, technology, writing, yoga, fitness, photography, jewelry, fashion, … more
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Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr was arrested by Cambridge, Massachussetts Police Sgt. James Crowley outside of his Harvard University-owned house for allegations of burglary after a neighbor called the police. He was booked for disorderly conduct after “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,” according to a police report. Gates accused the investigating officer of being a racist and told him he had "no idea who he was messing with,'' the police report said. (http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2009/0723092gates1.html)

The arrest caused a national uproar about police tactics and racial profiling, after President Obama commented that Sgt. Crowley had acted "stupidly" in the incident. "Because this has been ratcheting up -- and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up -- I want to make clear that in my choice of words, I think, I unfortunately... gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge police department or Sgt. Crowley specifically," the president said. "And I could've calibrated those words differently. And I told this to Sgt. Crowley." However, he still believes that the police overreacted in pulling Professor Gates out of his house. Then, jokingly said that the three of them are going to have a beer at the White House.
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