Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Police Drop Charges in Gates Case

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Authorities agreed to drop a disorderly-conduct charge against renowned Harvard University African-American studies scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., who had been arrested at his own home last week after police answered a call about a suspected break-in there.

The arrest had sparked concern that Mr. Gates was a victim of racial profiling, a controversial practice in which police allegedly use race as a factor in identifying criminal suspects.

In a joint statement, Mr. Gates' lawyer, the City of Cambridge, Mass., its police department and the county district attorney's office called the July 16 incident "regrettable and unfortunate." The statement added that "this incident should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of Professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department" and that "all parties agree this is a just resolution to an unfortunate set of circumstances."

Bloomberg News
Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., shown in 2007, told police he was the victim of racism.
In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Gates said the situation "shows our vulnerability to the caprices of individual police officers who for whatever reason are free to arrest you on outrageous charges like disorderly conduct." Mr. Gates called a police report alleging he yelled at an officer and was uncooperative "a work of sheer fantasy."

Mr. Gates, a Harvard professor and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, said he hadn't decided whether to pursue any legal action. He said if the officer who arrested him, Sgt. James Crowley, "sincerely apologized, I would be willing to forgive him."

Sgt. Crowley didn't return phone calls.

Mr. Gates said he had returned from a trip to China last Thursday afternoon in a hired car. He said he and the driver had trouble opening his front door, which was jammed. Mr. Gates says he used a key to enter through the back door; his driver pushed open the front door. A passerby called police because she thought the men were breaking into the house. Mr. Gates said he had no issue with the woman's call.

Randomly Noted: The Gates Arrest
Mr. Gates said Sgt. Crowley arrived and asked him to step outside. Mr. Gates said he declined because of the officer's tone. He said Sgt. Crowley also asked him to prove he was a Harvard professor and followed him into his kitchen, uninvited. "He was clearly convinced I was the perpetrator," Mr. Gates said.

Mr. Gates alleges that Sgt. Crowley declined to state his name and badge number. "Are you not answering me because I'm a black man in America?" he says he told the officer. In his report, Sgt. Crowley said he had given Mr. Gates his name.

Robert McCrie, professor of security management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, called Mr. Gates' arrest "gratuitous" because, he said, even if Mr. Gates had yelled, such conduct doesn't amount to disorderly conduct. He said police departments need to improve training, especially when interviewing citizens at home. "We in America believe very much in the privacy of our own home," he says.

Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard's president, issued a statement saying she was "gratified" the charges against Mr. Gates were dropped, but added, "I continue to be deeply troubled by the incident."

Write to John Hechinger at john.hechinger@wsj.com and Simmi Aujla at simmi.aujla@wsj.com

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