Racial Profiling In 02138?

At our meeting this morning, we talked about the news from [The People's Republic of] Cambridge, Mass.: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University, was arrested last week, charged with disorderly conduct. (Just a few minutes ago, Cambridge and its police department announced that the charge had been dropped, calling the arrest "regrettable and unfortunate.")

It's too early to know what happened, we agreed. Gates has his story, which his lawyer, Charles Ogletree, the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law at Harvard University, conveyed in a statement and on NPR's Tell Me More. And the City of Cambridge Police Department has its version. (You can read the incident report here.)

This is, quite obviously, a hot topic, and each side has its supporters,. You can read some of their thoughts after the jump.

Baratunde Thurston, "comedian and vigilante pundit," says, "It's on." Shawn P. Williams, the publisher of Dallas South, proclaims,"Not good Cambridge."

On his blog, at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, "I bet he did exhibit 'loud and tumultuous behavior.' I likely would too. Actually, I wouldn't. But I don't work for Harvard. And my mother taught me how black men are to address the police."

David E. Bernstein, a professor at George Mason University School of Law, writing on the Volokh Conspiracy blog, argues, "even if the cops' story is 100% accurate, I don't see what the point of arresting Gates was. Yelling at a cop isn't a crime, Gates clearly posed no threat to anyone, and the cop should have either used his training to defuse the situation or just walked away—he already knew that Gates wasn't a burglar, which was the original reason for the cops' presence."

Personally, whenever I encounter cops in a potentially adversarial situation, e.g., during a traffic stop, I become absurdly obsequious, precisely because I know they have the power to arbitrarily arrest me if I piss them off. Law professor or not, the power dynamics in a confrontation with cops is not in your favor.

Damian Thompson, who is the blogs editor of the Telegraph Media Group, is skeptical that there was any racial profiling:

Hmm. The self-important Gates, who runs Harvard's African-American research centre, has never been slow to allege racism. And the fact that he now faces a charge of disorderly conduct is presented by his supporters as proof of police discrimination. I won't comment, except to say: read the police report ... It's absolutely fascinating. It doesn't just depict Gates playing the race card; it describes him flinging a whole pack of 52 race cards at the officers. And it doesn't surprise me one bit.

Finally, in a post called, "Black Professor and White Lady Reenact Crash in Cambridge," Gawker treats the incident with characteristic irreverence:

So in case you were wondering: No, not even the director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, in the sanctuary of his own home, which is itself practically in the middle of the most prestigious university in the world, which is Gates' employer and playground, is immune from getting hassled because he is black.



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