Henry Louis Gates: Racist

Filed in Politics, Social IssuesTags: Racism

I've not commented yet on the Gates race-baiting story, and I've also not done a good fisking in a long time, so I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone by taking on Andrew Sullivan's alleged attempt at impartiality regarding the story.

What do you call a black man with a PhD? The answer begins with an “n”. Yes, it’s an old and bitter joke about the resilience of racial bias in America, but it got a new twist last week. The black man with a PhD was Henry Louis Gates Jr, one of the most distinguished scholars of African-American history and culture at Harvard. His unexpected tormentor was a local policeman called James Crowley, a white, well-trained officer called to investigate a possible break-in.

Sullivan underlies his article with an unfounded and ill-argued assumption: that the incident represents a "new twist" on the resilience of racial bias in America - specifically, anti-black racial bias. To prove the point, Sullivan equates Gates with the maligned punchline of the "old and bitter joke", and calls Sgt. James Crowley his "tormenter".

Sullivan's entire point of view in his article depends upon this assumption: that anti-black racial bias played a role in the situation. As I will show, and unfortunately for Sullivan's argument (and for Gates, for that matter), the facts of the matter seem to disprove that assumption rather thoroughly.


The facts we know for sure are as follows. Ten days ago Gates got home from China in the afternoon to find his front door jammed. He forced it open with the help of his cab driver, another black man. A white woman in the area called the police to report a possible burglary. Crowley showed up and saw a black man in the hallway of the house through the glass door. He asked Gates to step out onto the porch and talk to him. Gates refused.

The police report — written by Crowley — says he told Gates he was investigating a break-in in progress and Gates responded furiously: “Why? Because I’m a black man in America?” Gates tried to place a call to the local police chief, while telling Crowley he had no idea who he was “messing” with. The interaction quickly degenerated. After Gates had shown his Harvard identification, Crowley said he would leave. Gates then followed him to his front door, allegedly yelling that Crowley was racist. On his own porch, at his own property, Gates was arrested for “disorderly conduct”, handcuffed and booked in at a local station.

These two paragraphs represent perhaps the most objective, un-biased statements in the entire article. Unfortunately, they don't represent even the entire story as is available in the police report itself (which was written by both Sgt. Crowley and Officer Carlos Figueroa). To wit:

  • Gates didn't come home "to find his front door jammed"; he knew beforehand that it was jammed. Gates' residence - by his own admission - had been the target of a previous break-in attempt (the reason for the door being jammed).
  • After talking to the woman who reported the possible break-in, Crowley radioed to request additional backup.
  • Crowley's first communication with Gates was to ask him to step onto the porch to talk to him, to which Gates responded, "no, I will not."
  • Gates then demanded to know Crowley's identity,' to which Crowley responded, "Sgt. Crowley from the Cambridge Police," and that he was "investigating the report of a break-in in progress" at the residence.
  • Gates' immediate response to Crowley's explanation was, "Why? Because I am a black man in America?"
  • Crowley attempted to proceed with his investigation, amidst continued yelling and accusations of racism by Gates. Crowley asked if anyone else was in the residence, to which Gates replied that it was none of Crowley's business.
  • Crowley requested that Gates show him photo identification to prove that he resided at the location. Gates initially refused, demanded identification from Crowley, and then complied with Crowley's request by producing a Harvard identification card.
  • Upon learning that Gates was affiliated with Harvard, Crowley radioed to request the presence of Harvard police.
  • As Crowley prepared to leave, Gates continued yelling at him, issuing racist accusations at him, told him that Gates wasn't "someone to mess with", and asked him a second and third time for Crowley's name.
  • Officer Figueroa arrived at some time near this point, and overheard much, of the incident.
  • Crowley then told Gates that he was leaving the residence, and that if he had anything further to say, that he could say it outside. According to Crowley, Gates' tirade was so loud in the kitchen and foyer that Crowley had difficulty transmitting pertinent information via his radio.
  • Gates responded, "Yeah, I'll speak with your mama outside."
  • Crowley exited the residence to find several Cambridge Police officers, Harvard Police officers, the original caller, and approximately seven unidentified onlookers.
  • Gates followed Crowley outside of the house.
  • As Crowley descended the steps to the sidewalk, Gates continued yelling at Crowley, hurling racial accusations at him, and telling him that Crowley had not heard the last of Gates.
  • Crowley warned Gates not once, but twice, that his behavior had become disorderly, and to calm down.
  • Gates ignored Crowley's warnings, and continued his outburst.
  • It was at this point, after two warnings, that Crowley placed Gates under arrest.
  • Gates was initially handcuffed with his hands behind his back, but immediately complained that the handcuffs were too tight, and that he was "disabled" and would fall without his cane.
  • Crowley immediately had Officer Ivey handcuff Gates with his hands in front, while Crowley found Gates' cane inside his house.
  • Crowley asked Gates if he would be comfortable with letting one of the police officers secure the front door of the house, which was open. Gates responded that the door could not be secured, having been damaged during a previous break-in attempt at the house.

I will refer to these points of fact as I address Sullivan's article. However, these facts already refute the picture painted by Sullivan, of a black man tormented by a white police officer.


The incident clearly struck a nerve. Boston has a fraught racial history. Gates, of course, is no underclass black man but among the country’s elite, friends with the president, chums with Oprah Winfrey, a man given a small fortune by Harvard to build one of the best departments of African-American studies in the world.

The affair got another lease of tabloid life when President Barack Obama was asked for his reaction to the incident and said that while Gates was a friend and he did not know the full facts, the police acted “stupidly” by arresting someone when there was proof he was in his own home.

And of course, Obama's statement has proven to be as unpopular as it was ignorant and inflammatory. Regardless of the facts - which place Obama squarely in the wrong - issuing a judgement statement based on a situation about which one admits to being ignorant of the facts regarding that situation is patently foolish. For the President to do so - especially when doing so incites a racial issue - is downright dangerous. (Would that Obama considered commenting on the incident to be "above his pay grade".)


So was this an example of excessive racial grievance on the part of Gates or excessive racial insensitivity on the part of Crowley — or a little bit of both? Such moments are fully understood only by the individuals involved — and even then the truth is murky in such emotional circumstances. But it is indeed unusual to arrest someone for “disorderly conduct” when he is on his own property.

It is most certainly not unusual to arrest someone for disorderly conduct while that person is on his own property. Does Andrew Sullivan not watch Cops? Those who are belligerent with police officers, and who would otherwise not subject themselves to problems with those officers, are often arrested for such disorderly conduct. Note that not one of the witnesses - Officer Figueroa inside the residence, the many Cambridge and Harvard Police officers outside the residence, the woman who called in the suspected break-in, or the seven onlookers - not one has refuted the facts of the case as stated in the police report. Gates' conduct was disorderly.


Massachusetts law defines the perpetrators of “disorderly conduct” thus: “common night walkers, common street walkers, both male and female, common railers and brawlers, persons who with offensive and disorderly acts or language accost or annoy persons of the opposite sex, lewd, wanton and lascivious persons in speech or behaviour, idle and disorderly persons, disturbers of the peace, keepers of noisy and disorderly houses and persons guilty of indecent exposure”. Apparently Gates’s loud accusations of racism on a street in Cambridge at one o’clock in the afternoon in front of at most seven passers-by and neighbours was a qualification for the charge. It’s no big surprise that it was swiftly dropped.

Apparently, Sullivan has a reading comprehension issue, if he does not understand Gates' behavior to be fully in line with this definition of "disorderly."


Crowley gave an interview on Thursday after Obama’s remarks, refusing to apologise. When asked what he thought of the president’s comments, he smiled, paused and said: “I didn’t vote for him.” The way he said it, the contempt in his voice and pride in his actions, helped to illuminate for me why Gates might have perceived racism. But the second police report — from an officer called Carlos Figueroa — testified that Gates initially refused to provide Crowley with any identification, yelling, “No, I will not!” and, “This is what happens to black men in America!” and, “You don’t know who you’re messing with.”

How Sullivan could be illuminated regarding why Gates might have perceived racism, simply by observing Crowley's response to a question regarding Obama's comments, is beyond me. Crowley was absolutely justifed in being proud of his actions. He responded to a broadcast of a reported break-in in progress, handled the situation by the book, and conducted himself with utmost professionalism throughout the incident. Further, he is absolutely justified in contempt toward a President who interjected himself into the issue, having admitted to being ignorant of the facts, and accused Crowley of acting "stupidly" and implying that his actions were racially motivated.

And therein lies the problem with Sullivan's article: Crowley did absolutely nothing wrong. Gates was the sole instigator, antagonist, and escalator in the situation. As such, any racial motivation in the matter lies squarely with Gates - not Crowley.


Gates is not a merchant of racial grievance. He is a scholar who has won wealth and fame and respect for his work and who tends to eschew the kind of bald racial accusations he made that day. Maybe he was exhausted after a long trip and irritated by being unable to get into his home; to be confronted by an officer of the law asking if he was a burglar may well have been the last straw. He lost his cool. A black man should never lose his cool with a white policeman in America. Obama explained in his autobiography the unwritten code for black men in such situations: no sudden moves.

Unfortunately for Sullivan's article, more and more evidence is being broght to light that refutes Sullivan's claim that Gates "is not a merchant of racial grievance" and that he "tends to eschew the kind of bald racial accusations he made that day."

Exhibit A: As a student, Gates wrote the following in his application to Yale University:

"As always, whitey now sits in judgment of me, preparing to cast my fate. It is your decision either to let me blow with the wind as a nonentity or to encourage the development of self. Allow me to prove myself."

Exhibit B: 19 1994, Gates lauded Malcolm X's anti-white racial bias:

...[I]n 1959 we were watching Mike Wallace's documentary called "The Hate that Hate Produced." It was about the Nation of Islam and I couldn't believe -- I mean, Malcolm X was talking about the white man was the devil and standing up in white people's faces and telling them off. It was great.

Exhibit C: In 1996, Gates gave a speech slandering Clarence Thomas as a racial hypocrite:

The only reason we have so many people doing so well - the only reason - is because of ...the civil rights movement and its child affirmative action. Without affirmative action we would never have been able to integrate racist historically white institutions in society. And to me, the first issue we have to address is how to protect, defend, and expand affirmative action.

...because of racism I never would have been allowed to compete on a more or less level terrain with white boys and white girls. And for me, for someone who has benefitted so much from the opportunities from affirmative action, to stand at the gate and try to keep other black people out, would to me to be as hypocritical as Clarence Thomas.

Exhibit D: Earlier this year, Gates expressed that he was horrified to learn that, genetically, he is 57% white:

This past March 29th, Professor Henry Louis Gates was being interviewed in front of a small group by Walter Isaacson on C-SPAN's Book TV. Thirty-three minutes into the discussion about his new book on Lincoln, Professor Gates began a detailed account of his own genealogy. He said that in doing so he had discovered he was about "50% white". He said that this was quote, "To my astonishment and horror...".

He continued by saying that he had subsequently sent his DNA off to be tested. This time, upon finding out he was "57% white", he said again, "to my horror .... I was becoming more white by the minute".

Sullivan tries to excuse Gates' behavior by attempting to explain it. Unfortunately, no rational or logical explanation exists for Gates' behavior, other than racial motivation. Given that Gates knew beforehand that his door was jammed - and jammed because of a prior break-in attempt, he had no excuse or reason whatsoever to lose his temper with Sgt. Crowley or to assume that Crowley's investigation was racially motivated.

Also, what of Sullivan's statement that a "black man should never lose his cool with a white policeman in America"? Why is it that it is always liberals who are injecting race where race need not be injected? The statement "a man should never lose his cool with a policeman in America" is entirely appropriate here. Whether black, white, or otherwise, no one should ever lose his cool with a policeman - again, whether black, white, or otherwise - in America. Sullivan also further demonstrates Obama's own race-baiting, with Obama's statment that the "unwritten code for black men in such situations" is "no sudden moves." One, when has Obama ever been in such situations? (Perhaps when we was being issued his dozens of unpaid-for-decades Harvard parking tickets?) Two, the very-well-known rule for anyone in the middle of a police investigation is "no sudden moves." Once again, a liberal injects race where race is entirely inapplicable.


Would this have happened to a white man? That requires some unpacking. A white man seen breaking through the front door into a house in an affluent section of Cambridge, Massachusetts, might not have prompted a police call. Any suspected break-in, though, could justify a call to the local police station.

And in what circumstance would a witnessed, suspected break-in (such as two men with backpacks throwing their shoulders into the front door of a house, attempting to force the door open) not justify a call to the local police station?


More importantly, a white man seeing a policeman call him onto his porch for identification would probably not have exploded the way Gates allegedly did. Nor, one might add, would a poor black man arrested on the streets of the largely African-American neighbourhood of Roxbury in Boston raise such a ruckus about “racism”. Gates’s response was a classic example of how successful black men in America feel when treated by the police in a manner used in the ghetto. That was also perhaps the reason for Obama’s solidarity. What do you call a black man with a PhD again? Equally, I’d wager that if the policeman had seen an older white man wielding a cane through the glass door of a posh house, he would not have demanded that the man come out onto his porch and identify himself. He would have knocked, explained the reason for his visit and instantly accepted a white man’s explanation. Is this racism? If it has never happened to you, no. If it has, yes.

First, what does Andrew Sullivan - a man about as black as I am, which is to say not at all - know about how successful black men in America feel about anything? Second, how was Gates' situation in any way comparable to the police's (ostensible) manner in the ghetto?

It is interesting to note that Crowley's actions in the situation far more closely resembled Sullivan's hypothetical scenario of a cop's treatment of an older white man (Crowley knocked, explained the reason for his visit, and accepted the man's explanation - once given), than Sullivan's interpretation of what actually happened (Crowley did not demand Gates come out onto the porch and identify himself).

Sgt. Crowley has stated - and police officers across the country have corroborated - that during a possible break-in in progress, it is standard operating procedure to ask the homeowner to come outside of the home, in order to ensure that the person is not being held against his will and can speak freely and openly. Further, Sgt. Crowley was the first - and lone - initial respondent to the reported break-in, for which the caller reported not one, but two persons involved. It was for Sgt. Crowley's own safety that he requested the unidentified occupant to come outside onto the porch.

Given that Sullivan's interpretation of the events is exactly opposite of what actually happened, his argument is specious and his conclusion is therefore invalid. Crowley treated Gates exactly the way Sullivan presupposes Crowley would have treated a white man in the same situation, and yet Gates, entirely unprovoked by Crowley, still over-reacted.

It would appear that the germane question is not, "what do you call a black man with a PhD?" but rather, "what does a racist black man call a white police officer?"

Also, about that oft-mentioned cane: we don't know whether or not Gates was "weilding" his cane while inside his house. The first mention of it came after Gates was handcuffed. Gates may in fact be "disabled" and need the cane for walking; however, he obviously didn't need the cane in order to follow Crowley out of the house in order to keep yelling at and berating him. Otherwise, if Gates had used his cane to walk out of the house, Crowley would not have had to go back inside the house to find the cane. Further, I find highly implausible the prospect that Gates was "wielding" his cane while he was attempting to force his front door open with his shoulder.


On the web, the comments sections on various blogs and stories were the most honest. Here is one view: “Butt the hell out Obama. You don’t know the facts of the case, you weren’t there, you’re friends with the douchebag, you’re black. Taking Obama’s word is the same as judging a criminal by a jury of his fellow gangster peers.”

Here is another: “Professor Gates might not have been arrested if he’d been more submissive — let the cop win the masculinity contest. Every brotha has played that game as well: you don’t look the popo in the eye, you do say ‘sir’ a lot and maybe you won’t get locked up. Then you go home and stew in the stuff that gives African-American men low life expectancy.”

Yes, America has a black president. But some things haven’t changed that much, have they?

Indeed, some things haven't changed that much. Some people - including Professor Gates - are still racist. Democrat politicians - including President Obama - are still race-baiters. And Liberal pundits - including Andrew Sullivan - still can't tell the difference.

You can listen to the 911 call recording here, and the incident radio transmissions here and here.


Comments (Comments are closed)

2 Responses to “Henry Louis Gates: Racist”
  1. DH says:

    Great post, I agree 100%. Gates makes his living by race-baiting, pandering racism and playing the victim. He’s a below-average affirmative action baby, who is only where he is because of the color of his skin. Gates = 100% racist. Crowley = 100% professional…he should have attended “the beer at the White House” only on the condition that both racists, Gates and Obama, publicly apologize.

  2. Chip Bennett says:

    Hi DH, thanks for commenting. I agree; the “Beer Summit” was nothing more than a CYA event for Dear Leader.

    Interesting, though, that Crowley once again proved himself the better of his two companions, merely by his attendance and conduct.


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