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Gates jokes about his arrest at Massachusetts book festival

In his first public appearance since the White House meeting, the Harvard professor also describes how the incident and the subsequent national debate affected him.

August 03, 2009|Associated Press

CHILMARK, MASS. — Black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Sunday joked about his arrest by a white police officer; he also described receiving death threats and having a dream about being arrested at the White House.

In his first public appearance since sharing a beer at the White House on Thursday with the officer and President Obama, Gates said the national debate over racial profiling sparked by his July 16 arrest shows that issues of class and race still run "profoundly deep" in the United States.

"They have not been resolved at all," he said, speaking to an audience of more than 150 at the Martha's Vineyard Book Festival, where he was promoting a book.

Gates was mostly lighthearted during his speech and even poked fun at himself after an audience member told him he admired his sense of humor.

"I should have been funnier in the kitchen of my house on July 16," he said.

But Gates also described how the incident and the subsequent national debate affected him personally. He said he had to shut down his public e-mail and change his cellphone number after receiving numerous death and bomb threats.

Gates was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge at his Cambridge, Mass., home after police responded to a 911 call about a possible burglary. Gates had just returned from a trip abroad and was having trouble opening a jammed door.

The officer who arrested him, Sgt. James Crowley, said Gates became belligerent and called Crowley a racist after Crowley asked for identification. Gates accused police of racial profiling and called Crowley a "rogue cop."

The charge was dropped.

Obama stepped into the fray during a White House news conference when he said Cambridge police had "acted stupidly." He later said he should have chosen his words more carefully and invited the two men to the White House for a beer.

Gates said that the night before he went to the White House, he dreamed about getting arrested there.

When Gates and Crowley first came face to face in the White House, Gates said that he and his family, as well as Crowley and his family, "looked like a deer caught in headlights."

He said Crowley looked "so relieved" when he shook his hand, and the two were able to find humor in the media frenzy.

Gates said he and Crowley discussed meeting again privately -- either going to lunch or taking in a Boston Red Sox or Celtics game -- or having their two families go out to dinner together.

"I offered to get his kids into Harvard if he doesn't arrest me again," he said, drawing loud laughter from the audience.

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