In an incident that raised eyebrows from coast to coast, Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., a prominent scholar and author, was arrested by the Cambridge Police Department after officers responded to reports that black men were breaking into his house. Gates had just arrived home from China and was trying to force open his jammed front door with the help of his hired driver when a neighbor called the police.
Exactly what happened after that isn't clear. News reports quoting the police say that Gates, the head of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, was uncooperative and "disorderly" while an officer was investigating a possible burglary. That's nonsense, Gates maintains. The real problem is that his color trumped everything else, including his prominence, his familiarity with the house and his identification showing that he lived there. It demoted him from citizen to suspect.
Even after seeing his Harvard ID and Massachusetts driver's license, Gates told the Washington Post, the officer's questions continued. Gates asked questions too, insisting that the officer divulge his name and badge number. That request, he maintains, led to a back and forth between them, ending in his arrest. Ultimately, the professor was released on $40 bail. The police call the incident "regrettable," and prosecutors have dropped disorderly conduct charges against the scholar. But it's not over. The incident illustrates how fraught relations remain between black men and police officers.