The Backlash Against Obama: Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s Arrest, Racism, and a Meeting over Beer


“We hit it off right from the beginning. When he’s not arresting you, Sgt Crowley is a really likable guy” — PROF. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR.

President Barack Obama, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sergeant James Crowley walk from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden
(President Barack Obama, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sergeant James Crowley walk from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden of the White House, July 30, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


  • Poll: Obama mishandled comments on race – AP, 7-30-09
  • Obama’s Handling of Gates Flap Seems To Have Hurt Public Image, Poll Finds: The intriguing possibility comes from a Pew Research Center analysis released Thursday: The poll finds that Obama’s overall approval rating among whites tumbled seven percentage points from just after his July 22 news conference through last weekend, as the focus turned increasingly to his handling of the situation. The percentage of whites who “like” the kind of person he is fell by six points. In a callback survey Monday evening, more than twice as many whites disapproved than approved of how Obama was dealing with the matter (45 percent disapproved, 22 approved and 33 percent said they did not know)…. – WaPo, 7-30-09
  • Cold beer, calm words from Obama, prof and cop: Said Obama after the highly anticipated, 40-minute chat on the Rose Garden patio: “I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart.” “I am confident that has happened here tonight, and I am hopeful that all of us are able to draw this positive lesson from this episode,” said the nation’s first black president…. – AP, 7-30-09
  • Obama More Bartender Than Mediator At Beer Summit: U.S. President Barack Obama played bartender-in-chief on Thursday at a “beer summit” of the main players in a racially charged case that he hoped would be a “positive lesson” in a national dialogue on race.
    Obama, the first black U.S. president, said it was a “friendly, thoughtful” conversation over beer at the White House with prominent Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, who is black, and police Sergeant James Crowley, who is white…. – Reuters, 7-30-09
  • Julian Zelizer says the beer summit is unprecedented: …However, “that was a much more explosive issue than this,” said Zelizer, a Princeton University professor. By getting involved, he said, Kennedy tacitly showed support for the civil rights movement and followed up with White House policies that helped bring about racial equality.
    While Obama may be sincere about using the “teachable moment” of the Gates case to launch a positive discussion about race, “part of it was about him, rather than the situation,” Zelizer said. “This is a way for him to quasi- apologize for what he said.” “I think that some part of him genuinely believes that dialogue can be helpful,” he added. “It’s also clearly partially a political response to stop a story that’s getting out of control.”
    “I’m not a big fan of this beer at the White House,” Zelizer said. “It turns this into a media moment, rather than a serious moment.” “It can kind of trivialize the matter,” he said, instead of tackling the deep-seated racial problem underlying the confrontation between Gates, who is black, and police Sergeant James Crowley. The officer, who is white, was called to Gates’ home when a neighbor reported a burglary, but Gates had forced open the jammed front door.
    “If this is all we see from the president, there will be some people that will be disappointed” Zelizer said. “The danger of a hearts-and-minds approach is it never gets to the underlying problem If there’s no policy on the table — no serious proposal on the table — it’s hard to see how these discussions can really result in long-term change.”… – Boston Globe, 7-30-09
  • 911 caller in Gates case says she’d make call againUSA Today, 7-29-09
  • The Gates of Political Distraction Obama’s mistake was falling for a culture war diversion: The essential point about Gates-gate, or the tempest over last week’s arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., is this: Most liberal commentary on the subject has taken race as its theme. Conservative commentators, by contrast, have furiously hit the class button…. – WSJ, 7-28-09
  • Beer diplomacy: Obama aims for calm and comity: Three guys, sitting around a picnic table, having a cold one. Beer diplomacy? The “teachable moment” the president promised? Or just a way for the White House to get people to quit talking about the president’s comments on a racial brouhaha in Massachusetts?
    When Barack Obama meets Thursday with the black professor and white policeman at the center of a national uproar over race relations, he is aiming for a show that will get positive news coverage and then go away….
    The broader point: The White House wants to show Obama as a reconciliatory force and then try to get people focused back on his plans for health care overhaul…. – AP, 7-28-09
  • Gates 911 call: Witness not sure she sees crime: The 911 caller who reported two men possibly breaking into the home of black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. did not describe their race, acknowledged they might just be having a hard time with the door and said she saw two suitcases on the porch.
    Cambridge police on Monday released the 911 recording and radio transmissions from the scene in an effort to show they had nothing to hide, but the tapes raised new questions about how and why the situation escalated….
    In her 911 call, Lucia Whalen, who works at the Harvard alumni magazine, repeatedly tells the operator she is not sure what is happening…. – AP, 7-27-09

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sergeant James Crowley meet in the Rose Garden

(President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sergeant James Crowley meet in the Rose Garden of the White House, July 30, 2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
  • Obama Tries to Move Past Gates Furor: The White House expressed hope that it has put behind it a controversy surrounding President Barack Obama’s remarks on the arrest of African-American scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. But the incident highlights the challenge facing Mr. Obama in addressing the issue of race and in keeping the debate focused on his broader agenda.
    David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Obama, said Sunday that he believed the president’s expression of regret for his initial statement that the police “acted stupidly” was having “the desired effect.”
    “People are talking more constructively now,” Mr. Axelrod said on CBS’s “Face The Nation.” “The steam has gone out of this. Instead of heat being generated, more light is being generated.”
    The incident highlighted social divisions that Mr. Obama hoped had been eased by his election as the nation’s first African-American president. The emotions triggered by his comments on the Gates arrest suggest that the issue of race continues to hang over his presidency….. – WSJ, 7-26-09
  • Obama, Gates and the American Black Man: NYT, 7-25-09
  • Gates Says ‘Yes’ to Beer With Crowley: “It was very kind of the President to phone me today. Vernon Jordan is absolutely correct: my unfortunate experience will only have a larger meaning if we can all use this to diminish racial profiling and to enhance fairness and equity in the criminal justice system for poor people and for people of color.
    And to that end, I look forward to studying the history of racial profiling in a new documentary for PBS. I told the President that my principal regret was that all of the attention paid to his deeply supportive remarks during his press conference had distracted attention from his health care initiative. I am pleased that he, too, is eager to use my experience as a teaching moment, and if meeting Sgt. [James] Crowley for a beer with the President will further that end, then I would be happy to oblige.
    After all, I first proposed that Sgt. Crowley and I meet as early as last Monday. If my experience leads to the lessening of the occurrence of racial profiling, then I would find that enormously gratifying. Because, in the end, this is not about me at all; it is about the creation of a society in which ‘equal justice before law’ is a lived reality.” – Henry Louis Gates in The Root (edited by Henry Louis Gates) (7-24-09)
  • Black males’ fear of racial profiling very real, regardless of class: Several African American professionals find professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s recent encounter with police all too easy to relate to. Their lingering question is when to speak up…. Lawrence Otis Graham, the author of books about affluent African Americans, says wealthy blacks may actually be subjected to more racial profiling than other African Americans…. – LAT, 7-24-09
  • Case Recalls Tightrope Blacks Walk With Police: ….Like countless other blacks around the country, Mr. Medley was revisiting his encounters with the police as a national discussion about race and law enforcement unfolded after the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard’s prominent scholar of African-American history. Professor Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct last Thursday at his home in Cambridge, Mass., while the police investigated a report of a possible break-in there. The charge was later dropped, and the Cambridge Police Department said the incident was “regrettable and unfortunate.”
    In interviews here and in Atlanta, in Web postings and on television talk shows, blacks and others said that what happened to Professor Gates is a common, if unacknowledged, reality for many people of color. They also said that beyond race, the ego of the police officer probably played a role…. NYT, 7-23-09
  • Obama doesn’t regret ‘acted stupidly’ remark about Henry Gates Jr. arrest: What’s everyone so upset about?
    That was President Obama’s response Thursday night during an ABC News interview when asked if he regretted his “acted stupidly” comment during Wednesday night’s press conference.
    “I am suprised by the controversy,” Obama told ABC’s Terry Moran. “I think it was [a] pretty straightforward comment that you probably don’t need to handcuff a guy, a middle-aged man who uses a cane, who’s in his own home.” – NY Daily News, 7-23-09
  • Cop who arrested black scholar is profiling expert: The white police sergeant accused of racial profiling after he arrested renowned black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his home was hand-picked by a black police commissioner to teach recruits about avoiding racial profiling.
    Friends and fellow officers — black and white — say Sgt. James Crowley is a principled police officer and family man who is being unfairly described as racist.
    “If people are looking for a guy who’s abusive or arrogant, they got the wrong guy,” said Andy Meyer, of Natick, who has vacationed with Crowley, coached youth sports with him and is his teammate on a men’s softball team. “This is not a racist, rogue cop. This is a fine, upstanding man. And if every cop in the world were like him, it would be a better place.”
    Gates accused the 11-year department veteran of being an unyielding, race-baiting authoritarian after Crowley arrested and charged him with disorderly conduct last week…. – AP, 7-23-09
  • Police Chief Responds to Obama’s Remarks: The top police official here defended the officer who arrested Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., and said his department was “deeply pained” by President Barack Obama’s remark that Cambridge police “acted stupidly” in the case.
    Commissioner Robert Haas called Sgt. James Crowley “a stellar member of this department” who properly followed police procedure and had no racial motivation in arresting the 58-year-old African-American scholar at his home last week. Authorities dropped the disorderly conduct charge this week.
    But Mr. Haas said he would convene a panel to examine the incident and ways to avoid such incidents, which he said “we deeply regret.”… – WSJ, 7-23-09
  • Obama Criticizes Arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates : President Obama bluntly accused the police of acting “stupidly” by arresting the Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. last week after an officer had established that Mr. Gates had not broken into his own home in Cambridge, Mass. Mr. Obama stopped short of accusing the police department of racial profiling, as Mr. Gates has done. But during a prime-time White House news conference that was otherwise largely devoted to health care, Mr. Obama weighed in full bore on the Gates case and suggested that the police should never have arrested him.
    “There’s a long history in this country of African-Americans being stopped disproportionately by the police,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s a sign of how race remains a factor in this society.” – NYT, 7-22-09
  • “The good news about the Henry Louis Gates fiasco”: When I heard that prominent black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested for breaking into his own home in Cambridge, Mass., it made me proud of America. It may seem paradoxical to focus on the positive side of the preeminent scholar’s public humiliation. This is, after all, a distinguished staff writer for the New Yorker, the man who helped Oprah find her roots. It may seem that there’s no positive side at all. (His own neighbor, a Harvard magazine employee, didn’t recognize him and called the cops. How pathetic is that?)
    But last night I happened to be reading a book that put the whole incident into context, a volume that never fails to chill me: “We Charge Genocide,” a petition brought before the U.N. in 1951 that makes a very convincing case for defining the treatment of African-Americans in the U.S. as a genocide. This remarkable book consists, in part, of a litany of shocking bias crimes committed against black citizens across the country — and only documented ones occurring between 1945 to 1950. A typical entry reads: “February 13 — ISAAC WOODWARD, JR., discharged from the Army only a few hours, was on his way home when he had his eyes gouged out in Batesburg, South Carolina, by the town chief of police, Linwood Shull … [A]n all-white jury acquitted Shull after being out for 15 minutes.” And so on, for 50-odd hair-raising pages. Believe me, Toni Morrison couldn’t top it…. – James Hannaham at, 7-22-09
  • Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and the Police in “Post-Racial” America: This past Thursday, the renowned Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., author of Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man, was reminded that sometimes, there’s just one.
    It is the way that his white neighbor, Lucia Whalen, looked at him as he stood on his porch with his luggage, attempting to nudge his jammed front door open. That look that somehow confuses a nearly sixty year old bespectacled professor with a blue blazer who cannot walk without the aid of a cane, as a crafty black burglar practicing his illicit deeds at 12:30 PM in the afternoon. Likely imagining herself as some courageous vigilante protecting the sanctity of her exclusive neighborhood to the unending praise of her grateful neighbors, she instead must bear the ignominious title of “the white lady who called the cops on ‘Skip’ Gates'” from dinner party to dinner party like a Scarlet K-K-K .
    It is the way that Officer James Crowley, who responded to Ms. Whalen’s misguided vigilance, looked at the MacArthur fellowship winner standing in his own foyer, as if to make humiliatingly literal the W.E.B. Du Bois lament from The Souls of Black Folk, “Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house?” Gates, understandably exhausted from the return flight from China he had just taken, responded to the officer’s insistent questioning of his identity with frustration — but did indeed prove his ownership of the residence and right to be there…. – Brandon M. Terry at the Huffington Post, 7-22-09
  • If it can happen to Skip Gates …: For many, it was a startling portrait: the normally reserved Harvard University professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr., standing on his front porch in handcuffs, appearing to yell as police officers surrounded him. Yet those were the images that circulated Tuesday, as news of Gates’ controversial arrest – and the subsequent dropping of charges against him – circulated on Web sites and television.
    Stephen L. Carter, a Yale University law professor and novelist, felt like he was watching a scene unfold from one of his own books. Carter has written scholarly works along with bestsellers about the lives of upper-class African Americans, including those in academe, and his fiction often illustrates how wealthy blacks draw suspicion in posh environs like private beaches or Ivy League campuses.
    “If it can happen to Henry Louis Gates, possibly the most prominent black scholar in the country, and in his home town, then it can indeed happen to any of us,” Carter, author of The Emperor of Ocean Park, wrote in an e-mail to Inside Higher Ed.
    “Odd, isn’t it? Here we are in the age of Obama, and some things haven’t changed. Blackness is associated in the public mind with wrongdoing; if we are spotted in an unexpected locale, we must be up to something.”… – Inside Higher Ed, 7-22-09
  • Skip Gates and the Post-Racial Project: Over the past several days a strange characterization of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has emerged. Many are portraying him as a radical who easily and inappropriately appeals to race as an excuse and explanation. This image of Gates is inaccurate. In fact, more than any other black intellectual in the country Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was an apolitical figure. This is neither a criticism nor an accolade, simply an observation…. – Melissa Harris-Lacewell in The Nation, 7-21-09
  • The Root Editor-in-Chief Henry Louis Gates Jr. talks about his arrest and the outrage of racial profiling in America: I’m saying ‘You need to send someone to fix my lock.’ All of a sudden, there was a policeman on my porch. And I thought, ‘This is strange.’ So I went over to the front porch still holding the phone, and I said ‘Officer, can I help you?’ And he said, ‘Would you step outside onto the porch.’ And the way he said it, I knew he wasn’t canvassing for the police benevolent association. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I realized that I was in danger. And I said to him no, out of instinct. I said, ‘No, I will not.’…. – Henry Louis Gates Jr. in The Root, 7-21-09


(Bill Carter/Demotix Images) Police led Henry Louis Gates Jr. away in handcuffs after his arrest on Thursday at his home in Cambridge.

  • Police Drop Charges Against Black Scholar: 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.”
    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.”… – WSJ, 7-21-09
  • Gates chastises officer after authorities agree to drop criminal charge: Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. chastised a Cambridge police officer today and demanded an apology after authorities agreed to drop a disorderly conduct charge against the renowned African-American scholar.
    Gates accused the officer who arrested him at his Cambridge home of having a “broad imagination” when he summarized last Thursday’s confrontation in police reports, and he denied making several inflammatory remarks.
    “I believe the police officer should apologize to me for what he knows he did that was wrong,” Gates said in a phone interview from his other home in Martha’s Vineyard. “If he apologizes sincerely, I am willing to forgive him. And if he admits his error, I am willing to educate him about the history of racism in America and the issue of racial profiling … That’s what I do for a living.”
    Gates, 58, was handcuffed and booked last Thursday following a police investigation into a suspected burglary at his Ware Street home near Harvard Square. A passerby spotted Gates and his driver, who had dropped him off from the airport, trying to push the front door open and called the police. The door had been jammed. Police responded and arrested Gates after they said he became belligerent.
    Earlier today, the Middlesex district attorney’s office announced plans to drop criminal charges against Gates. The City of Cambridge and the police department recommended today that prosecutors not pursue charges in a joint statement from authorities and Gates that called the confrontation “regrettable and unfortunate.”
    “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,” the statement said. “All parties agree that this is a just resolution to an unfortunate set of circumstances.”
    Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons said in a statement that the controversy illustrated “that Cambridge must continue finding ways to address matters of race and class in a frank, honest, and productive manner.”… – Boston Globe, 7-21-09
  • Henry Louis Gates Jr. Arrested: Colleagues of Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard’s most prominent scholar of African-American history, are accusing the police here of racism after he was arrested at his home last week by an officer investigating a report of a robbery in progress.
    Professor Gates, who has taught at Harvard for nearly two decades, arrived home on Thursday from a trip to China to find his front door jammed, said Charles J. Ogletree, a law professor at Harvard who is representing him.
    He forced the door open with the help of his cab driver, Professor Ogletree said, and had been inside for a few minutes when Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department appeared at his door and asked him to step outside.
    Professor Gates, 58, refused to do so, Professor Ogletree said. From that point, the account of the professor and the police began to differ…. – NYT, 7-21-09
  • Black scholar’s arrest raises profiling questions: Henry Louis Gates Jr., the nation’s pre-eminent black scholar, was arrested at his home near Harvard University after forcing his way through his front door because it was jammed. Gates was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge last Thursday after police said he “exhibited loud and tumultuous behavior.” He was released later that day on his own recognizance. An arraignment was scheduled for Aug. 26. Police refused to comment on the arrest Monday…. – AP, 7-21-09
  • Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrested outside his home, calls Cambridge police ‘racist’: A distinguished black Harvard University professor was handcuffed and dragged off his porch to jail after Massachusetts cops mistook him for a burglar. Henry Louis Gates Jr., one of the nation’s most renowned scholars of African-American history, was busted when he repeatedly accused a cop of racism for confronting him, police said. “Why, because I’m a black man in America?” Gates, 58, demanded, the police report said…. – NY Daily News, 7-21-09
  • Harvard professor arrested, racism accusations: An acclaimed black US scholar accused a police officer in Cambridge, Massachusetts of racism for investigating reports of a break-in as he entered his own house, after which he was arrested, police records have shown.
    Henry Louis Gates, 58, considered a preeminent professor of African American studies at the prestigious Harvard University, was charged with disorderly conduct. Police cited his “loud and tumultuous behavior.”
    Gates was seen by a passing woman to be attempting entry to the front door of his house — which was damaged — along with another black man, according to the police report from July 16.
    The woman alerted the police and by the time a uniformed officer arrived Gates was inside his home and reporting the faulty door to the Harvard Real Estate office, said a statement later released by Gates’ lawyer, Charles Ogletree.
    The other man at the scene was Gates’ hired driver.
    “Professor Gates informed the officer that he lived there and was a faculty member at Harvard University,” Ogletree said.
    According to the police report, Gates repeatedly told officers at the scene that “this is what happens to black men in America.”…. – AFP, 7-20-09

1 Comment

  1. Rwh

     /  July 31, 2009

    Speaking frankly that as long as we continue to witness and have these types of situations occur; we are not going to solve anything! For to long racism stands at the forefront of mankind. This dates back in centuries and you would think we all have learned that it has not accomplished nothing. Professor Gates and Officer Crowley…both should have known better and what was taking place between the to of them would get out of hand to a point where it raise questions as to who did what! We all need to stop blaming President Obama for every-little-bit-of-things that go on! I have not seen or heard this type of things with the former President Bush. Everyone needs to stop it…let President Obama be who he is. On a sad note; Officer Leon Lashley seeing things getting out of hand should have inervene; and Mrs. Lucia Whalen was drawn in this situation because she was trying to prevent or help before this problem occur; however, they both were there and was simply tring to help…and got caught up in the in this mess….yes mess because of what it has turn into. Lastly, Officer Crowley has indeed made an error in his report and lies about it makes us all know that he clearly did the wrong thing because in his report….black men was used and it was never mentioned by the caller. This too, has to be investigaed and addressed because if the police department stands by this report; they are no better than committing racism acts themselves.

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