Last Thursday, 16 July 2009, Harvard University Professor and Director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested at his Cambridge home and charged with disorderly conduct. The incident began when Gates had returned home from a trip China and found his front to door damaged and consequently jammed shut. A neighbor saw Gates's attempt to shoulder the door open and promptly called the local ploice to report suspicious activity/ robbery. Shortly after recieving the call, Cambridge Police arrived on the scene to assess the situation... read the rest of the story here.
If you haven't read the story, please do so now. It'll take 5 minutes.
Based on my experiences in my 21 years of existance, I find incidents like this very upsetting. I have seen police brutality, seen excessive force used, been racially profiled, been pulled over for driving in the "wrong area", been harassed by figures of authority, been called a nigger on more than one occasion, been the only black person in a room full of white people, and I could go on and on about my issues concerning the color of my skin for days.
My initial thoughts-- why did the neighbor call the police? So, the neighbor, who I presume to be white until proven otherwise, saw his/her neighbor having difficulty getting in his front door and proceeded to call the cops? I dont know about you, but I know what all my neighbors look like despite the fact that I have not formerly met them in the two years that I have been living in my neighborhood. I know them because I see them coming and going, getting the mail, walking the dog, etc. But I digress. Ok, ok... let's say the neighbor did not recognize Gates (and his driver). Would he or she have called the cops if it were two middle aged white women struggling to get the door open? Two middle aged white men? Two elderly people? The answer is NO. Why? Because that's who is supposed to live there, not some educated, accomplished, and distinguished black man, who so happens to be one of the most revered professors at arguably the most prestigious university in the world.
So, the cops come... oh great, that's the last thing I would want to deal with after flying more than halfway across the world only to come home to a broken front door. I would be a little bit irritated at this point. Who wouldn't? So the cop, racist or not (I will reserve judgement) only makes the situation worse by lingering (he even enters Gates's home-- without permission I assume) and asking all sorts of unnecessary questions when really all that was needed was a simple: "Hello sir, how are you? Is this your residence? A neighbor called in and reported suspicious activity... can I please see your ID so I can confirm that this is your residence?" That's all that needed to be done and the situation would have been deadened. But no, the cop had to go all up in the house and play detective until he could slap an unnecessary charge on Professor Gates. I guess that's the price you pay for being black in America-- an extra tax if you will- a tax on your emotions and your existance as a human being.
This is not an isolated incident. It happens all the time, in every neighborhood, and in every city in the United States. This has all got to stop-- the harassment, the profiling, the prejudice. It's 2009 people!