Cornel West on Gates' Arrest in "Post-Racial" Era of Obama

Cambridge authorities are now dropping the disorderly conduct charge against the country's leading African-American scholar, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (see right), after he was arrested in his own home when police confused him with a burglar. This was after Gates showed both his Harvard ID and Driver's License that gave proof of address.

Probably the best reaction to this story came from Al Sharpton who stated:

I've heard of driving while black, and I've heard of shopping while black. But I've never heard of living in a home while black.

Gates is asking for a formal apology. Personally, I would like to see the arresting officer, Sergeant James Crowley, face a disorderly conduct charge himself for abusing his authority. Apparently, the officer objected to Gates getting upset and accusing him of racial bias. But I'm sure he would have responded the same way with Steven Pinker or Alan Dershowitz.

In light of this arrest and Obama's recent speech before the NAACP, Cornel West and Carl Dix discussed race and politics and how to reinvigorate Frederick Douglass' legacy in the age of Obama.

[Video below the fold.]

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But I've never heard of living in a home while black.

It was a pretty big deal in certain neighborhoods in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Somehow I had hoped we were past that ...

It is important to note that it may not be illegal to yell at police, it is definately disrespectful. An educated man such as Professor Gates should have assessed the situation for what it was. The police called to protect his home. Once he was identified as the person living in the house the situation should not have gone any further.
I find it deplorable that the president should even comment on something that he had no first hand knowledge of. To say that the police "acted stupidly" was a thoughtless remark.
My daughter is a police officer in NYC and watching her put on a bullet proof vest to go to work is not what a mother should see. For some one to yell at her for doing her job would, to me, be hurtful. Yet, people who feel that they are above it all act inappropriately and then call it racial bias. Please enough already. A call came in of burglary in progress by a neighbor. Next time lets let the police ignore it because they might be accused of profiling.

By Christine Adomeit (not verified) on 23 Jul 2009 #permalink

The police did not confuse him with the burglar there Mr. Inflammatory comment. Once he was identified as the homeowner the single police officer fearing for both their safeties, not knowing if any "real" burglars were in the house, asked Gates to go outside so the officer could investigate. Gates refused - and that's interfering with an investigation and that's illegal and you get arrested. And unless your Mr. Gates who gets his charges dropped even without a hearing, the rest of us have to go to court or even jail.
It's all about the facts mang - they will come out.

By Shareff Abdhul… (not verified) on 23 Jul 2009 #permalink

It might be disrespectful to yell at a police officer doing her or his job, but it is not illegal. The first amendment does say that the state, in this case represented by the police officer, cannot limit free speech, in this case Gates' right to yell. We can call it disrespectful and we can call it unethical. But to be arrested for it? That is wrong. People have died so that we can have rights such as that of free speech. If we start saying that those rights should be limited or should never be exercised, why have them? We can critique his actions, but should we arrest him for them?

If memory serves me correctly, Cornel insisted that O.J. Simpson was innocent and his trial but an example of racism.

By fred lapides (not verified) on 23 Jul 2009 #permalink

gates said "I'll talk to your mama outside" in the police report

By white boy (not verified) on 23 Jul 2009 #permalink

Do I know who you are? No who are you? And why are you busting on me while doing my job? Do you know who I am? I'm a cop doing what I'm paid to do. Apparently the neighbor that called us doesn't know who the hell you are and they LIVE here. Smart!

By rdmsacto rdmsacto (not verified) on 23 Jul 2009 #permalink

Gates is an instigator and taunted him unduly in order to provoke an incident. He's a dic.k. He's supposed to be educated and hence civilized....he's a crock-a-cra.p! A walking danger to civilization.

By rdmsacto rdmsacto (not verified) on 23 Jul 2009 #permalink

That MrObama instantly sided with his compatriot agent provocateur leads me even further to believe he is not the great healer but more the great opportunist. He professes a well being for all out of one side of his mouth and, quite the opposite from the other.

By rdmsacto rdmsacto (not verified) on 23 Jul 2009 #permalink

@Christine: It could also be considered disrespectful to continue to harass someone in his own home after he's proven it's his house...Yet in the police report, the officer admits he knew fairly early on that Gates lived there.
Why should people respect a group that doesn't respect them? Remind me again how police are always trying to protect our civil liberties? Oh right. They're not.
Your daughter may be a fine officer. In fact, it's even likely. It's rare to see a female cop engaging in bad behavior. Far more often they're the ones being drummed out by fellow cops for buying into that "serve and protect" thing.

@Nels: What you said goes double for the fact the man was standing in his own home at the time. How important this is cannot be stressed enough. Once the cop knew he was the owner of the house, the words "Get the fuck out of my house.", while unforgivably rude, should've ended the whole thing.

@Shareff: Actually, the charge for interfering in an investigation is "obstruction of justice". Which doesn't cover acting like an ass. It's more along the lines of destroying, hiding, or tampering with evidence.
In the report, the cop never mentions being worried about an intruder because he wasn't. After the first few minutes he admits he knew what the deal was.

Basically, from reading the police report, I can only see one law that was broken, and it was the cop that broke it.
You see, in that state, when you request a police officer's ID, they have to show it to you.
Of course, police are above such silly things as "laws" and "constitutional rights".

The only people arguing in favor of the cop are racists and people that'd back a cop no matter what they did. Strange, that.

By JThompson (not verified) on 23 Jul 2009 #permalink

Remind me again how police aren't people and deserving of individual respect. " Excuse me sir, may I have your ID" A:"Who the hell do you think I am." OR I have accidently locked my self out and this cab driver is helping me gain access. Once inside I'd be more than happy to prove my ID and ownership. "Very well Sir".

By rdmsacto rdmsacto (not verified) on 23 Jul 2009 #permalink

End of incident. But @Christine...I'll talk to your mama outside!

By rdmsacto rdmsacto (not verified) on 23 Jul 2009 #permalink

But kind...those that side with MrGates are 'divisionists' and anarchists.

By rdmsacto rdmsacto (not verified) on 23 Jul 2009 #permalink

Just a reminder to commenters in this thread not to respond to trollers. And, for trollers, if you don't have anything intelligent to add to the conversation take it somewhere else.

Well, Moebius, that shit was out the window the moment Eric quoted noted anti-Semite and riot-monger Al Sharpton. That pretty much sets the intellect level for the discussion to zero, if not a negative or imaginary number.

Has Al Sharpton apologized to those he tried to set up in the Tawana Brawley case? Has he apologized to the family of Yankel Rosenbaum? Maybe we can quote mine his comments about the "diamond dealers" of Crown Heights?

But we know you academics need to circle the wagons and twist the facts to protect your own. You're different from any other group no matter how much better you *think* you are. Same tired group dynamics. So, yeah, sit there worrying about bogeymen and police states because some dumbass professor with a chip on his shoulder can't act like a civilized being in the case of a misunderstanding. Seriously, the guy was shouting "racism" from the very first moment.

"The only people arguing in favor of the cop are racists and people that'd back a cop no matter what they did." --JThompson

And herein lies the true problem: tiresome, inane people like you, JThompson, playing the same old political cards and repeating the same old mantras. "People who don't agree with my precious, unsullied point of view are racist." "What? Someone expressed an opinion opposing me? Clearly just a troll!"

Is your mind so ossified by ideology, politics, racial hate- or whatever you personal brand of self-inflicted intellectual poison might be- that you cannot even consider the possibility that there might be other reasons to side against Gates?

What a sick, miserable, monochromatic world you live in. Maybe some day you can break out of the dense reality distortion bubble you have constructed around your self, but I doubt it. People like you generally don't recover from your particular brand of mental illness.

Look, it's very simple. He was in his house. The cop knew it was his house. End of story. It doesn't matter if you tell the cop to go perform felatio on a vasectomized donkey, it's your house. I understand the cop didn't like his attitude. Big deal. I was a cop for thirteen years. I got lots of crap. I never arrested a sixty year old professor with a cane because he yelled at me. Lots of people yell. Sgt. Crowly should have been a real man and been big about the situation. Sounds like his ego got in the way.

I would never have admitted it at the time I was on the force, but Eric is right. I've seen cops go too far. I didn't do anything about it though and I regret it.

By jerome mansfield (not verified) on 23 Jul 2009 #permalink

I thought this is SCIENCE blogs?? Let's stick to facts and theories and leave the opinions to the op-ed page.

Let's here it from someone who REALLY understands... me.
I'm mixed, er, very mixed and have a lifetime history of this situation. It goes like this: Whenever we returned from our grandparents countries our treatment changed from the moment, here what I am saying now, the moment we came back because we tanned up, and looked black/brown. This was across the board from the way the police treated us to passing my credit cards around and having to wait ages while they checked them out.
As lower middle class third world ppl,(we found made jokes on this). That's it, it was everyone treated us different not just the cops. I hope some other mixed or 'exotic' ppl out there can post to this, or tell their white friends just how different they were treated by cops and authority in this country when they came back from Egypt, etc.