Saturday, July 25, 2009

"Why, because I'm a black man in America?"

Only God knows what exactly happened that day outside Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s house between him and Sgt. James Crowley.

The incident started when Gates had just came back from a long trip to his Cambridge residence only to find his front lock jammed. He and his driver decided to force the door open. A nearby lady, who apparently did not know Gates, saw all of this going on and grew very suspicious. She called the police. Several minutes later, Sgt. James Crowley arrived at the scene. Now, whatever happened following Sgt. Crowley's presence was still a mystery. But we do know that Gates was arrested at the end of the mystery, then released four hours later.

Why is this case so special? Let's hear some facts: 1. Gates and his driver are black; 2. Sgt. Crowley is white; 3. It's America. Now you do the math (or syllogism, if you prefer). And the rest is all over the news.

The next day's headlines read alone the line of "Prominent Harvard Professor Arrested for Breaking into His Own House". But hold on the phone, that was not the case. Gates was trying to break in his house, but he was not arrested for that. The official charge against Gates was "disorderly conduct" according to the police report. But who cares? A black man arrested in his own castle by a white cop. That must be racism.

But we do need a lot more facts to come to such conclusion. Sgt. Crowley filed his police report immediately after the incident. Gates' friend, colleague, and attorney Charles Ogletree issued a statement four days later on behalf of Gates. And here comes the mystery: they told drastically different stories.

According to Sgt. Crowley's policy report, when he arrived at Gates' house, Gates was already upset because of his presence. Gates refused to step outside. The police officer then identified himself as "Sgt. Crowley from the Cambridge Police" and that he was "investigating a report of a break in progress". That triggered Gates profusely. Instead of providing some sort of proof to dismiss the false alarm, Gates "opened the front door and exclaimed 'why, because I'm a black man in America?" Sgt. Crowley answered that he was only "responding to a citizen's call to the Cambridge Police". Gates ignored him and turned to talk on his phone. Then he turned to Sgt. Crowley and told him that he had no idea who he was "messing with".

For those of you who do not know whom Sgt. Crowley had "messed with": Gates is friend of President Obama; his friend and attorney Charles Ogletree used to be Obama's professor. Sgt. Crowley is so done. Oh wait, it's America. Even though Gates did just come home from a trip to Beijing. Apparently he learned somethin' oriental.

Then Sgt. Crowley asked Gates to produce identification to prove him the owner of this residence. Gates initially declined but finally complied. Sgt. Crowley radioed his findings and prepared to leave. During the whole time, Gates repeatedly accused him of being "biased" and "a racist". He asked for Sgt. Crowley's name again but "yelled over" Sgt. Crowley's spoken words. Sgt. Crowley told Gates that he would speak with Gates outside of his residence if he had more questions. and Gates' reply was "ya, I'll speak with your mama outside". By then, several police officer has gathered and at least seven passers-by were looking at the drama. Gates followed Crowley outside, still yelling and accusing. Sgt. Crowley warned him that he was becoming disorderly. Gates ignored him and continued the yelling. Sgt. Crowley warned him for the second time. Gates ignored him again. Then Sgt. Crowley arrested Gates for "disorderly conduct".

That was according to Sgt. Crowley's police report. Now, to be fair, I should also offer a detailed account of Gates' side of the incident. According to Ogletree's statement (on behalf of Gates), Gates was extremely cooperative the whole time. The minute the police told him that he was "responding to a 911 call about a breaking and entering in progress at this address", Gates "responded that he lived there and taught at Harvard" (instead of exclaiming 'why, because I'm a black man in America?'). When Sgt. Crowley asked for an ID, Gates immediately complied (instead of declining for the first time and accusing Sgt. Crowley to be a racist). Gates' statement said nothing about how Sgt. Crowley didn't know who he was "messing with". And of course, there was no "ya, I'll speak with your mama outside" episode. But it's possible that he didn't say those things in the first place, or he did say them, but, upon reflection, found them not very Harvard-y. In Gates' version of the incident, he complied all of Sgt. Crowley's requests as obedient as a sheep. Then he asked Sgt. Crowley to identify himself, but strangely, Sgt. Crowley ignored him. He followed Sgt. Crowley outside and asked again, then Sgt. Crowley turned to him and said, "thank you for accommodating my earlier request," and then placed Gates under arrest. That was Gates' version of the story.

It's important to note that Sgt. Crowley's policy report was filed approximately 20 minutes after the incident, while Gates' statement was released four days after the incident. That probably explained all the vivid details in the former, and, you know, all the obedience and politeness in the latter.

I had been thinking: what would I do if I were Gates? Being a Chinese, I think...Oh, wait. It doesn't matter if I'm a Chinese or not. So I'll start again. If I were Gates, I'd be like "hi officer, this is my house and here is my ID with address. Thanks for keeping the neighborhood safe. " But maybe that's just me. Apparently a police officer responding to a 911 call concerning two men with color breaking into a house cannot possibly be so innocent.

"This is not about me; this is about the vulnerability of black men in America," Gates told CNN’s Soledad O'brien.

I totally understand what he was talking about. The vulnerability of black men in America. That's right. Like how they would never have the chance to be a Harvard professor, or, say, the President of the United States.


Sgt. Crowley's Incident Report :

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