Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Arrested for Suspected Breaking and Entering… Into His Own Home!?

Social critic and comedian Dave Chapelle hilariously described the tense relationship between Black men and police in his landmark stand-up performance, Killing ’em Softly.

I’m not saying I don’t like police. I’m not saying that. I’m saying, I’m just scared of them. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, we want to call them too. Somebody broke into my house once, that’s a good time to call them, but mmm mmm, mmm mmm. The house is too nice. It ain’t a real nice house, but they’d never believe I lived in it. They’d be like, (gasp) “He’s still here! [whacks the microphone on the stand]… Oh my God! Open and shut case, Johnson. I saw this once before when I was a rookie. Apparently this nigger broke in and hung up pictures of his family everywhere. Well… let’s sprinkle some crack on him and get out of here.” Click here to listen to clip.

Chapelle’s witty commentary on racial profiling, discrimination and brutality played out last Thursday afternoon at Harvard University professor, Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s Cambridge home. Gates was arrested while police were investigating a possible break-in. The police report states that when two officers arrived at Gates’s Ware Street home at 12:44 p.m. to question him, he began “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,” which led to an arrest (read entire police report here). Despite the fact that Dr. Gates showed the officers his driver’s license and Harvard faculty ID, he was handcuffed and taken into custody for several hours.

Are we surprised? Absolutely not. This incident is a sobering reminder that even our Black professionals who have reached the upper echelon of America’s white institutions, are still subject to the wretched grasp of racism. This is an important reminder for those of us who mistakenly believe that assimilation will lead to acceptance within mainstream society. At the end of the day Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a Black man in America – which means, among other things, he is constantly victim of some form of racial profiling. We all are. The only difference is that Gates has the luxury of being represented in court by his Harvard colleague, law professor Charles Ogletree. If only we could get Ogletree on the case of the 2 million plus, brothers and sisters who have been locked up as a result of the same racist system that inconvenienced professor Gates.

Oh the prison industrial complex… a post for another day.

20 Comments to ‘Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Arrested for Suspected Breaking and Entering… Into His Own Home!?’:

  1. Olokun Olugbala on 21 Jul 2009 at 9:00 am: 1

    Wow! I hadn’t heard about this but I’m definitely not surprised. As soon as we realize that we’re inmates in a police state subject to random searches and seizures then the better off we’ll be. We can then begin mobilizing revolutionary formations to resist the state’s pervasive control over our lives.

    As long as we continue to operate under the guise of respected citizens on stolen and pillaged land, then we will continue to be harassed and persecuted… and worse we won’t look for a way to emanicipate ourselves.

    Thanks for the necessary reminder, brother… for “We are not the same, we are some martians!!!” (aliens struggling to be less than citizens)

  2. BigEdsBlog on 21 Jul 2009 at 11:13 am: 2

    Let’s see if I’ve got this right. You are seen breaking into your front door in the middle of the afternoon, and when the police arrive you decide to be an a-hole. Well guess what? You get what you deserve no matter what color your skin is.
    Read my take on it and stick around for more good content.

  3. Olokun Olugbala on 21 Jul 2009 at 12:16 pm: 3

    Big Ed,

    I read your blog and find it laughable. Your take on the incident at hand certainly demonstrates that you have interpreted these events from a position of white privilege which is always an antagonistic agent to black emancipation efforts and black self-determination. None of us know what happened at the home of Dr. Gates but he and the officer, but there are centuries of historical data that document how the police have been a rogue force persecuting and murdering black men simply because they are black men.

    If Dr. Gates responded to the officer with 4 centuries of domestic terrorism weighing prominently on his mind, then I would advance that a white guy like you is in no position to mock or scoff at how that type of horrific experience could affect what you perceive to be as a simple and routine interaction. Before you allow the ignorance of your white supremacist sponsored privilege to be recklessly spewed again, please take your own advice and, “SHUT THE F*** UP!”

    In resistance to foolishness,
    Olokun Shangol Olugbala

  4. Danielle on 21 Jul 2009 at 1:50 pm: 4

    Irrespective of race, I think we can all understand the frustration of not being allowed in your own home despite showing notification of your identity. The fact that there are ppl making it seem that he was wrong for spewing his intellect, or saying anything for that matter, amazes me. He was upset due to an injustice and the only ppl that were wrong, based on the information presented, are the police. Not saying police are bad… I love law enforcement but still. IF someone provides you with ID, what more do you need.

    Now including race, to contend that race was not involved is the reason we dont have a color blind society now. I hate to be this frank but white ppl are not seen as criminals. A white man is not going to be stopped from entering a home, if anything he will probably get assistance from the police. It’s what we have been socialized to believe. Its unfortunate but true so when a black man is seen forcing himself into a home its not far fetched to believe that the police that he was a criminal. The bad part is that a white male would not be treated similarly.

    We have to recognize the problem before we can fix it. So to everyone that says this isnt about race: Riiiiiiight.

    To everyone that recognizes the issue: how do we solve this problem…what next?

    To Olokun: word!

  5. Dave on 22 Jul 2009 at 8:51 am: 5

    Yes,Big Ed, the police never overreact to black people. Just ask Amadou Diallo or Shawn Bell or Offficer Omar Edwards or my friend who was asked for identification because she was walking down the street and then followed back to her house (which was outside of the officer’s jurisdiction). Never happens. The police never routinely harass, falsely imprison, beat, kill or otherwise fall down on the “to serve and protect” thing do they?

  6. Elijah on 22 Jul 2009 at 9:31 pm: 6

    He happens to be a personal friend of President Obama’s so now we get a reaction out of the President ummmm!

    Surprisingly or nonsurprisingly the last huge Police Brutality case involving a black man, Obama begrudgingly kept his nose out of it, and said “Trust in the Judicial System” Impress me Mr. President, and publicly acknowledge Police Brutality, Racial Profiling, and injustice!

  7. Pierce on 23 Jul 2009 at 12:12 am: 7

    Skip Gates is in no rush to resist the state’s pervasive control over our lives. He’s a beneficiary of the state. What I didn’t get into with my post, is the extent to which this harassment at the hands of Cambridge’s finest is miniscule, when compared to the REAL victims of the state. Poor Black and Latino folks with no strikes, no grams, no priors.. and no Ogletree. Dave mentioned Bell and Diallo, these are the real victims of the State. Po’ Black folk have little or no stake in whether or not Gates gets patted down on Harvard University’s campus (not that we shouldn’t seek solidarity with Gates, I’m just saying..) It’s sad that we don’t get outraged when brothers and sisters are harassed in their own neighborhoods – then we’re disgusted when it occurs on a bougie white campus. I include myself in this critique. It’s like Claudette Colvin all over again. We won’t call a pig, a pig, until some light-skinned, “respectable” folks like Rosa Parks or Skip Gates get “oinked” on.

  8. Z on 23 Jul 2009 at 6:27 am: 8


    Your clear hatred of white people never ceases to amaze me.

    Anyway, can you explain what the hell you mean in your following quote. Revolutionary formations?

    “As soon as we realize that we’re inmates in a police state subject to random searches and seizures then the better off we’ll be. We can then begin mobilizing revolutionary formations to resist the state’s pervasive control over our lives”

  9. Olokun Olugbala on 23 Jul 2009 at 9:10 am: 9

    Pierce, well said brother in your comment… well said! Gates is proving himself to be a prententious, backwards member of the black bourgeoisie.

    How can a man who has ostensibly dedicated his life to the study of the nefarious intersection of kidnapped Africans in America with white supremacy respond with such disallusioned outrage?!

    E. Franklin Frazier probably said it best in his book “Black Bourgeoisie” when he wrote, “the black bourgeoisie have shown no interest in the “liberation” of Negroes except as it affected their own status or acceptance by the white community.”

    Maybe this is what is truly eating at Skip Gates… the realization that his 50 honorary degrees and ivy league occupation still don’t make him “white” enough to reside in Cambridge or Martha’s Vineyard… awww, poor Skip. Maybe this will inspire his next book in which he can hustle black liberation some more…

    And Elijah, don’t hold your breath while you’re waiting on President Obama because I still think he’s playing out the post-racial thing!!!

  10. Olokun Olugbala on 23 Jul 2009 at 9:22 am: 10

    Brother Z,

    Your comments always make me smile. First of all I don’t hate white people, just white supremacy. To quote Amiri Baraka here, “The only whitey is system and ideology.”

    To answer your question, revolutionary formations can mean a lot of things and there are myriad revolutionary formations that the people must mobilize into in order to acquire independence and liberation. The first formation we must struggle to form is that of awareness. If we don’t realize that we’re slaves or oppressed, we will never fight to be free.

    Harriet Tubman said, “I could have freed thousands more if they would have just realized that they were slaves.”

    A century later, Brother Malcolm said, “The greatest flaw in our movement was we tried to get a sleeping people to move. We must wake them up first.”

    We’re still dozing, Z, and President Obama is one hell of a sedative. After the first formation of awareness is achieved, then we can discuss what’s next. Let’s wake ourselves and our brothers and sisters up. There’s work to do!!!

    Love and Struggle…Work and Study

  11. Khayr Love El on 23 Jul 2009 at 4:04 pm: 11

    Since you don’t know;

    “revolutionary formations to resist the state’s pervasive control over our lives”

    means “mental cohesiveness.” Which means “Right Thinking”. Not taking up arms or anything ridiculous like you & your present peer group historically have done over & over. But that’s why you drew that conclusion isn’t it, because that’s all you know.

    Thanks for showing yourself. Keep it up.

  12. Tharris on 23 Jul 2009 at 9:27 pm: 12


    I thought you told me your blog was a place where different views could be shared w/o the threat of being disrespected. I bet Z and Big Ed don’t feel too good right now.

  13. Z on 24 Jul 2009 at 11:36 am: 13


    I appreciate the clarification despite its somewhat condescending tone.

    I am all for “mental cohesiveness” and “right thinking” when it comes to answering these important questions. It’s just that I often feel excluded from helping to realize this goal. I would really just appreciate some acknowledgement that there are white people who desire the same thing as you.

  14. Nknow on 24 Jul 2009 at 1:38 pm: 14


    Sure there are white people who desire the same things as blacks do. Little things like human rights, respect, and a way to better one’s lot in life. And hell dare I say equality? It just cracks me up that we still live in a society where a grand fatherly figure can be hauled away in handcuffs for the mere act of exhibiting righteous indignation, and people side with the oppressor. Not that I feel any solidarity with Gates. I don’t. Why? Gates was actually shocked at his treatment. In my social strata mis-treatment at the hands law enforcement officals isn’t a reason for shock or dismay. It’s a matter of course. Gates has been living in a white tower for far too long. Personally were I him I would have written a scathing expose about my treatment and had it published. Now as myself, a working class black man. Had the cops accosted me in my own home I would have quickly shut the f@#k up before and after the incident to avoid bodily injury or death.


  15. Nknow on 24 Jul 2009 at 1:44 pm: 15



    I thought you told me your blog was a place where different views could be shared w/o the threat of being disrespected.”

    Ed is being Ignorant. He deserves disdain and ridicule.

    About the only thing any of us can say about this whole sorry affair is “We don’t know the facts so lets not rush to judgement”

    But let’s not pretend that this is some isolated incident and black men aren’t routinely harrased by Policemen

  16. Pierce on 25 Jul 2009 at 5:51 pm: 16

    Two thoughts:


    I thought you told me your blog was a place where different views could be shared w/o the threat of being disrespected. I bet Z and Big Ed don’t feel too good right now.”

    Olokun was only using the language that Big Ed himself used to chastise Gates. If Big Ed is bold enough to tell a Black man, 20 years his senior, who is the victim of harassment and profiling to “Shut the F up” I’m sure he’s “Big” enough receive the same suggestion.


    “Olukun, Your clear hatred of white people never ceases to amaze me.”

    Z, we’ve been over this before. Since when does an assertion of revolutionary Black self-determination and consciousness equate to a “hatred of white people”!?

    Not to be insensitive, but your feelings of inadequacy and exclusion are not at the top of our priority list. Black consciousness, solidarity, self-determination and ultimately liberation are at the top of our priority list. If you want to help us achieve some of these goals, please feel free to do your part – but don’t expect a tremendous amount of “acknowledgement” when you attack our attempts at revolutionary self-expression.

  17. ELIJAH on 25 Jul 2009 at 9:55 pm: 17

    Word Pierce! This blog and community discourse might not be meant for the fragile and uninformed!

    But on another note, why the FUCK is the President, (most powerful leader of the so-called freeworld) Apologizing to the Cambridge Police Department and all of the other Police unions. Why is he inviting the cracker ass cop to the white house, along with the Professer arrested for trying to go in his own house at noon. Why dont you try inviting Sean Bell’s wife to the white house? or better yet tell police unions to reference the several incident nationwide, that have any BLACK man vigilant of any case of police mishandling, brutality, or false arrest. Im disguisted with OBAMA apologizing for sayin the cops acted “Stupidly” Hell..they did!! Have some BALLS and stop worrying about election 2012! This is the second time your commander and chief has bent over on issues of police bullshit to appease the white mass..Black people start paying attention to the President/Commmunity start paying attention to the President

  18. Olokun Olugbala on 26 Jul 2009 at 10:15 am: 18

    Elijah, I agree with your sentiments and think that your warning to black folks is well founded.

    On another note, I am noticing in your language that you are beginning to distance yourself from your once favored president of choice as you have written “your commander and chief.”

    Is he no longer your commander and chief as well?

    Are you just frustrated with President Obama for right now or have you had an epiphany concerning the futility of the American political economy of democracy as it relates to the black masses?

    If 2012 was here now and Mitt Romney (or some other George W. Bush/John McCain political look-alike) was running against President Obama, what would you do… would you cast another ballot for Obama?

  19. Elijah on 26 Jul 2009 at 11:15 pm: 19

    How long have you knowm me 25 years? Im not going to blast a guy (President Obama) until I see problems arise, or concerns rather. He was out of his field to issue a statement on local policy in a case that minute..basically that type of deal happens everyday. He should’ve kept quiet, but If he felt inclined to speak on Police and racial profiling please mention and appease the families of so many victims..that have paid a real price for Police Crime. That is my frustration. Furthermore, saying the cop acted stupidly was a truthful opinion and assessment, dont apologize and appease! I hate that!

    However as you always say..when you occupy that seat (President) you essentially have no choice but to be a NEGRO lol.. Just need to see things materialize for myself before I rush to judgement..Im still not saying President Obama is doing a terrible job and he sucks..Im saying Say what you mean and mean what you say..In matters not pertaining to National Security dont speak on it..if you’re going to bitch up about it later!

  20. Stacey on 9 Sep 2009 at 2:11 pm: 20

    I am incredibly late to this blog, but I am going to offer my 2 cents anyway.

    Gates outrage to this incident is indicative of the premise that it is possible for a bigoted society to be colorblind and accept people on the merits of goodness and wholesome intention. I think he’s now seen the light on that one. His further assertion that he and his children and his wife were some percentage white, troubled me beyond measure.

    I mean, my great-grandad had blue eyes and freckles, but when he walked out of the door of his home, he was a black man. As a previous poster alluded to, we (black folk) are assumed to guilty of being a thief, rapist, or generally dishonest from the gate. I can’t count how many times I’ve walked into a store and been followed or how many times I have been pulled over for DWB (yes, sisters get it too).

    Ed, honey, you’re completely dillusional. We are ALL products of a bigoted society. That means black folk are generally distrusting of the police because historically it’s rarely good when they come knocking. White folk think we’re criminals because of the over policing of our communities.

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Published on July 20, 2009 at 10:40 pm. 20 Comments.
Filed under Prison Industrial Complex,racism,ridiculousness.