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Was Arrest of Black Scholar Henry Louis Gates Racial Profiling?

Charges have been dropped against a prominent black Harvard scholar in what many people are calling a case of racial profiling. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was charged with disorderly conduct after being arrested last week at his own home in Cambridge Massachusetts.

“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,” said Rev. Al Sharpton.

It all started last Thursday night, when police responded to a report of "two black males with backpacks on the porch," with one "wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry," according to the police report.

It seems Gates was returning home after a trip overseas, and his lawyer, Charles Ogletree, said the door was jammed, and Gates had to force it open. He was on the phone with the company that manages the building to report the problem when police arrived.

Police asked Gates to provide identification that he lived in the house. At first he refused, but then he did, showing his driver's license and Harvard I.D. But police say the request angered Gates.They say he yelled at one of the officers, accusing him of racial bias. “This is what happens to black men in America,” he reportedly said. When Gates refused to calm down and then followed the officer out onto the porch, he was arrested.

But today prosecutors dropped all charges. The city of Cambridge issued a statement saying “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. All parties agree that this is a just resolution to an unfortunate set of circumstances."

Even though the legal case is over, Gates' supporters say this is a clear case of racial profiling. Sharpton said he spoke to Gates, whom he described as "shaken" by the incident. "I think it’s indicative at best of an overreaction by police,” Sharpton said. “At worst it could be profiling. Either way, it’s wrong. If this can happen at Harvard, what does it say about the rest of the country? Henry Louis Gates is the pre-eminent African-American scholar in the country. If they can do this to him, imagine what they can do to a kid in Roxbury.”

One neighbor, Rameau Desmarattes, told the Boston Herald Gates should sue. "“It’s the same profile for black people. He said everybody should know this guy. He’s like the Martin Luther King of our time. He should sue them. Everybody knows this guy. Drop the charges. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen again.”


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