Revolution #172, August 9, 2009

In the Wake of the Arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

The Cover-up and the Backlash

On July 16, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., one of the most recognized African-American intellectuals and personalities in America, was arrested because he objected angrily to being accused of breaking into his own home. Professor Gates was handcuffed at his home, jailed, and only released after the intervention of his attorney, Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree.

Gates’ arrest, and ensuing comments by Barack Obama that racial profiling is “just a fact,” set off a furious barrage of attacks from the powers that be on any attempt to call out the arrest of Henry Louis Gates as exactly what it was: a message to everyone that no matter how far you make it in America, by the system’s standards Black people still are required to “know their place.”

The backlash and the aftershocks continue.

Not a Misunderstanding… A Message

Barack Obama had Gates, and the arresting officer—James Crowley—to the White House for “beers.” It was a move calculated to frame the Gates Affair as if it was a matter of a couple dudes getting into a shoving match on the basketball court. Never-mind that the reality was that the armed might of the system confronted Henry Louis Gates at his own home, in the form of police with guns and handcuffs, and locked him in jail.

And never-mind that this application of the armed might of the system was intended to send a message that is enforced by police and other institutions of power in this country every day—that no matter how much a Black person “succeeds,” even by the system’s terms, he is still subject to racist abuse any time, anywhere.

In light of all the bullshit, it is necessary to once again, sort out truth from lies, reality from bullshit, and right from wrong. Last week in Revolution, we documented in detail how the arrest of Professor Gates was in retaliation for, according to the police report, accusing the arresting officer of racial bias, and doing so loudly and in public. That is of course not illegal, much less wrong (see “The Arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: What do they call a Black man with a PhD? RACIST OUTRAGE in Massachusetts,” by Alan Goodman, Revolution #171, August 2, 2009). This is the basic fact, and reality, of the case.

New evidence—which has been covered up, turned upside down, and obfuscated in the mainstream media—has emerged as to the racist nature of the initial confrontation. The police report from Crowley claimed that the woman who called 911 told him that her “suspicions were aroused” by the activity of “what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch of [Gates’ home].” [emphasis added] In fact, this woman’s 911 call—which has now been released and is available on YouTube—reveals that she identified the people at Gates’ home as one man who “looked kind of Hispanic but I’m not really sure,” and that she “didn’t see what [the second man] looked like at all.”

The 911 call contradicted Crowley’s police report on nearly all the essential facts that supposedly justified the investigation of Gates in the first place. But instead of investigating what that was all about, the mainstream media came up with a bizarre spin on these revelations: the story all over the news became accusations that the 911 caller was vilified unjustly as a racist by Gates’ supporters on blogs, and that this supposedly showed how his supporters were imagining racism in the whole incident, and unfairly branding nice white people as racists.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media somehow, en masse, forgot to ask an obvious question posed by these revelations that goes to the heart of the incident: Why would Crowley claim in his report that the 911 caller reported two suspicious Black men with backpacks, when in fact the caller said that one of the men might have looked Hispanic, that she didn’t see the other one? Why would he claim that the witness said the men had backpacks, when she said they had suitcases? And why did he not acknowledge that she couldn’t tell if the men involved were using a key to enter the house?

The mainstream media, again en masse, also somehow forgot to ask the next obvious question: Did Crowley lie about all the basic facts of the 911 call in order to justify racist police harassment backed up by an arrest? After all, according to the 911 call, there was no basis for Crowley to be looking for Black suspects on the scene in the first place.

There are also new revelations that shed further light on the sequence of events leading to, and reason for the arrest of Professor Gates. As we reported last week, very shortly after arriving on the scene, it was clear to the arresting cop that Professor Gates was in his own home, that he had been falsely accused of breaking into his own home, and that no crime had been committed. But then, instead of an apology, Crowley escalated the situation. The police report states: “Upon learning that Gates was affiliated with Harvard, I radioed and requested the presence of the Harvard University Police.” In other words, after Crowley—by his own account—determined who Gates was, and that no crime was being committed, he called in more police.

Since the release of that police report, new police radio transmissions have been released revealing that Crowley called for more Cambridge cops as well, and why: “I’m up with a gentleman says he resides here, but was uncooperative.” And Crowley adds, “But keep the cars coming.”

As documented in Revolution last week, the Gates arrest was hardly the action of a single cop, but involved calls to the Harvard Police Department, additional police from the Cambridge Police Department, and by the time of the arrest itself, it had to have been clear to the police that they were arresting a renowned and famous African-American professor at his own home.

This was not a “misunderstanding” between two men, one doing his job, the other losing his cool. It was a conscious, systematic “message,” backed up by police with guns, handcuffs, and jail cells, that no Black man in America, no matter how successful by the system’s own standards, is immune to the “unwritten code” that Black people have to bow and scrape when confronted unjustly by a police officer.

The Cop’s Email

Two questions:

1) Just how thoroughly is it inculcated into the minds of police officers in the United States that their societal role involves, indeed requires, abusing Black people?

2) Just how emboldened and legitimized do KKK-style racists feel these days?

An email from Boston police officer Justin Barrett sheds light on the answer to those two questions. It reads, in part: “[I]f I was the officer he verbally assaulted like a banana-eating jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC [pepper spray] deserving of his belligerent non-compliance.” The email also used the racist phrase “jungle monkey” two other times.

It would be sufficiently beyond outrageous, and an indictment of the mentality and culture of the armed enforcers of this system, if this active-duty Boston cop (and National Guardsman) had emailed these racist threats and rants to one of his racist police buddies. But just how confident he was that he was thinking and doing what he was supposed to think and do is indicated by the fact that Barrett sent this racist email to a Boston Globe columnist! Yvonne Abraham had criticized the arrest of Gates as “dunderheaded,” and along with Barrett’s bile, received scores of racist emails in response to her column.

The Gates Affair has revealed and ripped open, once again, profound and explosive contradictions at the heart of U.S. society. How those contradictions get settled remains unwritten.

Everyone who opposes racism, and the oppression of Black people, should refuse to tolerate the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. Spread the coverage at to bring out the truth behind the arrest and its aftermath, and build resistance and opposition to both the cover-up of what this arrest represents, and the racist backlash.

See also: “Systemic Racial Profiling… And A System of Oppression

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