SANDERS: A lesson for Professor Gates

By RUFUS G.W. SANDERS, Register columnist What happened to Professor Henry "Skip" Gat
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

By RUFUS G.W. SANDERS, Register columnist

What happened to Professor Henry "Skip" Gates proves we do not live in a post-racial society. In fact it proves racism is very much alive in America, even if a black man lives in the White House.

This is the 21st century. The concept of the color line was a 20th century phenomenon. Ralph Ellison's invisible man should no longer exist in a true just society. Doing race work is hard work, because it is so ingrained in our society. Only radical surgery, strong medicine and major time for healing can remove it.

Most blacks, especially males, in this society will eventually get the wake-up call. Colin Powell got it when he could not catch a cab in New York City. I wrote about racial profiling on these pages back in 1999. The piece appears in my book, "From the Belly of the Whale," publislhed by the Xlibris Corp.

Of course I was accused of overreacting and being paranoid. It was not the first time I had been stopped by the police under suspicious pretense. The most serious time took place in Huron some years ago when a police officer pulled a gun on me, because I opened the car door and asked the officer what was wrong after I was stopped, along with a driver, for questioning which seemed totally frivolous and without merit. Of course I never should have opened the door. I was young, completely innocent, trusting and most definitely respectful of law enforcement. Now I instruct black men to never make a move, among other protective measures, when stopped by cops. Black men in the old south were always taught to be frightened of police with dogs and carrying guns. I think in general it still holds true today.

What did the cop see? What the the professor see? AP National Writer Jesse Washington tries to make sense of the situation HERE

Read the Gates police report HERE

What happened to Gates happens to black men all the time. But I am wondering what took his "aha moment" so long to come. Maybe it's his fame which allowed him to elude the wakeup call until he was almost 60.

Gates, a Harvard professor, is arguably the most renowned black intellectual in America. He is director of the Dubois African and African-American Research Center at Harvard. He is the author of a number of books, is a PBS regular and has spent his entire career studying race relations in this country.

The irony of his arrest is shocking. It has reopened the American conversation about racial profiling. President Obama, who rarely says anything about race, was drawn into the conversation.

Gates was arrested when he forced open the door to his Cambridge house in the middle of Harvard Square at Harvard University. After just returning from a trip to China he and his driver had to break open his door to get in the house. A neighbor called 911. An officer showed up after Gates got inside the home. He asked him to come outside. Gates declined but provided the officer with two forms of ID. When the officer continued to question Gates he asked for the officer's name and badge number. The officer refused to give them.

Gates was handcuffed on his front porch and charged with disorderly conduct. This is not the first time that Cambridge police have inappropriately questioned, retained and charged blacks on Harvard's campus. There seems to be a history.

Was Gates angry? I am quite sure he was. Did he say something out of line? Anger makes you do that kind of thing. He was outraged especially after he had produced the proper ID. Did he yell at the cop? Probably, but it is not criminal to talk forthrightly to a policeman, especially in your own house.

His behavior did not hamper the investigation. His conduct did not harm the officer. He broke no laws. And it was his house. Should he have just cooperated? Probably yes, but sometimes enough is enough!

The police officer ,being a professional, should have had the cooler head. He should have been the bigger person. He should have been sensitive to the entire situation. And at some point after seeing the ID he should have realized, being a member of the Cambridge community, that a regular person doesn't live on the campus of Harvard University in such a nice house, especially a black man, unless you are probably a professor.