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Henry Louis Gates Jr. Arrest: Police Drop Charge

MELISSA TRUJILLO   07/21/09 10:28 PM ET   AP

Henry Louis Gates Jr

BOSTON — Prosecutors dropped a disorderly conduct charge Tuesday against prominent black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., who was arrested after forcing his way into his own house in what he and other blacks say was an outrageous but all-too-common example of how police treat them.

The city of Cambridge called the arrest "regrettable and unfortunate," and police and Gates agreed that dropping the charge was a just resolution – though not one that quelled the anger of one of America's top academics.

"I'm outraged," Gates said in extensive comments made to TheRoot.com, a Web site he oversees. "I can't believe that an individual policeman on the Cambridge police force would treat any African-American male this way, and I am astonished that this happened to me; and more importantly I'm astonished that it could happen to any citizen of the United States, no matter what their race.

"There are 1 million black men in the prison system, and on Thursday I became one of them," he said. "I would sooner have believed the sky was going to fall from the heavens than I would have believed this could happen to me. It shouldn't have happened to me, and it shouldn't happen to anyone."

Gates, 58, is director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research and is a documentary host. He was arrested upon his return home from China, where he working on his latest film. He said he's now inspired to work on a documentary about racial profiling.

The city of Cambridge, a Boston suburb, released a statement saying the situation "should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department."

Gates had just arrived from the airport when he realized his front door was jammed and he couldn't get into the tidy house with yellow clapboard that he rents from Harvard. He asked his driver for help.

Supporters say Gates was immediately considered a suspect because officers were summoned by a female caller who said she saw "two black males with backpacks on the porch," one of whom was "wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry," according to a police report.

When the officers arrived, Gates was already inside and on the phone with the real estate company that manages the property. He had come in through the back door and shut off the alarm, he said.

Police said Gates was arrested after he yelled at an officer, accused him of racial bias and refused to calm down after the officer demanded that Gates show him identification to prove he lived in the home.

Gates' lawyer, fellow Harvard scholar Charles Ogletree, said his client showed his driver's license and Harvard ID – both with his photos – and repeatedly asked for the name and badge number of the officer, who refused. He followed the officer onto the front porch as he left his house and was arrested there.

Gates told The Root that the police handcuffed him behind his back but moved the cuffs to the front when he told them he walked with a cane. He noted that at least one of the officers in the group outside his house was black.

He spoke of a "terrifying and humiliating" experience at the Cambridge jail, where he was booked, fingerprinted, photographed and questioned, then locked up in a tiny cell that made him claustrophobic.

He said that he doesn't know the woman who called police, Lucia Whalen, and that "she was probably doing the right thing." Whalen didn't respond to Associated Press requests for comment.

Gates said he harbors more anger toward the officer who arrested "the first black man" he saw and arrested him on a "trumped-up charge."

He said he wants an apology from the officer, Sgt. James Crowley, who hasn't responded to a request for an interview from the AP. He also said he planned to talk to his legal team about the next step.

Gates did not respond to AP requests for an interview Tuesday, and Ogletree did not return a request to comment on the charge being dropped. A message was left for the Cambridge police officers' union.

Other prominent blacks called the confrontation a clear example of racial profiling.

"Under any account ... all of it is totally uncalled for," said Earl Graves Jr., CEO of the company that publishes Black Enterprise magazine.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he was unsatisfied with the resolution.

"The charges have been dropped, but the stain remains. ... Humiliation remains," Jackson said. "These incidents are so much of a national pattern on race."

Gates joined the Harvard faculty in 1991 and holds one of 20 prestigious "university professors" positions at the school. He also was host of "African American Lives," a PBS show about the family histories of prominent U.S. blacks. In 1997, he was named by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential Americans.

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AP National Writer Jesse Washington contributed to this story.

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On the Net:

The Root: http://www.theroot.com

(This version CORRECTS woman who called police wasn't a neighbor.)

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Filed by Nicholas Sabloff  |