Prominent Black Scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Arrested After Racism Charge

Cops call Gates disorderly; he says it's "what happens to black men in America."

ByABC News
July 20, 2009, 9:22 PM

July 20, 2009— -- Prominent Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after an incident with police responding to a call about someone apparently trying to break into his Cambridge, Mass., home.

Gates, who according to his lawyer, had been trying to force open a jammed door, was inside the house when the Cambridge police officer got there.

He allegedly responded to the officer's request for identification by shouting, "Why, because I am a black man in America?" and calling him a racist.

Though Gates eventually identified himself, he was arrested after he allegedly came out of the house and continued yelling at police, even after he was warned that he "was becoming disorderly," according to the police report.

Gates, 58, is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 26.

Gates, the director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, and former host of the PBS show "African American Lives," had just returned from a trip to China and found the front door of his home jammed, according to his Harvard colleague and attorney Charles Ogletree.

He entered the house through the back door, but then tried to get the front door open so he could bring his luggage in, which may have been when the woman who called 911 saw, Ogletree said.

Gates has declined to discuss the incident, but Al Sharpton, who spoke to the Harvard professor, told ABC News that Gates is "clearly upset and in a state of disbelief."

The Cambridge Police Department has refused to comment on the arrest, but a high-ranking Cambridge police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told ABC News that racism played no role in the arrest and said that rather than police harassing Gates, it was the Harvard professor who harassed the cop.

"We weren't going there to bother the guy. We were going there because we got a 911 call of house break-in in progress,'' the official said.

The caller said that there was a man using his shoulder to break down the door of Gates' home, the official said.

The arrest came after Gates "continually screeched at and harassed the responding officer, who was trying to make sure that he was the occupant of the home and that it was secure," the official said.

According to the police report on the incident, a woman identified only as Ms. Walen, called 911 from her cell phone saying that she observed two black men with backpacks on the porch of Gates' Ware Street home.

When Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley arrived on the scene, she told him "her suspicions were arroused when she observed one of the men wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry," according to his report.

Crowley went to the house and finding a man, who turned out to be Gates, already inside, he asked him through the door for identification, the sergeant's report said.

Gates refused and called Crowley a "racist police officer,'' and when he was asked to come outside, yelled, "Why, because I am a black man in America?'' according to the report.

While Crowley was questioning him, Gates allegedly picked up a phone, dialed a number and told someone to "get the chief" and then told the officer he "had no idea who [he] was 'messing' with and [he] had not heard the last of it," the report said.

The sergeant wrote that Gates initially refused to provide identification, but then showed his Harvard University card. The sergeant again asked him to step outside and Gates allegedly responded, "Ya, I'll speak with your mama outside."

Police said the confrontation was witnessed by the woman who made the call and at least seven other people, as well as several Cambridge and Harvard University police.

ABC News' calls to Lucia Walen, the woman who made the 911 call, were not answered.