Published July 23, 2009
The police officer who arrested a Harvard professor for disorderly conduct said Thursday he wants President Obama, who is the educator's friend, to butt out of the incident.
Cambridge, Mass., Sgt. James Crowley arrested Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his home last week after he responded to a report of two black men attempting to break in to Gates' home.
It turned out that Gates, head of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, had broken into his own home after being unable to find his keys upon his return from a trip to China.
Asked about the incident, Obama, who is friends with the professor and documentary filmmaker, told reporters at a Wednesday night press conference that he didn't know all the facts. But he said, "the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home."
Crowley told WEEI sports radio network that it was "disappointing that (Obama) waded into what should be a local issue that plays out here."
Crowley told the radio station that he supports the president "to a point, I guess."
A police report of the incident written by Officer Carlos Figueroa, who responded to the call with Crowley, says Crowley was already in the house when he walked in. The report says Crowley had asked Gates for some identification and Gates shouted that he would not give any information and called the sergeant a racist.
According to the report, Gates then yelled, "This is what happens to black men in America." When Crowley tried to calm him down, Gates shouted, "You don't know who you're messing with."
The report continues that the shouting went on after Gates and the officers walked out onto the front porch. When Gates allegedly wouldn't cooperate or calm down, Crowley arrested him.
Crowley told the radio station that he asked Gates to step outside because he didn't know who Gates was, and he was alone and didn't know if his safety was compromised.
"I had no other motive than to ensure my safety, or he could've been the homeowner who was unaware that there were people in his house unauthorized. I just didn't know," Crowley said.
On TheRoot.com, a Web site Gates oversees, the professor wrote that he is shocked by the incident.
"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," Gates wrote.
"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 continued.
Gates' attorney, Harvard Professor Charles Ogletree, said his client showed his driver's license and Harvard ID -- both with his photo -- but did not dispute other details of the arrest.
Crowley told the Boston Herald that he is not a racist, and at age 27 gave CPR to a dying Reggie Lewis, the Boston Celtics star who had a fatal heart attack in 1993 during a practice game at Brandeis University, where Crowley was a campus police officer at the time.
"I wasn't working on Reggie Lewis the basketball star. I wasn't working on a black man. I was working on another human being," Crowley told the Herald.
The charge against Gates was dropped on Tuesday. The police department issued a statement saying the incident "was regrettable and unfortunate" and should not "be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of Professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department."
Crowley, however, has refused to apologize, and he told the radio station he did nothing wrong. He added he was surprised that a man as educated as Gates would start yelling epithets about Crowley's mom, part of the incident that never made it into the police report.
"That apology will never come. It won't come from me as Jim Crowley. It won't come from me as a sergeant in the police department," Crowley told WEEI.
"I know what I did was right. I have nothing to apologize for," he added.
Expanding on the implications of the arrest, Obama told reporters Wednesday that this incident shows that there is a long history of racial profiling in the United States.
"Race remains a factor in the society. That doesn't lessen the incredible progress that has been made. I am standing here as testimony to the progress that's been made. And yet the fact of the matter is, is that, you know, this still haunts us," he said.
"And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently and often time for no cause casts suspicion even when there is good cause," he said.
"Cooler heads should have prevailed. That's what the president denoted," he said. "He was not calling the officer stupid. The situation got out of hand."
A White House spokesman had no comment on Crowley's statements.
California Rep. Barbara Lee, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said she agreed that Gates' arrest was another example of racial profiling.
"It's part of the unfinished business of America," the Democratic congresswoman said.