The Latest Victim of Racial Profiling… Well Respected Professor of Harvard University, Henry Louis Gates

Yes it is true one of the premier and most well known black intellectuals in our country was arrested while trying to get into his own home… Had to share the story here… I am looking forward to hearing him speak this upcoming February at Messiah College.

Unfortunately, Cambridge has gained a terrible reputation in race relations in the last few years, and even a Nationally known intellectual like Dr. Gates can not escape the stereotypes that run rampant in our country.  Of course, I expect people to justify even this incident, cuz there always is a reason isn’t there… Freestyle with me.

Published by Drew G. I. Hart, PhD

Drew G. I. Hart is a theology professor in the Biblical & Religious Studies department at Messiah College with ten years of pastoral experience. Hart majored in Biblical Studies at Messiah College as an undergraduate student, he attained his M.Div. with an urban concentration from Missio Seminary in Philadelphia, and he received his Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Lutheran Theological Seminary-Philadelphia. Drew was born and raised in Norristown, Pa and has lived extensively in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA as well. Dr. Hart’s dissertation research explored how Christian discipleship, as framed by Black theologies and contemporary Anabaptist theologies, gesture the Church towards untangling the forces of white supremacy and the inertia of western Christendom which have plagued its witness in society for too long. As two traditions that emerged from the underside of violent and oppressive western Christian societies, he found Black theology and Anabaptism each repeatedly turning to the particularity of Jesus in the gospel narratives. From that arises an ethic of solidarity with the oppressed and pursuing liberation in Black theology and an ethic of radical peacemaking and ecclesial nonconformity in the Anabaptist tradition. Each challenge the violent and oppressive logics of mainstream western Christianity and salvage the call to follow the way of Christ. Together in dialogue they deepen our analysis of the churches failures and the need for Jesus-shaped repentance. His work beyond teaching and writing has included pastoring in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, working for an inner-city afterschool program for black and brown middle school boys, delivering lectures and leading anti-racism workshops, collaborating with local faith-based organizers and activists in his city, and doing a broad range of public theology. He is also a co-leader for a local Harrisburg faith-based relational network called FREE Together which has collaborated with POWER Interfaith, MILPA, the Shut Down Berks Detention Center movement, and a little with the Poor People’s Campaign. Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew Hart, has received great reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and Englewood Review of Books. Endorsing this resource, Shane Claiborne said, “This book is a gift from the heart of one of the sharpest young theologians in the United States. Hold it carefully, and allow it to transform you--and our blood-stained streets.” As a text, Trouble I’ve Seen utilizes personal and everyday stories, Jesus-shaped theological ethics, and anti-racism frameworks to transform the church’s understanding and social witness. Trouble I’ve Seen focuses on white supremacy as an overarching framework for understanding racism, with careful attention to its systemic and socializing dimensions. However, unlike sociology textbooks on the subject Dr. Hart also considers the subversive vocation of Jesus and the nonviolent yet revolutionary implications his life ought to have for his followers today. His newest book project is entitled Who Will Be a Witness?: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance and will be published September 1, 2020. Who Will Be A Witness? invites the church to liberate its centuries long captivity to supremacist practices, and to expand its restricted political imagination in view of Jesus’ messianic reign. The book guides disciples of Jesus into joining God’s delivering presence through scriptural reasoning, historical reflection, practical theology for congregational life, social change theory, and the Christian call to love our neighbor. It is written for congregations, leaders, and students that understand that pursuing God’s justice goes way beyond waiting around for electoral seasons to come around. It is about the ongoing vocation of the Church right now, at the grassroots level, seeking after the wellbeing of their neighbors through faithful, strategic, and concrete action. Drew recently joined the Inverse Podcast team serving as a cohost along with Australian peace activist Jarrod Mckenna. Together they interview interesting people and explore how scripture can turn our ethical imagination and the violent and unjust systems of our world upside-down, which contrasts with interpreting the Bible as a tool for the status quo. Dr. Drew Hart was the recipient of bcmPEACE’s 2017 Peacemaker Award, a 2019 W.E.B. Dubois Award from a Disciples of Christ congregation, and in October 2019, Dr. Hart was chosen as Elizabethtown College’s 2019 Peace Fellow. Each award recognized him for his local and national justice work and public theology. You can find Drew Hart on Twitter and Facebook, or you can catch him as he travels and speaks regularly across the country to colleges, conferences, and churches. Drew and Renee, and their three boys (Micah, Dietrich, and Vincent) live in Harrisburg, PA and attend Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.

16 thoughts on “The Latest Victim of Racial Profiling… Well Respected Professor of Harvard University, Henry Louis Gates

  1. One time I foregot my key to the house and had to climb in through a window, Someone in the neighborhood saw me and called the police. I had to identify myself and prove who I was. I was very happy for the vigalence and care shown by neighbors for their neighborhood and I thanked the officers for their work.
    Another time I was carrying my grand-daughter outside in the trailer park where she lives. A resident of the village called the police – she was afraid I had kidnaped the baby. I was cornered and confronted by 2 cops in two squad cars. I had to prove who I was and who the baby was. When the officers were satisfied – I thanked them and thanked God for watchfull neighbors in the hood.
    I wonder if the lady who called it in knew she was going to set off such a fire storm. Maybe next time it will be a real break in and she’ll mind her own buisness . . . Maybe we should just ignore such things rather than risk being called racists.

  2. I hear you… point taken, we want people to be concerned citizens, who look out for the welfare of the community!!! However, when this concern turns into nightmarish statics where blacks are racially profiled in staggeringly high numbers, then it becomes an attack on (parts of) the community rather than a benefit to the community (as a whole). The truth is that way too often black men end up behind bars, while many white men have a discussion but do not end up behind bars.
    It was about 5 years ago, that my brother (who is not perfect and has and continues to do stupid stuff) was picked up off the street for meeting the description of a suspect. What was the description? Black male with a black shirt and blue jeans. 3 out of 7 days I meet that description (hey I look good in black shirts what can I say). Was he at the scene of the crime? No! Could the victim identify him? No, he was just hanging out several blocks away, sitting (not fleeing) with a group of other black men and was picked up. He spent well over a month in the county correctional facility (I think it might have been 2 months, but I can not remember exactly), before he was released with all charges dropped. And he probably would have spent even more time, had my parents not been so actively involved in case.
    This is the reality that exists… I hate to assume that it is racism all the time, but you know experience sometimes is the best teacher… and I have had so many experiences that have forced me to look critically at certain patterns, especially those that involve black men and police. It happens way to often to shrug of as merely coincidence, to do that is to be in a state of denial. I guess the question is at what point does policing cross the line surveillance to harassment? Police are human, they make mistakes, but with the black community police have continually crossed way beyond the line repeatedly.

  3. And the thing is that the police don’t even seem to be embarrassed.
    I expected that they would quickly apologize and try to make amends–even symbolically.
    This is not going to turn out well at all.

    (As an aside how pathetic that his neighbor did not even recognize him.)

  4. I went to the site ( and after reading that and then going to a site to read the police report – I would think they were two seperate incidences that happened on the other side of the world from one another.
    Someone or some ones are fibbin.

  5. Yeah I noticed the same thing… it really does sound like two completely different stories. Well, Dr. Gates provided some specifics that can be verified if someone took the time, like his bronchial virus he caught and record of him getting medical service. His phone call to Harvard to get the door fixed. And it sounds like there was a crowd outside the house when he was being arrested, so they can verify any comments by either party when they were on the porch. Even though charges were dropped, I don’t expect the legal end of it to be done by the least, I’m sure Prof. Gates will use this incident to talk about racial profiling and black male incarcerations in the U.S.

  6. Does anybody remember playing with their friends when they were in grade school and having this happen to them… Some one playing the game realizes that they are losing and rather than accept it – they change the rules.
    So, here I am 50 some odd years old and now I have to learn a new set of definitions for what Racism is… But that’s OK because the new rules still let Henry Gates be the best racist he can be.
    How so?
    Well, if the new rule for being a Racist is that you have to have “the power” when you express your prejudice, let’s look at the good doctor:
    – Well known world wide
    – Well educated
    – Well connected
    – Well off
    – Professor at Harvard
    – TV Personality
    – Friend of Barack Obama
    – Well respected Author
    Can’t get much more powerful than that!!!

    “On your Face Book entry you wrote:

    Henry Louis Gates Jr. Arrested.
    Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested at his home in Cambridge, Mass. after a white female passerby thought he was breaking into his own house and called police.
    Here is the full deal on what happened…”

    “The FULL deal” eh? That implies that no matter what anyone else had to say – this was the best and most accurate account? Otherwise you would have said – “Here is Dr. Gates version”.

    Well, I reject that. As a matter of fact I believe that no matter how true Dr Gates version is – the police report is just as true.


    Because Dr. Gates has “the power” and I believe he used it and said everything the police report says that he did.
    I will readily agree that the cop had his own measure of power while in the assessment stage of the situation and that he used it – but I am just as convinced that the good Dr. felt just as powerful (and more so) to vent the bile within himself and that he did say those bigoted, biased, prejudiced, racist remarks listed in the police report.

    Time will tell – but I think that the Dr. did just as badly as Mr. Obama (who has no small amount of power himself) when Obama called the policeman and his actions, “Stupid” on national TV at prime time. That wasn’t by accident.

    It always comes back to me. The incident while on the Civil Rights bus tour when one of the teenagers on the tour got into trouble. You all defended that kid to the hilt when he was accused of shoplifting and he of course denied it… until he had to finally admit . . . that he actually was shoplifting!

    I’ve been around long enough to know that the more powerful one gets the more likely one is to use that power badly at some point – and Harvard Professors who are TV personalities known world wide aren’t exempt.

    It’s no secret that blacks have been treated badly at times by police – but come on – a little level handedness here – most of the reactions by the people I read on your Face Book page make it sound as if Gates was incapable of being tired, embarrassed and irritated when confronted by the police (after such a long trip and finding that his front door won’t even open) and then flying off the handle and saying things that would embarrass him to have to admit to later. It is perfectly reasonable for him to have done so. Too bad it makes him a Racist – but hey – it happens to the best of us.

  7. You’re overall argument is ridiculous. None of those aspects you call power, are much power when confronted by a cop. In that context, the only power Professor Gates had, was knowledge of his rights, and personal confidence that he ought to be treated with respect and dignity in his own home.
    And as you saw on my FB page, I don’t care what definition you use on racism, the key issue is that we are on page with what we mean by the words we use. If throwing the word racism at black folks is therapeutic for you, go ahead, aim for the stars. Yet at the end of the day, it is the cops job to diffuse situations not provoke them. Ignoring that basic fact and reality, especially in this particular situation is unfortunate. In both accounts, the cop fails to do his job, unless Dr. Gates was actually acting in a threatening matter. But if Dr. Gates “tumultuous behavior” was indeed his asking for the cops badge number, then our police friend is going to be in big trouble. Legal trouble that is. But I agree with you last point, racism is such a part of the American way of life, it affects all of our minds and lives.

  8. “You’re overall argument is ridiculous.”
    Is that like – “Stupid”?

    “If throwing the word racism at black folks is therapeutic for you, go ahead, aim for the stars.”
    Not therapeutic, doesn’t do a thing for me – it just fits and is therefore true. Since this situation is whirling around someone being and acting in a racist manner – I have shown Gates to be most deserving of the title. You saying he doesn’t have “the power” doesn’t hold water unless you have a new definition for that too?

    “…it is the cops job to diffuse situations not provoke them. Ignoring that basic fact and reality, especially in this particular situation is unfortunate.”
    The police department is considering releasing all pertinent tapes of the initial call, subsequent radio transmissions and eyewitness accounts. They usually take a cop off the street and put him on desk duty in cases like this – but because they are so confident that this cop (who is an instructor to the force about race relations) is in the right and did everything according to protocol they have allowed him to get in front of any and all cameras / news crews. I am hoping they will release all the tapes but I wonder if the black community will be the ones who ignore the basic facts since you already either:

    A) haven’t read or heard the information that has come out of the police and news reports.
    B) you have heard and seen but have rejected those reports which don’t appear to your liking.

    If you have read the police reports and the reports from the news sources about the incident and the policemen themselves – you are obviously showing signs of prejudice and malice towards some of the information – and I can not help you there. (something about leading a horse to water and all…)

  9. You are doing a lot of interpreting… but however I did not mean “stupid” but illogical. It really does not make sense to me. You say racism “fits and is therefore true”??? Unless you were able to listen to audio from inside the house, I am not sure how you can be the authority on what is true.

    However, I would like to know what power Gates has as a Professor while encountering a police officer in his home? The truth is that at that particular point he was powerless… which is why all he could do is verbally question and complain to the officer. Degrees, books written, etc., have no influence in that context.

    Speaking of prejudice… you seem to already be condemning the entire black community. This has been a conversation between me and you, there are people within the black community that are all over the spectrum on this issue, as there is as well for white people.

    As we both have noted before, there are 2 different accounts out there, one from Dr. Gates and one from the officer. I don’t know exactly what happened inside the house. Was it all the cop being inappropriate? Was it all Dr. Gates being inappropriate? Was the story somewhere in the middle? Those things we do not know. I look forward to hearing those audio tapes, and we can at least know what really went on inside the house. However, even if we were to take the officers word as the entire picture of what happened, it still seems like an abuse of power to remove and arrest Prof. Gates from his own home, on a possible burglary. Unless Gates was beginning to get violent, I don’t understand why the Officer would not just leave and drive off. Officers are professionals, and are trained to calmly handle situations like that. However, again I said before, IF the “tumultous behavior” was merely Prof. Gates asking for badge ID and number, then that would be really sad and unfortunate.

  10. Dru,

    “…you seem to already be condemning the entire black community.”
    You are right – I do seem to be and that should not have been my intent – I apologise to you and the community. I had just heard a Gallop poll that said even though popularity for Obama’s handling of recent events was down to less than 50% generally, it was still at 97% in the black community. I let it spill over – my bad.

    “Unless you were able to listen to audio from inside the house, I am not sure how you can be the authority on what is true.”
    A police officer comes to your door dressed in full regalia. Name on his badge and badge on his chest. There is a squad car in front of your house. You see him and ask what his business is. He says that a call has come in from your house on 911. You look behind you and see the phone on the hook and know no one has used it. You tell him it didn’t come from your house. He asks to be let in.
    What do you do?
    Well, in my instance I let him in and he looked around, talked to my wife while I kept insisting that the call did not come from my house (in a normal tone of voice mind you). He got a bit miffed at my saying this over and over and informed me of the computer generated address program that notifies the desk officer where each call coming into the station is originating from. We had a standoff for a few tense seconds. Then he said, You have an upstairs. Is there a phone there?
    Oh My God!!!!!! I felt like a fool!
    I called upstairs to my eldest daughter who was watching one of our foster babies and I said, “Did you or Kahlil touch the phone?” She replied that she had indeed allowed Kahlil to play with the phone just a few moments before. “Well bring him and yourself down to see who he called.” I said. The look of surprise on Renee’s face was priceless when she saw that uniform.
    We all had a good laugh, including the cop and he left moments later.


    What if I wanted to be belligerent and express my rights and get loud and abusive with the cop?

    I think it would have ended another way. Don’t you?

    Why is it so easy to believe that the most racially sensitive cop on the force in Cambridge wasn’t ready to play it the same way? If he didn’t play it that way there had to be a heck of a reason, wouldn’t you think?
    Maybe if this took place somewhere other than hyper liberal Connecticut in hyper liberal New England in the hyper liberal Northeast you could make a case for unlawful police harassment resulting in arrest in the middle of the day in a ritzy collage neighborhood.

    The cop has a reasonable expectation to disbelieve everyone at the scene until proven otherwise because of the nature of the call. Lives could depend on it.
    There is a woman outside who will witness whatever goes down, Harvard University is mentioned, so he knows this will have powerful repercussions if things aren’t handled right, there is another man in the room (the driver) who is also a witness. No one seems armed. Why would he chose to risk his job and pension? I hear he radioed in that it looked like everything was OK and that the tenant was present and for anyone else responding not to treat it as an emergency… except for one thing…
    The tenant was being belligerent. Mmmmmm.
    Not a reason in itself to arrest since, as you point out, they are trained for verbal abuse.
    So it had to have been more…
    This is where I seem to hear you say it was because Gates was Black in America.
    and I say:
    I have read and heard that as things progressed they became threatening. Not that a little old man with a cane is all that threatening but what if he was not appearing to be in a normal state of mind (Drugs – prescription or otherwise or alcohol, the cop had to wonder) a person in a normal state of mind would have calmed down by now and seen what the cop wanted – provided it and had it done with.
    By the time the good doctor started screaming that he would go out and speak with the policeman’s momma and that this was not over with and that the cop didn’t know who he was dealing with – there was another policeman present and has witnessed to what he heard – and Mr. Gates “asking for the policeman’s name and badge number” wasn’t the half of it.
    Is this something akin to normal behavior?
    Does “threatening behavior” only include physical threat?
    At no time have I said that an arrest should have been made…that I do not know but from the reports I’ve heard and read – the verbal threats of legal, financial and retention of his job as a policeman didn’t stop even after a few warnings for Mr. Gates to calm down.
    Like I said – I never said he should have been arrested.

    “However, I would like to know what power Gates has as a Professor while encountering a police officer in his home? The truth is that at that particular point he was powerless”

    If wealth, friends in high Government places, the support of the liberal media (what’s that – about 75% of the media out there?), a position with one of the top Universities in the world….. isn’t power – what is?
    It doesn’t matter if the police officer knew any of this or not. Gates knew it!!! And that is what gave him the impetus to use it. What good is all that power if you don’t use it in this life? (Only Jesus can really answer that one.)
    Tell me this isn’t reasonable:
    Gates knows how much clout he has and being tired, cranky and irritated after the trip he has just come home from he decides to use it.
    Tell me you haven’t flexed your will, desire or displeasure with your mother, father or wife in a less than honorable way simply because you felt comfortable enough in your level of power to do so.
    What would be the difference if Gates did it?

    I challenge cops who stop me in my car (whenever it happens) all the time! (much to the horror of my passengers) because I believe traffic cops are simply acting as henchmen for the towns they work for to collect revenues as often and from as many drivers as possible.
    It’s not hard for me to see why Gates wouldn’t flex some of his muscle and I believe that even these past few days of news coverage prove me right that he was correct in knowing he commands quite a bit of power.
    I think he felt it was worth the risk.

  11. Hi Drew,
    I’m white, but live in a low-income, mixed race neighborhood and have seen some misunderstandings between the “races.” A long history of racism against people of color has us all on edge–who’s going to do what to who next? (But progress has been made and that needs to be acknowledged.) I try to show respect to every person I see and, for the most part, this is accepted in the spirit it’s given.
    I was very surprised a professor was arrested in his own home, after showing his ID. It seems like it could have been more a ‘clash of the titans,’ with the tired professor, after a very long trip, just trying to get into his home and being questioned by a cop, having to show his ID, and feeling deeply offended by the young cop’s attitude. You can see the shock on his face in the picture–‘this can’t be happening!’ I’m pretty sure the officer knew the professor lived there and was not a “bad black man.” I think he didn’t like the professor talking back to him and that he made a big mistake and should acknowledge it. The professor was reacting the same way many homeowners would.
    Pam B

  12. I don’t know the specifics about the situation. I just have some thoughts I’d like to throw out there.
    1) What if the cop arrested the Professor because of his attitude/talk back/etc and not because he was black? I’m not saying this is right. Either way, the cop should not have responded that way. I’m just wondering if it was more a clash of bad attitudes than racial profiling.
    2) What if Gates saw an opportunity to further his cause and either instigated the situation to that end or once he was arrested (for whatever reason) cried racial profiling knowing that this would give his cause publicity? Maybe this is a good thing then because our nation needs to be made aware of racial profiling. Again, I’m not saying this was the case, but I was just thinking about different scenarios for that situation.

  13. Sorry to just write back to you Curious. Actually, I don’t believe that the cop arrested Gates purely because he was black. And I am sure that Gate’s response must have played into it (although it is still debatable exactly how Gate’s responded). However, it seems that in the black community policing comes with very little grace. Even over the past few months in Philly, there is a lot of noise about racist remarks that several Philly police officers posted on a website. Do they hate black people? Probably not… but do they have stereotypes and a bias against blacks, well I think their comments clearly say yes.
    Most of these incidents are hard to “prove” one way or the other, because how do you measure someone’s actions against their internal stereotypes. It is hardly measurable. We can look at statistics and see the high number of arrests for petty and small crimes, or sometimes no crime at all, but when you get down to the individual case and situation, its hard to prove anything.

    All that to say, we could hypothetically suggest many things that could have happened. At the end of the day, a man was arrested out of his own home, for at most having a bad attitude, and at the least because he was black. Seems like an abuse of power either way.

    As far as Gates trying to further his cause… that is actually funny. While there are many black intellectuals who enjoy getting out into the public spotlight, Gates is not one of them. Dr. King was known for creating tension to address the problems that existed, but Prof. Gates is far from that. Some people like him for this, I criticize him for it, but he tends to be a little to consumed in academic circles and not willing to voice concern for everyday stuff. I think that is part of the irony of him being the one it happened to. Also, that all of a sudden he know wants to be the voice for all young black men who fall victim to it everyday. Of course, it’s better now than never, but he hardly shares the same experience. He spent a couple hours in jail, until his harvard lawyer buddies got him out, and he was able to talk about it on the national level. When my brother was arrested (which turned out to be a completely false arrest a few years back) he spent over a month in jail before any trial (which never happened cause all charges were eventually dropped). And even then he was fortunate that my parents were able to bail him out early. MANY young black men end up doing time for crimes they did not commit. I think Gates saw it as an opportunity after the fact, I think he really could not believe that a distinguished and dignified man like himself had to deal with such nonsense. Thanks for you thoughts, and I do agree that overall it is a good thing, allowing the nation to discuss such important topics, even though it is a very sensitive and touchy topic for all of us to talk about.

  14. It is a sensitive topic, Drew. Thanks for being a black man willing to talk about fear and racism, which combine into a hornet’s nest of problems. I know in some violent communities, fear is pervasive between citizens and the cops and this type of fear is a monster, a hate-breeder.
    But, why does racism exist? Why does the type of greed exist that enslaves other people, even today?
    I don’t know–other than evil thinks only of itself; evil attempts to destroy goodness. The only real solution to evil is to transform it into love, by Loving as God loves. We all have our work cut out for us, Drew.

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