Monday, July 20, 2009

Henry Louis Gates arrested .... for being a Black man

Oh. My. Gods. I really can almost not believe that this actually happened.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (a distinguished historian and long-time Harvard University professor who happens to be Black), managed to lock himself out of his own house (in Cambridge, Massachusetts) last Thursday night. He then apparently proceeded to try to find some alternative means of getting inside his own house. While he was so engaged, one of his neighbors called the police, who arrived on the scene and asked Gates to identify himself. Gates refused to do so and told the police officers, "THIS is what happens to Black men in America." Gates was then arrested. On his own property. Trying to get into his own house.

I am a huge fan of Gates. His PBS series Wonders of the African World was not only a brilliantly well done and extremely educational multi-episode documentary - it was also at times rolling on the floor hilarious.

This reminds me of the time almost 20 years ago when the Indianapolis police arrested Rich Waples, one of the most famous civil rights attorneys in the universe (or at least in the state of Indiana, anyway). Why was Rich arrested? Because he had come out into his own front yard to observe two police officers who were arresting two young Black men they had just pulled over. The officers didn't like Waples watching them (they had no idea who he was - at the time he was the Legal Director for the Indiana ACLU, and had also been Ryan White's lawyer). One of the officers "ordered" Waples to go back into his house, which Waples declined to do. The two officers then charged and tackled Waples, handcuffed him and, as they say, "took him downtown". At no point did Waples even once say anything like "you poor stupid bastards have no idea who I am, do you?"