Random comments about Henry Louis Gates and false arrest

You may have heard about the false arrest of Henry Louis Gates (read Dr. Gates’ statement here).

Below are some fascinating comments I found from the New York Times discussion section.

First, I wanted to mention that  Henry Louis Gates deserves credit for discovering by accident the first African-American novel ever published in 1859. Here’s a  fascinating mp3 Gates had in 1983 with literary interviewer Don Swaim about Our Nig . The mp3 interview (recorded early in Gates’ career)  goes into detail about how Harriet Wilson’s publisher  publicized the “sad plight” of Harriet Wilson as a way to sell more books.  Some things never change! 

I’m happy to report that Our Nig is available on Project Gutenberg.  (It’s one of those early PG scans, and I think the hyphenation and formatting is not ideal, but it’s still readable and downloadable as EPUB.

The Gates interview was one of my favorites from the several hundred  Wired for Books interview mp3s I heard over the past two years.

See also: a minor academic controversy about whether Our Nig was really first.

Anyway, most of the reader comments about the false arrest are just bickering, but here are some fascinating comments:

This is unfortunate, all around. The person who called the police is to be commended. What happened from there is anyone’s guess. But, it does show that we need all calm down–it does seem like the Professor did do something to contribute to the incident. We have a ways to go in healing the nation of the effects of racism and slavery, to be sure. But we will all have to take the high road.

I had a wonderful elderly professor in graduate school who looked like she might be homeless, because she cared more for her work than her appearance. She helped many people who were schizophrenic–she was a Professor of Social Work. Brilliant.

One day she was walking in downtown New Orleans, and her purse was snatched. When she walked up to a policeman to report it, he asked her for identification. She said, I can’t give it to you because, as I just told you, my purse was just snatched. He arrested her for vagrancy. She had to call a fellow professor from her department to come to the police station and set the record straight.

She stayed calm, and went with the flow. It all worked out, and she had a very funny story to tell afterwards.


I’ve worked as a window cleaner in New York City for two decades, I am white, and have had the police called on me countless times when people thought I have been going in through a window, or wandering around an airshaft looking for access to a window. People see what they want to see, or only part of the whole, and those who only saw me entering made an assumption. On each occasion I cooperated calmly with police, and the issue was done with. Gates, who I admire greatly, is full of it. He had every reason to assist the cops, they were looking after his home, after all. He blew it when his patience ran out. He owes the cops, his neighbor, and the Harvard community an apology. In most cases he would be correct. In this one I believe him not only to be wrong, but to be playing with the truth. His credibility is at stake. There is no historical issue of racism here, it’s not like the cops came in gunning, or pulled their weapons. What did he think might happen, his home or not, if he tried to push in the door?

I think Henry Louis Gates Jr. is losing out on an opportunity to fight for all the "non-famous" blacks who would not have had the charges dropped and been apologized to. He should sue the city of Cambridge for false arrest…I mean, Charles Ogletree is his lawyer. What an opportunity to bring attention to racial profiling, take the case to the Supreme Court, for God’s sake. They have the money, the influence, the time….I think he is a sell-out. My son was arrested for disorderly conduct, for talking back to a police officer. I had to pay for the tow of the car,($125.00) (he had been stopped for no reason), the bail to get him out($40), the fee for a public defender ($150.00). I filed a racial profiling complaint against the officer, who did not appear at the court date, but on the date, the side mirror of my car was ripped off (a coincidence?). Anyway, my son got six months probation anyway, and we have to pay fifty dollars a month, each time he reports to probation.($300) Plus he got two weeks of community service. Yes, my son is black. Internal affairs called us to see if we wanted to pursue our complaint against the officer, but after the mirror incident, my son was afraid (me, too, I must admit) So, merely saying that he feels "keenly" what ordinary black citizens go through, is not enough. Who will remedy this situation if not the top black leaders in the country? Another opportunity lost. Like the NAACP. We got ours, the hell with you all…….






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