Tumultuous behavior

On July 16, 2009, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., one of the foremost scholars in this great nation, couldn’t get in his front door. Gates lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and teaches at Harvard University. A neighbor woman saw him and his driver trying to force open the stuck door, and she called the cops. Gates and the driver got in through the back door, and the driver left.

When the cops got there, Sgt. James Crowley, who teaches a class in racial profiling, asked Gates for identification, which he produced. Crowley insisted that Gates go outside, which Gates loudly refused to do. So the cops arrested him for insufficient humility—“loud and tumultuous behavior” in copspeak—and took him away in handcuffs. Gates got hassled at home and arrested for not liking it.

With Homeland Security encouraging 24-hour fear, cops can do everything on suspicion of anything. Still, it was a bit much—Gates was at home, for Pete’s sake, and quite reasonably thought that a person can yell at home. He was right.

Years ago when I saw the barrel of a shotgun outside my back door, I asked the cop who was holding it if I could help him.

“Do you live here?” he asked.

Rather than yelling like Henry Louis Gates, I said, calmly and clearly, “Yes.”

“You got ID?”

“Not on me,” I said.

I spoke calmly and clearly and ended up handcuffed in the back of a squad car because I wasn’t carrying identification in my kitchen. I told the cops—there were five or six of them—where my ID was and they searched my flat while I sat on my hands.

The cops found my driver license where I told them it was and verified that they hadn’t surprised me cooking in the kitchen of an apartment I was in the process of burgling, but, as I had said calmly and clearly, I actually lived there. They’d gotten a call from a neighbor woman who had seen me ride up on my bicycle in helmet, cleats, and lycra, and of course she thought I might be a burglar.

One Sunday in Minneapolis I answered our front door, and the cops on the porch asked me to come outside. When I did, they had me drop the bundle of clothes I was holding, handcuffed me, and made me kneel on my front lawn. Just then my wife got home, and she and the neighbors persuaded them to let me go.

It turned out that our 4-year-old had dialled 911 and, finding that he had nothing to say at the moment, hung up. The cops said whenever they get a 911-hangup, they always handcuff whoever comes to the door. We thought it an odd procedure at the time, and that was before Homeland Security. The Cambridge police dropped the charges against Henry Louis Gates. Next time I’ll yell.
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Posted Thursday, August 6th, 2009 under Negroes, police, racial bias, Uncategorized.


  1. That is a curious policy – the “handcuff the first person who comes to the door” one. I can”t imagine how angry I would be if I were arrested in my own house. I think I”d probably yell, except I tend to be afraid of cops; so maybe I”d just whimper.

    Good column.

  2. David Kensinger says:

    Good stuff Anthony-

  3. I just want to say I’m sorry. I know that I am not directly responsible, but somehow, being part of our community makes me feel that all of us somehow are responsible that this happens.

    Thanks, and thanks for all your other columns.

    • In terms of the collective unconscious and universal mind and whatnot, I suppose we all do our bit. Justice William O. Douglas said, “My faith is that the only soul a man must save is his own.” That’s pretty much my faith, too.

  4. Oliver Steinberg says:

    These cops watch too much television, don’t they?

    Why is it that I find myself forming the impression that these incidents tend to disproportionately happen to persons whose appearance denotes their not being a member of the melanin-deficient majority?

    I know of course that lots of, pardon the expression, “hunkies” also get the police-state treatment. Here in St. Paul, hundreds of middle-class white people were rounded up, tear-gassed, beaten, and falsely arrested last year during the Republican convention . . . and Gestapo-style house raids and preventive detention arrests were made against whites.

    But what was remarkable about those events was that they WERE remarkable. “White-skin privilege” was suspended for the convenience of Homeland Security diktat . . . ratcheting up the fear factor for anyone who had subconsciously expected such customary privilege to sustain his or her imaginary “rights.”

    The apostle Saint Paul (for whom our town was named) received better treatment from the Romans when he invoked the status of his citizenship. It wouldn’t have worked in the good old USA.

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