So it seems that African America's pre-eminent man of letters has become the latest victim in the American racial saga. Henry Louis Gates was arrested at his home after a neighbor reported a prowler. It seems that Gates had locked himself out and was trying to "break into" the house. Who reported him? A white female neighbor reported seeing two black males "with backpacks" trying to shoulder their way into the front door. The arrest charge? Disorderly conduct. When the officer arrived, Gates was inside the home. He answered the door and the officer asked for his identification. Initial reports suggested that Gates refused to show his identification. The officer's report says that Gates eventually showed his Harvard ID after initially refusing. Gates then told him "You don't know who you're messing with." He accused him of being a "racist police officer" and repeatedly asked for the officer's name. The officer states that as he exited the property, Gates continued to yell. According to the police report, Gates got into a shouting match with the officer. That was when he warned the professor that he was becoming disorderly. The arrest ensued.
Gates was arrested and detained for several hours before being released. He has hired his colleague Charles Ogletree as his lawyer. But Ogletree has refused comment so far.
Now, Gates' reaction is a little funny with his whole celebrity "You don't know who you're messing with" response. It would have been hysterical if this were all a prank on Ashton Kutcher's Punk'd. But this wasn't a prank. And his heightened, emotional response reveals the anxiety that so many black men who live in predominantly white neighborhoods still feel--that someone is watching them, that if they aren't dressed a certain way or their pants aren't tight enough or if they catch the shadow just right, someone will mistake them for the wrong negro. The bad kind. Not the good, Yale-educated, distinguished university professor kind.