Black Caucus Members Agree With President Obama's Criticism of Cambridge Police, Call Harvard Professor’s Arrest ‘Racial Profiling’
July 23, 2009 - 5:56 PMMembers of the Congressional Black Caucus said that the recent arrest of a black professor for disorderly conduct was a case of "racial profiling" and that President Barack Obama's remarks at his Wednesday night press conference saying the police had acted "stupidly" was an apt description.
“What the president said is so accurate,” Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) told CNSNews.com following a press conference on health care on Thursday at the Capitol. “I mean, I just experienced an incident about a year ago that was, of course, front-page stuff in Chicago.
“Driving while black, where I was stopped by police officers and after we went to court – we took the whole thing to court, lawyers – the response was so ludicrous from the officers,” Davis said.
Near the conclusion of his televised press conference at the White House on Wednesday, Obama responded to a question from Chicago Sun-Times reporter Lynn Sweet about what he thought of the July 16 arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., a professor at Harvard University and a personal friend of the president.
After acknowledging his friendship with Gates and stating that he did not have all the facts, Obama repeated that he did not know the facts but that he understood why Gates would be angry, and that the police in Cambridge, Mass., where Gates lives, acted “stupidly.”
“Now, I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that,” Obama said.
“But I think it's fair to say, No. 1, any of us would be pretty angry; No. 2, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and, No. 3, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there's a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That's just a fact,” he said.
“As you know, Lynn, when I was in the state legislature in Illinois, we worked on a racial profiling bill because there was indisputable evidence that blacks and Hispanics were being stopped disproportionately,” Obama said. “And that is a sign, an example of how, you know, race remains a factor in the society.” “I think the president was right on target,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said on Thursday. “Racial profiling, we all know. We come from communities where, some of us actually, understand and have been racially profiled and so (Gates’ arrest is) just an example.”
“I think we have witnessed an example of the unfinished business of America and the inequalities that continue to exist,” said Lee, “and part of our job as members of Congress is to work on legislation and policy issues that address racial profiling and the criminal justice in a real way, in terms of criminal justice reform.”
In the police report of the arrest, arresting officer Sgt. James Crowley said he was responding to a report of someone apparently trying to break into what was later identified as Gates’ residence. Crowley said he could see “an older black man” in the foyer of the house through the glass door and asked him if he would step outside.
Crowley said Gates refused and asked Crowley to identify himself. After Crowley told Gates he was a sergeant with the Cambridge Police Department and was investigating a report of a break-in, Crowley said Gates opened the door and said, “Why, because I’m a black man in America?”
Crowley said Gates was yelling and repeatedly called him a racist. After other officers from the Cambridge police and Harvard University and several onlookers had gathered on the street and Crowley had left the residence and was followed outside by Gates, the second officer who contributed to the police report said Gates yelled: “This is what happens to black men in America.”
Crowley said in the report that he warned Gates several times that he was becoming disorderly before placing him under arrest.
The police report said that the woman who reported the break-in to police said she saw a man trying to use his shoulder to wedge open the front door of the house.
In the days following his arrest and subsequent release, Gates publicly criticized Crowley and demanded an apology.
In an interview Thursday with WEEI radio in Boston, Crowley said he would not apologize.
“As I said yesterday when I was cornered in my backyard by the media, that apology will never come,” Crowley said “It won’t come from me as Jim Crowley, it won’t come for me as a sergeant from the Cambridge Police Department.
“Whatever everybody else chooses to do in the name of the City of Cambridge or the Cambridge Police Department is beyond my control. I don’t worry about that. I know what I did was right. I have nothing to apologize for,” Crowley said.
When asked about Obama’s remarks about the case at his press conference, Crowley told the radio station he was “disappointed.”
“Well, of course, he’s the president of the United States, and I support the president to a point, I guess,” Crowley said. “I think it’s disappointing that he waded into what should be a local issue, something that really plays out here.
“Like he said at the … press conference, he didn’t have all the facts, and he certainly doesn’t, based on his comments,” Crowley said. “It was very disappointing.”
On Tuesday, a joint press release was made public that said the City of Cambridge, the Cambridge Police Department, and the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office would not proceed with charges against Gates.
The statement also included a joint statement from the city, the police and Gates:
“The City of Cambridge, the Cambridge Police Department, and Professor Gates acknowledge that the incident of July 16, 2009, was regrettable and unfortunate. This incident should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of Professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department. All parties agree that this is a just resolution to an unfortunate set of circumstances.”
Also on Tuesday, the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association issued its own statement, supporting Crowley. It reads as follows:
“The Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association has reviewed the matter of the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Gates Jr. and the involvement of Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley in that matter. Upon review, the Association expresses its full and unqualified support for the actions taken by Sergeant Crowley in response to the report of a possible break in at a residence on Ware Street in Cambridge.
Sergeant Crowley is a highly respected veteran supervisor with a distinguished record in the Cambridge Police Department. His actions at the scene of this matter were consistent with his training, with the informed policies and practices of the Department, and with applicable legal standards.”