by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Scholarship in Action
I remember the summer of 2009 when I received the very first phone call from CNN about a black professor at Harvard University who’d been arrested on his front porch. The professor’s name was Henry Louis Gates, a prominent black scholar in the field of African American studies. Gates had been taken away in handcuffs by an officer named James Crowley, a man who apparently didn’t understand the political consequences of inconveniencing important Harvard professors.
As a black public scholar myself and son of a police officer, I felt obligated to try to understand both sides of the situation. Being close to police officers all my life, I know that officers can be incredibly abusive and disrespectful. I almost immediately saw the case of Professor Gates to be more of a civil liberties issue than one of racial profiling. One cannot presume that every arrest of a black man is the result of racism. In the case of Gates, I found it confusing that he wanted to rally the troops of racial justice, but has almost never spoken out publicly in favor of other black men who’ve been shot by police or experienced more serious incidents in the past.