Black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Sunday joked about his arrest by a white police officer, but also described receiving death threats and dreaming about being arrested at the White House.
In his first public appearance since sharing a beer at the White
House on Thursday with the officer and President Barack Obama,
Gates said the national debate over racial profiling sparked by his
arrest shows that issues of class and race still run "profoundly
deep" in the United States.
"They have not been resolved at all," he said, speaking to a
crowd of more than 150 who came to see him at the Martha's Vineyard
Gates was mostly light-hearted during his speech and even poked
fun at himself after a man in the crowd told him he admired his
sense of humor.
"I should have been funnier in the kitchen of my house on July
16," he said.
But Gates also described how the incident and the subsequent
national debate affected him personally. He said he had to shut
down his public e-mail and change his cell phone number after
receiving numerous death and bomb threats, including one that read,
"You should die; you're a racist."
Gates was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge at his
Cambridge home after police responded to a 911 call about a
The officer who arrested him, Sgt. James Crowley, said Gates
became belligerent and called him a racist after he asked for
identification. Gates accused police of racial profiling and called
Crowley a "rogue cop."
The charge was dropped.
Obama stepped into the fray during a White House news conference
when he said Cambridge police had "acted stupidly." He later said
he should have chosen his words more carefully and invited the two
men to the White House for a beer.
Gates said that the night before he went to the White House, he
dreamed about getting arrested there.
When the two first came face to face in the White House, Gates
said that both he and his family and Crowley and his family
"looked like a deer caught in headlights."
He said Crowley looked "so relieved" when he shook his hand,
and the two were able to find humor in the media frenzy unleashed
by his arrest.
Gates said he and Crowley discussed meeting again privately -
either going to lunch or taking in a Boston Red Sox or Celtics game
- or having their two families go out to dinner together.
"I offered to get his kids into Harvard if he doesn't arrest me
again," he said, drawing loud laughter from the audience.
Gates appeared at the festival to promote his 2009 book, "In
Search of Our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans
Reclaimed Their Past." The book traces the family trees of black
celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Chris Rock.
When questioned by reporters after his speech, Gates would not
comment on whether he still believes race played a role in his
He said he wants to produce a documentary from both the
perspective of police and people who have been victims of racial
profiling so "Americans can understand that you can have two
equally valid perceptions of the same event."
"Racial profiling is a huge problem in this country and a
serious problem, and I intend to devote my resources to fighting
it," he said.
Gates called what happened to him "small potatoes," and said
he is more concerned about people who don't have Harvard lawyers to
"At the same time, it's important that all of us are keenly and
acutely sensitive to all the police do for the good of the
community," he said.
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