Harvard profesor Henry Louis Gates Jr., described by AP as "the nation's pre-eminent black scholar" was arrested Thursday as he attempted to force open the front door of his house. Apparently, a woman reported to the police that she'd seen a fellow "wedging his shoulder into the front door as to pry the door open." What happened when the Cambridge police arrived is unclear. According to the police report, they asked him to identify himself and he refused to do so. He allegedly got agitated, called the officer a racist, and "exhibited loud and tumultuous behavior." They busted the professor on disorderly conduct. Gates says that he showed his drivers license and Harvard ID but the police continued to question him. But the question is whether this case falls into a broader pattern of race-based policing in Cambridge. According to Allen Counter, another Harvard professor, the answer is yes. From the AP account: "we do not believe that this arrest would have happened if professor Gates was white."
Whatever the merits of either the criminal charge or Gates' claims of racism, he was surely correct when he told the officers "you don't know who you're messing with."