Middlebury College professor Gary Margolis showed his support for Henry Louis Gates Jr. with this poem:
Who hasn’t lost the keys to his
own house, searched for a window
to crawl through, kicked a back door
open, to see if it was left open?
Frost did at his Ripton farm house.
I’m telling you I climb through
a window when he isn’t there so I can
look around. No one’s around to call
the police who rarely exist up there.
Frost is a bridge to Cambridge.
He lived there, too. And now
Henry Louis Gates Jr. who the police
find in his own house. Mr. Gates
isn’t broke and entering. He lives
in his own house. Frost didn’t have
to carry an ID. Berryman found
the key to his own Henry and then
water under a bridge, I’m sorry to say.
The police want us to think it’s all
water under the bridge. I have to say
I’m sorry. For them. Someone has to
pay his respects. I expect we haven’t
heard the last of this. A poem needs
its refrain. White-haired Frost doesn’t
leave a key under his mat for me
when I come home late, when I’ve
forgotten which window I’ve left unlocked.
One week after the arrest of Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates caused an international firestorm, the noted African-American scholar is receiving an outpouring of support from academia.
The leaders of Harvard’s Association of Black Faculty, Administrators, and Fellows released a strongly worded letter this morning expressing outrage at Gates’s arrest by a white Cambridge police sergeant for disorderly conduct, a charge that was dropped last week.
The letter, jointly written by the co-chairmen of the association — law professor Ronald S. Sullivan, who directs the Criminal Justice Institute of Harvard Law School, and Robert Mitchell, assistant dean and communications director in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — said they “would like to add our voices to the chorus of outraged people responding to the unjustified, illegal, and unwarranted arrest that you were forced to endure.
“As black men, we know what racial profiling and stereotyping is all about,” Sullivan and Mitchell wrote. “Moreover, we regret the serious affront to your dignity in respect of the booking process. . . Regrettably, your arrest demonstrates how vulnerable some in our community still are to police abuse of power.”
Gates was arrested after Sergeant James Crowley, responding to a call about a possible burglary at Gates’s home after Gates and his livery diver were seen pushing a broken door open, said the professor became verbally abusive during the investigation. Gates has said he did not yell at the officer and was only asking for his name and badge number to file a complaint.
In a phone interview today, Sullivan said that no matter whether outbursts actually occurred, “fits of language are not subject to criminal liability.”
“You’re essentially cleared when you’re in your own home to be rude and offensive,” Sullivan said. “The first amendment guarantees it. And most experienced police sergeants should know this. … When [Crowley] got the Harvard identification and the driver’s license, it should have been ‘Good day, Professor Gates. Sorry to have bothered you.’ ”
The Cambridge Police Department has defended Crowley’s actions but said it would form an independent panel to review the confrontation and use it as a teaching moment.
Gates has also received support from other prominent African-American scholars around the country, including Cornel West of Princeton, who formerly taught at Harvard. West told the Globe last week that Gates “has a righteous indignation at injustice, and I think that’s what you have there.”
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, chairwoman of Harvard’s African and African American studies department, sent Gates a letter on behalf of his colleagues in the department.
“I have never known you to exhibit tumultuous or disorderly conduct,” Higginbotham wrote. “I believe your accounts of the events and support you in every way… to be black in America brings painful situations such as what you are now experiencing.”
She went on to note that successful African-Americans have not been “immune from police arrest or harassment, even though innocent of any crime. Racial profiling by the police has long been a subject of discussion by academics, lawyers, and ordinary citizens, and sensitivity sessions have clearly not yielded a transformed police force.”
Perhaps the most unusual support for Gates came in the form of a poem titled “Ajar,” by Middlebury College professor Gary Margolis, who heads the Vermont college’s Mental Health Services. It begins: Who hasn’t lost the keys to his
own house, searched for a window to crawl through, kicked a back door open, to see if it was left open? To read it in full, click here.
Margolis, who is white, said he was inspired to write the poem after President Obama’ first commented on the arrest. He wrote it in just over an hour last Thursday after he arrived at work.
“Poetry can speak to a complex moment,” Margolis said. “It seemed to be a very human moment, from all sides. … It was in my head and in my heart.”
This is ridiculous the President should not apologize for anything. The officer was wrong and the Cambridge Police Dept. should look to him for any apology.
Further more, the historical record stands as a set precedent for how African Americans are treated in America. Henry Gates was arrested in his home by an officer who failed to abide by the law himself.
Non compliance with Mr. Gates request for identification and badge number was the first instance of unacceptable behavior. The officer has yet explain his deviation from protocol.
To demand an apology from the United States President is not only disrespectful to the Presidential Office; it also speaks to a special concern of defiance as the Cambridge Police Department answer their Commander and Cheif with a dismissive retort.
I do not support the Cambridge Police Department or their actions. Further investigation should be their first priority, and an apology from the arresting officer to Professor Gates is in order.
According to his official biography at his Web site, Mr. Harris was born in Flint, Mich. and raised in Little Rock, Ark. At the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, he was the school’s first black male Razorbacks cheerleader and was a lifelong fan of the team. He sold computers for a living until he self-published his first novel, “Invisible Life,” in 1991; it was picked up by Anchor Books in 1994, spawning a prolific writing career spanning ten more novels, from “Just As I Am” in 1994, to “Basketball Jones,” published in January, as well as a 2004 memoir, “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.”
In a review of Mr. Harris’s 2006 novel “I Say a Little Prayer” in The New York Times Book Review, Troy Patterson wrote that Mr. Harris “has helped bring taboo topics — like closeted black men indulging their sexuality ‘on the down low’ — into mainstream conversation.” From his debut with “Invisible Life”, Mr. Patterson wrote that Mr. Harris offered a writing style that “was smoothly paced, and the prose occasionally opened up on Fitzgerald-lite moments of sparkling sentiment.”
In a statement, Alison Rich, the executive director of publicity for Doubleday, which published Mr. Harris’s novels, said: “We at Doubleday are deeply shocked and saddened to learn of E. Lynn Harris’ death at too young an age. His pioneering novels and powerful memoir about the black gay experience touched and inspired millions of lives, and he was a gifted storyteller whose books brought delight and encouragement to readers everywhere. Lynn was a warm and generous person, beloved by friends, fans, and booksellers alike, and we mourn his passing.”
A full obituary will follow at nytimes.com.