U.S. News

Charges dropped against black Harvard professor

BOSTON (Reuters) - Authorities in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Tuesday dropped disorderly conduct charges against a preeminent black scholar stemming from an incident that drew fresh attention to police treatment of minorities in the United States.

Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. poses in an undated photo. REUTERS/Harvard News Office/Handout

Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested at his home in the Boston suburb of Cambridge last Thursday by a white police officer after a woman called police to report that a man was trying to force his way into the house.

Gates, 58, had merely experienced difficulty opening his own front door after returning from a trip to China, according to his lawyer. But police said Gates exhibited “loud and tumultuous behavior,” including accusing police of racism.

A statement on the Cambridge police department’s Web site said, “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,” the statement said, adding that the charges were dropped.

Gates is the director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African & African American Research and is one of the most prominent black scholars in the United States.

The incident renewed a debate over “racial profiling” and whether police in the United States treat blacks and other minorities differently than whites -- even after the election of the first black U.S. president in Barack Obama.

“I’m outraged that this could happen to me in my own home but I’m outraged that it could happen to any individual,” Gates said in an interview with the Washington Post.

Gates, who is seeking an apology, called the incident “deeply painful and traumatic,” and told the newspaper he would use it as the basis for a documentary on “racial profiling.”

A statement from his lawyer, Charles Ogletree, released on Monday said Gates had been unable to enter his damaged front door after returning home from a trip to China. Ogletree, also a Harvard professor, said Gates managed to enter the house through the rear door, and his driver carried in his luggage.

After police arrived at the house, Ogletree said, Gates showed his Harvard identification and driver’s license, and asked the policeman for his name and badge number. The police officer walked away, and when Gates followed him to the porch, he was arrested, Ogletree’s statement said.

A police report said Gates initially refused to provide identification and after the officer explained he was investigating a reported break-in, shouted “this is what happens to black men in America.”

The report said Gates made threats against the policeman, then followed the officer outside and yelled at him. He was then arrested.

Reporting by Jason Szep and JoAnne Allen; Editing by Stacey Joyce and Will Dunham