Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Profiled by Police and Neighbor

July 21st, 2009 by Ajuan Mance


Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in 1998, after receiving a National Humanities Medal.


OK. I don’t get this. Gates’ only crime seems to be that he was angry about being asked for identification inside of his own home.  He did, however, do as he was asked. So, why was he arrested? No violence. What is the problem?

The problem is mismatched expectations. The cop did not expect to see a black man in such a nice house, nor do (some) cops like being told “no” by anyone, but most especially by black people. The cop felt the need to “put Gates in his place” and make a show of power even though no crime had occurred. This arrest was totally without merit. The thing is… Gates will be OK. He has a reputation and an established position in life. But, this kind of thing can happen to anyone and often there isn’t any recourse for it. People are simply “put in their place.” It never makes the papers.

futurebird, for The Daily Kos


The news establishment and the blogosphere are buzzing with emotions ranging from outrage to curiosity at the apparent interrogation and arrest of African American Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

It seems that a neighbor saw Gates and his driver attempting to unjam the door of his home and decided to call the cops. Two Black men, one of whom was a middle-aged guy in a sweater and using a cane must have looked like a burglars to Lucia Whalen, a Harvard fundraiser and the neighbor who reported this “burglary-in-progress.” There is little doubt in my mind that Professor Gates was wrongfully arrested. I believe that the Cambridge police acted too swiftly based simply on Whalen’s highly questionable account.

Many in the blogosphere have opined that Gates was racially profiled. The most disturbing part of this, and it is something that we all have to deal with as people of African descent, is that profiling by civilians like Whalen can result in such dire consequences. When Whalen reported Gates and his driver (he was returning from a trip abroad), she did not see her neighbor and a companion. In her mind, Gates and the driver were just a pair of suspicious Black males.

In the coming weeks, much of this troubling incident will focus on the interaction between Gates and the Cambridge police officers who entered his home. I believe that the media would be remiss not to focus at least some of their attention on Lucia Whalen, the woman who initially called 911. Her racism was the catalyst that put all of these other events in motion.

When I was a professor at the University of Oregon, located in Eugene, a city with a tiny Black population (less than 2 percent of the overall population), an African American faculty member — the director of the gospel choir — was harrassed by the police twice, each time after being reported as a Black man behaving suspiciously by white neighbors and residents. Eventually this kind and talented gentleman who was beloved by students left his job and the area. He no longer felt safe or welcome in the community.

As we continue to focus on racial profiling by law enforcement agencies, we must also begin to interrogate how those agencies deal with the racial profiling by white and other non-Black civilians. Until this problem is addressed, every non-Black person in America holds the power of freedom or incarceration over people of African descent; and Black people have no recourse. We can’t even get angry and loud about the injustice of being unfairly interrogated. That was, after all, what Gates was arrested for. He got loud and angry (non-violently) about being arrested, and he accused the police of harrassing him because of his race. They called for backup and they arrested him. The Lucia Whalen’s of the world have all the power, it seems.

And so it remains open season on Black people, as it has always been. If your neighbor all of a sudden forgets that she lives near a Black person, and if she then calls 911, and if you get angry at the police officers at the suggestion that you must show them I.D. in order to prove you belong in your own home (simply because a non-Black person says that you don’t belong there), then you can be arrested. They say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. As long as the Lucia Whalen’s of the world continue to see Black people as little more than suspicious and unwelcome, racism will reign.

You can read about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on the following websites, some of which include links to the police report in this case:

Harvard Professor Jailed; Officer Is Accused of Bias, The New York Times

Harvard Professor Gates Arrested, CNN

Black Professor and White Lady Reenact Crash in Cambridge, GAWKER

Skip Gates Arrested for Breaking and Entering, Ta-Nehisi Coates

Harvard Professor Gates Arrested at Cambridge Home (w/link to police report), The Boston Globe

Harvard Professor Charles Ogletree Releases Statement on Behalf of Henry Louis Gates, Wicked Local

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in Academia, African Americans, Current Events, Henry Louis Gates, Higher Education, Jr., race

24 Responses

  1. jhimmi

    I don’t know all the facts here, but, I’m white (sometimes mistaken for Hispanic), and I was arrested once during a traffic stop for getting into an argument with the cop who pulled me over.

    I never was charged with any traffic violations, but I was charged with disorderly conduct. I was pulling into my place of employment at the time, on my way to work. (it was late at night, I was working the night shift).

    Some cops are a$$h*les, some are probably racist, some are too lenient and let people get away with murder. If these cops acted unprofessionally, they should be punished, but walking around with a huge chip on your shoulder usually doesn’t go over too well with most cops.

  2. Mike Licht

    It’s not racism. It’s just a crackdown on that horrible Tumultuous Behavior crime wave.


  3. BigEdsBlog

    Let’s see if I’ve got this right. You are seen breaking into your front door in the middle of the afternoon, and when the police arrive you decide to be an a-hole. Well guess what? You get what you deserve no matter what color your skin is.
    Read my take on it and stick around for more good content.

  4. DebK

    Except Lucia Whalen isn’t a neighbor who suddenly forgot she was living next to a black man. She doesn’t live there at all – she was working in an office down the street. I know I don’t know everyone I work close to, do you?

    Since she didn’t know who lived in the house, should she have not called the police when she saw what looked like 2 men trying to break in?

    It’s unfortunate that she didn’t recognize Gates, but that’s hardly a reason for calling her an evil racist.

  5. Ajuan Mance

    jhimmi, you are quite correct, and I don’t believe that we can extrapolate from this that all police officers take every report at face value. Most police officers are trying to do their job fairly and to their best ability. We all do fail, at times, to live up to our own ideals, of course.

    Mike Licht, considering the amount of backup they needed to apprehend the suspect, this episode of tumultuous behavior must certainly have been life-threatening.

    BigEd, police work involves more than simply acting on every tip. It also involves assessing situations to see whether or not something illegal is truly taking place. Surely at least one among all of these officers could have seen that whatever Ms. Whalen thought she had witnessed was not, in fact, taking place.

    DebK, whether or not she was actually a neighbor, I find it almost impossible to believe that Ms. Whalen did not recognize Henry Louis Gates, Jr., especially as someone who works for Harvard’s magazine. Also, even if she didn’t recognize Gates, one has to wonder why this small, gray-haired man with a cane looked like a threat to her. I think many of us wonder whether or not a middle-aged, gray-haired, white man with a cane would have looked like a burglar to her or not. I would say, probably not.

  6. R. Su

    Ajuan Mance, you are correct to call out this brainless busybody, Lucia Whalen. What part of diminutive and elderly did she miss? The officer involved needs to be reprimanded, retrained, and needs to apologize personally to Professor Gates. But Lucia Whalen also owes apologies…both to her neighbor and also to those of us who have moved beyond such kneejerk reactions. She is an embarrassment.

  7. jonny goldstein

    As someone who grew up white in Eugene, Oregon, I wondered what it was like to be african american there, so this helps me fill in the picture a little. Sorry to hear about your friend who was made to feel so uncomfortable he had to move.

    I have no doubt that black people feel the brunt of police misconduct more than other people in this country.

    On your point that the neighbor was out of line calling the cops on Gates and his driver, I think that’s debatable. Even Gates doesn’t fault her on that.

    While I feel like police officers on average treat african americans worse than whites, I think they are out of control across the board. In Greenbelt,a DC suburb that I lived near, police did a home invasion of a house, killing two dogs, and hog-tying the occupants for hours face down before they realized that they had invaded wrong house. The house belonged to the (white) Mayor of the suburb! And the occupants were all white. So in that case, the cops victimized privileged white folks.

    So even though black people are suffering the worst of police misbehavior, law enforcement is alienating enough people of all colors that I think there may be an opportunity to reach across color lines and push back to change our country’s messed up approach to policing. I hope so.


    Look cop will slit your head open for acting like an ass
    no matter what coler you are!
    Knowing that and that being common knowledge ,how do’s an educated man act??
    And what do”s the cops mom have to do with anything?
    Tell me that Henry Louis Gates Jr. was out of line.
    And the first thind out of his mouth is racism,{well other then YOUR MOMMA}
    I think Henry Louis Gates Jr he is the racist.
    And president obama being a legal man {attorney} to make the coments he did, not know all the detels THAT WAS STUPID!
    Now he too looks like a racist

  9. Reggie Greene / The Logistician

    We have three observations about the Harvard professor incident:

    1. We find it interesting that the fact that this was the professor’s home was evidently not established early on way before the dispute escalated;

    2. We find it fascinating that the versions of two members of society, who most would ordinarily view as responsible and honest citizens (this obviously does not include politicians), would vary so dramatically from a factual point of view.

    3. Finally, considering that the reading and viewing public were not present at the scene (and thus have no first hand knowledge), and that there is no video tape to our knowledge of the sequence of events and what was said, how so many have formed conclusions, and made assumptions, about who did what and who was wrong.

    There are some things which Professor Gates might have considered upon the arrival of the police, no matter how incensed he may have been.

  10. Victim of False Arrest (Karen)

    I have to agree with Mr. Goldstein regarding the lack of boundaries engendered by a majority of police officers in America. This recent event elucidates one of the primary problems in our nation. It is not racism so much as the over-reation of armed law enforcement officers to even minor situations in every day life. The tendency or policy to operate over and above the law and to be absolved of any human common sense or decency is all too common today. The escalation of violence in an inflamed environment is far too common. The line between virtual and reality has blurred. President Obama’s comment that if he were in the same situation as Professor Gates and attempted to enter the White House, he would have been shot is unfortunately accurate. Living in fear of individuals who are presumably entrusted with your safety as public servants is a naive assumption given the history of America. All too often, cops make mistakes of identity, murdering innocent people and after a trial, they are found not guilty. Their penchant for distortion while writing police reports leads one to believe that possibly their name has been submitted for nomination of a Pulitzer Prize in Non-fiction. The greatest challenge facing all Americans, no matter what their ethnicity is not global warming. It very well could be facing the drug-induced corruption and insidiously violent policies of the majority of law enforcement officers in America. Cowering in a country because you were born here, lied to and about is not really living. Some illusions die deserved deaths. Freedom in America being regaled or referred to as synonomous with justice in this country…these are issues which have never really been addressed or answered. Must we be content to remain in abject ignorance about so many points of our own history? How many slaves were actually freed when Abraham Lincoln was our President? Not many. Although in the classrooms from Selma to Chicago, from Fargo to Chatanooga, from Long Beach to Phoenix history books lie to their students about slavery. I’m losing focus now. Perhaps mandatory stress tests for all law enforcement officers in America might be something the American Psychological Association would like to initiate, now that the humiliating shenanigans of Abu Gharib have been revealed. All Americans are equally prisoners in our own nation at all times if we are living in fear of cops overstepping boundaries or not acting as if there are any.

  11. Carol Lipton

    I’m a white attorney in NYC and member of the National Lawyers Guild. I’ve seen Professor Gates many times on Oprah, and was so inspired by his work on genealogy, that I read many things about his career online. What amazes me is how a fellow Harvard employee, a fundraiser no less, who would be privy to countless announcements of awards, honors and dinners, who lived down the block from Professor Gates, would not have instantly recognized him. Or perhaps, chose not to recognize him. The fact that she called in the report, which defied what she saw with her own eyes, is grounds in my opinion, for having her fired. What she did was negligent and supremely irresponsible.
    She claimed to have seen 2 black men “wearing backpacks”, when neither were. Gates was walking with a cane, and the limo driver had been carrying his heavy suitcases. If this had been John Kenneth Galbraith, Lucia Whalen would have been running to offer help, asking what was the problem, maybe even asking for an autograph.
    The fact that Gates was put in such dire apprehension for all manner of consequences which befall black men at the hands of police eager to put them “in their place” and subjected to this humiliation, should be enough to get her promptly and unceremoniously dismissed.
    For someone to exercise such poor judgment would make her unqualified to represent Harvard in a fundraising capacity.

  12. Reuven

    You “African American” people, who always profess to being wholesome and Religious, are certainly quick to bare false witness on this woman who accurately reported a break-in in progress. It wasn’t “highly questionable” as you say. She was concerned enough to wait for the police.

  13. Justin Wilson

    Why do all of us white people have to walk on eggshells when it comes to other races???? This whole thing is a perfect example there are alot of blacks that in their hearts hold hate towards whites because of History. It hasnt clicked in their heads that they fought for their freedom and have honorably achieved it as whites have also had to do in the past. They use the color of their skin as a tool or a weapon against whites and it creates an ongoing racial tension. I believe yes there is still imbread racial white people that are raised to hate black people because they are black but those people are uneducated idiots. We as white people know that not all blacks hold hate towards us but we know that some doo.

  14. vince.piackard

    To call this racism is false advertising. The Cambridge police treat everyone (other than politicians and other unnameables) equally, that is,
    often immoderately.
    Not everyone in Cambridge has heard of or would recognize Professor Gates. Was it hurt vanity or social injustice that motivated his refusal to step outside; to give a show of minimal respect to a public servant? Having met Professor Gates in a retail capacity, I would vote for the former.

  15. Ajuan Mance

    Thank you all for your responses. My own response to your comments is so lengthy that I have responded in a separate blogpost.

    Ajuan (Black on Campus)

  16. mike

    as far as his age or size,I am sure there are many people in prisons today of the same size and appearance.That alone does not prevent one from being a criminal.I am certain that people of his size and stature have in the past broken into homes and were threats to arriving officers(of all colors)and the true occupants of the home.Police do not know every person and the homes in which they live,so it would be naive to believe they know Prof.Gates.I am white and was found in asimilar situation,the arriving officers wre white and black,I was asked to step out of the house and provide identifications,which by the way i did and without name calling or a feeling of being violated.They were doing their job,which I was pleased with.Remember if I didnot belong there,the prevented a home invasion or worse!Did Prof.Gates not say that the door was in disrepair due to a previous crime?He was not arrested for being black,just being disorderly,after the officer was leaving.

  17. Ajuan Mance

    Mike, of course there are people of all sizes in prison. That, however, was not my point. My point is that for some reason, Lucia Whalen looked at Mr. Gates, who is short and who did not have a backpack with him and somehow though she saw a big Black man with a backpack.

    Eliminating poor sight and hallucinogens as a reason for this discrepancy between what she reported and what she actually saw, I would suggest that the cultural associations between Black males and crime may well have colored (no pun intended) what she perceived which was, without a doubt, very different from what she actually saw.

  18. Phil G.

    “The cop felt the need to ‘put Gates in his place’ and make a show of power even though no crime had occurred.”

    I really take offense to this. YES. A crime was committed. And that crime was “disorderly conduct.” I am sure the officer could have cited more since Gates did not calm down as directed several times.

    Being an A-hole is not a crime.
    Gates was prejudiced from the word go ASSUMING that the WHITE Law Officer MUST BE A RACIST.

    Starting your encounter with a cop with a huge chip on your shoulder will never end well regardless of your race.

    If Gates was as close to Obama as all that, he may have even felt EMPOWERED – “You don’t know who you’re messing with!”

    Had the officer just not questioned him and then later it turns out that this was not Gates, everyone would want the officer fired for not doing his job.

    But, he does his job and maintains his cool while gates LOSES HIS RACE BAITING MIND. He finally arrests him with the attention Gates is drawing.

    Gates COULD HAVE CHOSEN to show his ID and shut his mouth AND THEN COMPLAINED to the chief. BUT NO! He choose to act like a little child and he got what he deserved.

    Now that is out there and it seems like the officer is being vindicated, people must find SOMEONE ELSE to blame BESIDES GATES.

    So blinded by their own racism that they can’t simply see Gates as being what he was that day: STUPID!

    I would think MOST RATIONAL people would be GLAD that someone is looking out for burglars when their home is concerned.

    But I see here that people want a sacrifice so now they must offer up the woman who called it in.

    YEP! She must be a racist. Who will you folks claim is the next person wrong in this and label them racist?

    The mailman? The paperboy? The 911 operator? WHO?

    NPR Juan Williams doesn’t see it as racial profiling and thinks Gates was WAY OUT OF LINE

    Bill Cosby has said the same.

    Sgt. Leon Lashley said he backed Crowley’s actions 100%.

    All of these people are black and see it for what it is.

    Why the witch hunt? You need look no further than Gates for bringing this upon himself.

    Carol Lipton: Please flip off the next cop you see and call them all kinds of names. Let me know if they put you “in your place” – whatever that might be since you’re white.

    Or just see if you go to jail. Let us know. OK?

  19. Gerald Ball

    I am a black male. My main problem with this incident is that it is being reported as a case of profiling. I have been profiled several times, and it was not profiling. Profiling is when police detain or question a suspect at random, or when there is no reason to think that this person is a criminal other than his background.

    This is about the furthest thing from profiling. A woman saw two men that she did not recognize trying to force their way inside a house. Do you honestly think that she would not have called the police had the men been white? Second, the police did not profile. They responded to a specific call regarding a report of a crime in progress. Do you honestly think that the police should not have responded?

    As for “having to show identification IN HIS OWN HOME” … the police did not come to his home on his own accord. They came because a woman reported a burglary in progress. Gates was well capable of connecting the police in his home to his trying to force open the door, yet he played the “this is what happens to black men in America!” card.

    Actual profiling is a bad thing, a violation of the due protection clause of the Constitution and bad law enforcement. It should be stopped. What happened to Gates was not profiling and trivializes the experiences of legitimate profiling victims like myself (and legitimate victims of seriously flawed police tactics like Amadou Diallo, who was approached by plainclothes detectives in the dark and thought that he was being robbed).

    I am not even going to say that I regret what happened to Gates. Why? Because if my neighbor sees two men breaking into my house, I WANT her to care enough about my safety, my property, and the general concept of law and order in society (as I have lived in my share of neighborhoods where law and order is not respected, and the main people victimized are innocent law abiding people, especially children and the elderly, and the victimizers are not the police but criminals) to call the police. And were the police called on a suspected break in happening in my house, I would want the police to respond. And upon confronting someone in my house, I would want the police to demand proper identification (something containing my name and address) to prove that I am the homeowner and not a violent criminal of the sort who robs and murders people in home invasions on a regular basis in this country.

    Lines like “she did not see her neighbor … she just saw a couple of black males”, I mean come on. Is there any evidence that she even knew Gates, or was in a position to recognize him? Look at the crime statistics. The vast majority of violent crime victims are black, and the vast majority of the time the perpetrators are black. Enough with the nonsense. If you see what you believe to be a crime in progress, call the police.

    When I was in college (and I attended a large historically black college with a decent reputation) for a time I lived in off campus apartments in a low income area that included a lot of other students of this university of modest means. There was this incident where several (black) males broke into the apartment of a (black) female student and proceeded to repeatedly gang rape her over the course of several hours, with the girl screaming for help the entire time. Now I was not home at the time, but plenty of other people in that apartment complex were, including other college students. NOT A SINGLE PERSON CALLED THE POLICE! Instead, the gang rapists merely became bored with their prey and allowed her to escape, and this poor girl had to go call the police herself. That was just one incident. Two other (black) female college students were murdered “in their own homes” (or as it were apartments) in home invasion attacks, and you can guess the race of the murderers. And my university wasn’t in some high crime city either, it was actually a little city not much bigger than a college town (my university wasn’t the only one in the city … you know Jim Crow and everything was the reason for its existence).

    I really am sick of nonsense like this which causes black folk to conveniently forget about who the real enemy is. It isn’t people like Gates’ neighbor and it certainly isn’t the cop!

  20. Ajuan Mance

    Phil G, Thanks for your response. I don’t think that we can necessarily call any one of the people involved in this incident a racist. I elaborate on this point in a more recent blogpost:

    Gerald, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I have to say that I do not believe Gates was profiled by the police. I do believe that he was profiled by the “witness” who called 911.

    As for your assertion that “The vast majority of violent crime victims are black, and the vast majority of the time the perpetrators are black,” this is patently untrue. It is an untruth that is perpetuated by the disproportion focus on crimes by Black people in both mainstream and alternative news outlets. This common misperception has been the basis of considerable and unwarranted fear of Black people, especially Black men.

    Here are the actual statistics on violent crime from 2006, the most recent year that I could easily track down. These statistics are from the U.S. Justice Department. In 2006, “Per every 1,000 persons in that racial group, 32 blacks, 23 whites and 18 persons of other races sustained a violent crime.” That means that less than 50 percent of all violent crimes are committed against Black people, a far cry from the “vast majority.”

    Apparently, rates of violent crime are continuing to decrease in the U.S., resulting in a steady decline in the number of victims overall.

  21. Deborah

    And do you recognize the foolishness in the article and these comments now?

    “In the 911 recording released Monday, caller Lucia Whalen tells police she saw two men pressing on the door of a home, but says she is unsure whether the men live there or if they were trying to break in. She said she saw two suitcases on the porch.

    “I don’t know if they live there and they just had a hard time with their key. But I did notice they used their shoulder to try to barge in and they got in. I don’t know if they had a key or not cause I couldn’t see from my angle,” Whalen said.

    Whalen does not mention the race of the men she saw until pressed by a dispatcher to describe them. At that point, she said one of the men may have been Hispanic.”

    It would be wise to withhold judgment until all facts are known and it is quite prejudiced to have made these statements about a woman one has never met and doesn’t have any idea as to her race (of Portuguese descent) or her racial feelings.

    Everyone has racial feelings and clearly, they are demonstrated in the writers on these forums.

  22. Gary

    Johnny and Karen,
    I have a different view. I have been a police officer for more than twenty years. I have a graduate degree in Criminology and a JD. I don’t think you two or the general public really understand the motivation of the modern police officer. It is quite simple. First, you should know that in single events, four officers were shot and killed in Oakland, seven shot in Philly and two murdered in Pittsburgh over the past 6-8 months. Last year, like every year, 150 or so police officers don’t go home to their children, wife, husband or significant other. Officers have a strong desire to go home at the end of the day. With that backdrop lets talk about the Gates incident.

    The concept that, “a man’s home is his castle” is still alive and well in the judicial system. Burglary is not a low level offense. In CA, you will go to prison if you get caught committing a burglary. Often people who commit serious offenses don’t want to get caught or face consequences of their actions. So, police have to be particularly careful so as to avoid being one of the 150 officers killed each year. But police also know that most calls like Gates are false and turn out to be nothing. Without the benefit of hindsight or a crystal ball, they go to the call to protect the public interest and they take their ques on how to approach a situation from the people they contact. They assess body language, defiance, the plausibility of what and how things are said and assess each piece of information in relation to the situation.

    With that having been said, officers rely on information provided by citizens that is filtered by the dispatchers. Since race relations and even profiling is an issue in the Gates incident, you should all know that by definition, this could not have been racial profiling. RP occurs when an officer stops someone, not because they are certain color, but “because of” their color. Race is a characteristic that narrows the pool of likely suspects. When race is part of the description, our courts allow officers to use it in their decision making process when dealing with this type and other types of situations.

    If the officer was told that two white guys were seen breaking into Mr. Gates home, I’m sure the officer would have approached Mr. Gates differently. In fact, I’m sure he would have said, “Are you the home owner? We got a call of two white dudes breaking into your house.” After Gates explained or ranted, the officer would have asked if he had Identification for his report?

    What troubles me is how Gates knew that he and his friend forced open the front door. As an educated man, he should know that anyone who saw two men of any color forcing their way into a house would necessitate a police response. It was within his power to defuse this situation with a simple explanation and a thank you for stopping in. The only racist conduct perpetrated was by Mr. Gates (assuming the officer was racist) and President Obama (weighing in before he had the necessary facts).

  23. Ajuan Mance

    Gary, thank you for providing such a thoughtful and informative perspective.

    You have given us a lot to think about. I would like, in particular, to mention three of your points.

    First, regarding your statement that police just want to be able to go home to their children, I think this is a very important point because it so closely echoes the basis for many law abiding Black people’s fear of police officers. Most Black people can recite the names of several Black men who, though they had committed no crime, never made it home after their encounter with law enforcement. Some were killed and some were wrongfully incarcerated. Of course, most police officers do not set out to kill or wrongfully incarcerate Black people, nor — as you must concede — do most Black people ever carry out violent acts against police officers. And yet many African Americans remain as distrustful (or even fearful) of police officers as police officers are of them.

    Second, you said the following: “As an educated man, [Gates] should know that anyone who saw two men of any color forcing their way into a house would necessitate a police response.” This is one of the most disturbing statements that I have read, in that it seems to suggest that men of color don’t have the same rights to enter their homes (or lose their keys or have a jammed door or whatever else might necessitate breaking into your own home) that white people do, and I know that this is probably not your belief. It also seems to suggest that all men of color should have to suffer because of the actions of a few. That doesn’t seem quite fair.

    Finally, as I’m sure you are aware, to be questioned for a crime when you have committed no crime does not feel like a gift, nor does it feel like protection. Rather, it feels like accusation and judgement. As such, it would be hard for most people to say “thank you.”

  24. Lloyd Martin

    I was thinking…If we see someone seemingly breaking into a home. We are assuming a crime. Why would we not convey the appearance of the possible culprits as clearly as possible. I think we should rethink the using a discription like this and not consider it anything but giving the police information.
    I saw a short, very heavy, black, woman appearing to break into a home.
    What the person is describing as best as possible is an unnormal human being. That is…Most people are not short, most people are not very heavy, 80% of the population are white, and it is either a woman or a man.
    You wouldn’t say I saw a white man breaking into the home because a white man is the default color since 80% of people are white. You say black or hispanic, not because of racism but you are explaining a not normal person.
    If the person was average height, average weight, white, and male you would just say a person is breaking into the home. There is such a thing as implied. Since average height, average weight, white, and male is in fact the most common person to break into the home, you assume the 911 operator understands what you Implied. You give other details when the person is “different” from the implied person.
    Plus, the next day when the police come to your neighbor’s home and ask if they saw something, then it is OK to say I saw a short, very heavy, black, woman. Why in the world is it not OK to say the same thing during the 911 call? Am I missing something?