*An independent review of the confrontation between Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and the police sergeant who ended up carting him away in handcuffs could have ended more calmly had both taken advantage of opportunities to “ratchet down” the situation.
The review said “misunderstandings and failed communications” and a “certain degree of fear” each man had for the other led to the six-minute dispute.
Sgt. James Crowley arrested Dr. Gates for disorderly conduct at his Cambridge home July 16 while investigating a possible burglary. Gates alleged he was a victim of racial profiling. Charges were later dropped.
The conflict sparked a national debate on race relations, particularly when President Barack Obama said in a nationally-televised speech that Cambridge police “acted stupidly” in arresting Gates. Obama invited both men to the White House for a “beer summit.”
The situation at Gates’ home quickly escalated when it shouldn’t have, according to the review put together by a 12-member panel assembled in September. The panel was made up of law enforcement personnel, academics, and experts on race relations and conflict resolution, none of whom had direct ties to the Cambridge Police Department.
The report suggests that Crowley could have more clearly explained what he was doing and why he was doing it, especially after being shown Gates’ license and university ID. For his part, Gates could have used a more respectful tone to address the officer, the report found.
Neither man, in interviews with the panel, said he would have acted differently. The incident was a “textbook example of how a police officer and a member of the community can clash if they do not share a sense of responsibility,” according to the report.
Gates’ lawyer and fellow Harvard professor Charles Ogletree said while the report contained some “impressive recommendations about going forward,” he was disappointed that it left out contradictions between the police accounts of the call they got from a passer-by to report the incident and the actual transcript of her call. For example, the passer-by never mentioned that the people she saw on the porch of the home were black and never made any assumptions of criminality, Ogletree said.
He said it also plays down the fact that Gates was arrested after showing Crowley his license, with his address, to prove his identity.
“(Police) put an unreasonable burden on a citizen in what he should have done. He did everything he could have done,” Ogletree said, adding later that “(Gates) was amazingly outraged that the officer didn’t believe he was who he said he was.”
The panel made 10 recommendations for avoiding similar incidents in the future, including better training for police in de-escalating conflicts, as well as more outreach to the public and academic community to teach understanding of the police department’s job.
Gates and Crowley have since met many times and have developed “a friendly relationship,” Ogletree said.