Every Friday, we choose an alum who has been making headlines—for better or for worse.
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Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. ’73

Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. ’73 has written for the New Yorker, made PBS documentaries, won a MacArthur “genius grant,” and been named one of Time magazine’s “25 Most Influential Americans.” But last week outside his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he was another black man in handcuffs. Gates, professor of African American studies at Harvard, returned to his Harvard Square home at midday on July 16, after a trip to China, and found the front door jammed. With the help of his driver, he shouldered it open and went inside. Then arrived a Cambridge police officer, investigating a passerby’s complaint of a possible break-in. While the police report and Gates’s account differ on some details, both note that Gates eventually showed the officer ID, proving that he lived in the house. Both accounts have Gates angrily repeating something along the lines of: “Is this how you treat a black man in America?” As Gates followed the officer onto the porch, police cuffed the 58-year-old scholar in front of a crowd of onlookers. Charged with disorderly conduct, he spent several hours in jail before being released. When news of the arrest broke early this week, Cambridge dropped the charges. But that did little to quiet the outcry about police treatment of African Americans. “Here we are in the age of Obama, and some things haven’t changed,” Yale Law School professor Stephen Carter told Inside Higher Ed. “Blackness is associated in the public mind with wrongdoing.” As for the aforementioned President Barack Obama, he opined that the police “acted stupidly.” Gates says his next documentary will focus on the criminal justice system.

Filed under controversy, milestones, arrested
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