Black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. made his first public appearance since sharing a beer with President Obama and the white officer who arrested him for disorderly conduct last month during an incident at his home.
Speaking before 150 spectators at the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival, where he was promoting his book, “In Search of Our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past,” Gates said he has received numerous death threats since he accused the officer, Sgt. James Crowley, of racially profiling him during the arrest.
“You should die; you’re a racist,” read one e-mail that Gates recalled.
The threats, Gates said, prompted Harvard University officials to suggest he consider moving. It has already forced Gates to change his e-mail address and cell phone number.
Crowley was investigating a possible burglary at Gates’ home, which Harvard University owns. While Crowley claims Gates became enraged and continued to yell despite warnings, Gates has alleged racial profiling and said he never raised his voice. A charge of disorderly conduct against Gates was dropped.
The arrest incited a national debate over race and class that Gates said yesterday shows no sign of abating. “They have not been resolved at all,” Gates said.
On July 25, someone posted signs outside Gates’ Ware Street home calling him “shameful” and a “racist.” Gates said he has also received bomb threats.
Gates said he dreamed he was arrested at the White House the night before his meeting with Obama and Crowley. He said his family and Crowley’s were “like a deer caught in headlights” upon meeting. But the two were able to use humor to break the ice, Gates said.
“I offered to get his kids into Harvard if he doesn’t arrest me again,” Gates said. “I said to him, ‘I would have sworn you were 6-feet-8 inches tall,’ ” Gates said. “He said, ‘I used to be, but I’ve lost 2 to 3 feet over the last two weeks.’ How can you be mad at a guy like that? When he’s not arresting you, Sgt. Crowley is a nice guy.”
They even talked about meeting again, perhaps going to a Red Sox or Celtics game, Gates said. A man in the crowd told Gates he admired his sense of humor, prompting Gates to quip: “I should have been funnier in the kitchen of my house on July 16.”
Gates is planning a documentary from both the perspective of police and people who have been victims of racial profiling so “Americans can understand that you can have two equally valid perceptions of the same event.”