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Cambridge Police Arrest Henry Louis Gates: Racism in AmericaWas this news story proof that racial tensions still exist in the US?

Issue Background

On July 16, 2009, Dr. Henry Louis Gates returned to his home late at night after a long day of traveling. Upon realizing that he had locked himself out of his house, Professor Gates enlisted the help of his taxi driver to pry his door open. A concerned neighbor saw the two men forcefully entering and dialed 911, reporting it as a potential break-in. The Cambridge Police, led by Sgt. James Crowley arrived and requested that Dr. Gates provide proper identification. At this point, the story becomes slightly muddled. Sgt. Crowley claimed that Professor Gates became uncooperative and verbally abusive at this point, accusing the police of racial profiling. Professor Gates claimed that after providing proper identification, the police continued to hassle him. Eventually, the Cambridge Police convinced Professor Gates to step outside, at which point he was arrested.

In the aftermath of this incident, many stepped up to defend both parties with racism featured as a key element to the conversation. The story appeared to be losing its legs until President Barack Obama was asked about it during a prime time press conference. President Obama said "...the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.". As could be expected, the President's words reignited the debate.

Key Arguments

» Yes

  • The racial element of this story proved precarious for many Americans, causing accusations of racism and defensiveness.
  • The arrest caused some to defend the use of racial profiling.
  • We may "tolerate" people who are different, but is that a good thing?
  • Unfortunately, racism has always been part of the American legacy, and for this reason it will never truly be eradicated.
  • Racism has become such a touchy issue that we are unable to discuss it without offending people.
  • The American public's overwhelming interest in the media coverage of this story proved that racism continues to be a national tension.
  • This happened in Cambridge, MA, a town generally proud of its diversity and progressiveness.

» No

  • Race-related judgments are no longer inspired by malice, but by a mutual understanding and respect for our peers.
  • Race may be a problem, but this incident had nothing to do with racism and should not be used as evidence.
  • Racism is now subtle and difficult to detect in most circumstances.
  • Power imbalance a more likely factor than race.
  • May be an issue for older generations, but will not be for future generations.


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