NAACP Calls for Immediate Policy Changes at Cambridge PD

Following the Racial Profiling Arrest of Harvard Professor

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

In the wake of yet another unfortunate case or racial profiling, the NAACP joins Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. , in calling for a formal apology from Sgt. James Crowley of the Police Department in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The NAACP national leadership, and the President of the NAACP New England State Conference, Juan Cofield, along with Kathy Reddick, President of the Cambridge Branch of the NAACP, also calls for the City of Cambridge and its Police Department to implement policy changes to prevent racial profiling in the future, including:

  • A comprehensive anti-racial profiling training program for law enforcement personnel in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Race and gender sensitivity and diversity training for law enforcement personnel.
  • The immediate formation of a Police Accountability Citizen Complaint Review Board. This board should be invested with the resources, subpoena power, and independence to investigate reports of misconduct, abuse, and racial profiling by city law enforcement officers; and with the ability to make recommendations for the resolution of complaints.

Implementation of these initiatives should occur with all deliberate speed. And we urge members of the U.S. Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act that is scheduled to be introduced later this month.

The July 16, 2009 debacle involving 58 year-old Professor Gates -- a pre-eminent African-American historian, author; champion of civil and human rights, and a father of two -- represents a systemic problem in Cambridge, and nationwide. Professor Gates is not the first black man to be wrongly accused of a crime and arrested by law enforcement officers in metropolitan Boston-Cambridge.

Professor Gates was handcuffed in front of his home near Harvard University – on the same day that the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama, delivered an historic address at the 100th Anniversary Convention of the NAACP.

The arrest occurred despite Professor Gates’ compliance with the Cambridge Police Officer’s request to see photo identification: Professor Gates produced his Massachusetts state driver’s license, which carries a photo as well as his home address; and his Harvard University faculty photo ID.

Yet even after Professor Gates turned over his IDs, and told the officer that he was the owner of the residence, he was arrested on the front porch of his own home, allegedly after exhibiting “tumultuous” behavior.

It is an experience familiar to millions of black Americans who are subjected to racial profiling, arrested, and jailed nationwide each year. Many of them are incarcerated for much longer than the four hours and fifteen minutes that Professor Gates was held.

We share Professor Gates’ outrage at the humiliating incident he endured in Cambridge. And most especially, we agree with Professor Gates’ post-arrest condemnation of the larger picture of race and the U.S. criminal justice system.

Apart from outrage, we also share Professor Gates’ determination to see this incident as a teachable moment. The NAACP has for a century been dedicated to ending racial bigotry and discrimination, and the insidious fallout from both, including racial profiling.

It is because of this long history of law enforcement racial profiling that we have launched a criminal justice initiative, Safe and Smart, which includes a revolutionary digital function – the Rapid Report System. This online document allows citizens to use their cellphones or PDAs to photograph incidences of suspected police misconduct, and send them via the Internet to us -- quickly, safely, and efficiently.

The NAACP’s Rapid Report System is brand new but the prejudice and bigotry it is designed to ameliorate is as old as time. We commend Professor Gates for recognizing that what happened to him also happens to uncounted, lesser-known black Americans each day. The outrageous incident reminds us that America will not be “post-racial” until it can achieve post-racism – and that much hard work remains before we arrive at that place.

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