Following Gates arrest
Activists announce campaign against racial profiling
Published Aug 5, 2009 5:31 PM
A community/labor picket line and news conference were held in front of
Cambridge City Hall on July 29 to launch a campaign against racial profiling.
Organized by the Bail Out the People Movement, Boston chapter, the actions
expressed solidarity with Harvard professor Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., whose
arrest in his Cambridge house on July 16 has reopened a national debate on
Irene O’Bannon speaks at
July 29 news conference
in support of Professor
Henry Gates in Cambridge,
Mass. O’Bannon’s son was
profiled by police.
WW photos: Liz Green
Professor Gates has told the mainstream media that he has received death
threats and bomb threats from racists, which has forced him to change his email
address and phone number. (BBC, Aug. 3)
The demonstration and news conference at City Hall preceded a meeting there on
the Gates case by the Cambridge Police Review and Advisory Board.
About 50 people gathered in front of City Hall with placards reading:
“Professor Gates was right. Cambridge police must apologize!”
Referring to the arresting officer, signs said, “Prosecute
Crowley—Racial profiling and false arrest are crimes.” Linking this
case to broad social issues, they demanded, “Create jobs, schools and
healthcare, not jails—Stop racial profiling!” “Stand in
solidarity with Prof. Gates—Say no to racism” and “Racism
hurts all poor and working people.”
The demonstrators called for an independent investigation into the arrest of
Professor Gates and racial profiling. The news conference was co-chaired by
Phebe Eckfeldt of the Women’s Fightback Network. Eckfeldt is also a
member of Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, AFSCME Local 3650,
and the Harvard No Layoffs Campaign.
Eckfeldt’s co-chair was Catholic Bishop Filipe Teixeira, a member of the
Racial Profile Task Force of Massachusetts. The bishop opened the news
conference by citing the many cases of racial profiling in Cambridge that he
has dealt with as a Task Force member.
Eckfeldt said: “We are here today to show 100 percent support for
Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. We are multinational residents of Cambridge,
Somerville, Boston and beyond. We are trade unionists, church leaders, mothers,
fathers, teachers, bus drivers, community activists and youth activists. We are
Harvard University students, workers and faculty. We join the hundreds of
thousands of people across the country in applauding the courage of Dr. Gates
in standing up to the Cambridge police, in standing up to racism and racial
Steve Gillis, vice president of Steel Workers Local 8751, the Boston School Bus
Union, talked about the importance of solidarity and how racism is used to
A highlight of the news conference was the appearance of Irene O’Bannon,
an African-American Cambridge resident. Her son was racially profiled when a
cop pressed a gun right up to his head while holding a photo of a completely
different-looking suspect in his other hand. She courageously spoke to the
crowd about the incident. Several other African-American Cambridge residents
joined the demonstration from the street in response to leafleting and spoke of
Frank Neisser of the Bail Out the People Movement announced a national online
petition campaign demanding the Cambridge Police Department apologize and
calling on the Justice Department to launch an investigation into racial
profiling and police brutality nationwide; bring cops guilty of racial
profiling to justice; and remove funding from police departments that practice
racial profiling and police brutality.
The petition sends messages to President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric
Holder, the Cambridge mayor, the city manager, the police commissioner and City
Council, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, leading members of Congress
including the Judiciary Committees, and the media. Go to
bailoutpeople.org/gatespetition.shtml to sign on.
Following the news conference the demonstrators carried their signs and
messages into the meeting of the Cambridge Police Review and Advisory
The board’s functions are to hold investigations and hearings on
complaints about police misconduct. The board can make recommendations to the
city manager about what actions it thinks should be taken on complaints.
Board chairperson Martin Betts announced that the Anti-Violence Project of
Massachusetts intended to file a formal complaint with the board about the
arrest of Professor Gates. The board also heard from other community residents
who have been directly affected by racial profiling.
An older white woman who is a Cambridge resident told the board that she
started crying when she heard that it was Officer James Crowley who arrested
Gates. She explained that she had been traumatized by Crowley when he
threatened to arrest her and lock her up if she did not stop investigating city
violations concerning disabled access to streets, walkways and buildings.
Representatives of the Bail Out the People Movement spoke to demand an
independent investigation, prosecution of Crowley and action to stop racial
On the same day as the news conference, it was reported that Boston police
officer Justin Barrett had used a racial slur in an email he sent out about
Professor Gates to colleagues at the National Guard. He has been suspended.
(www.boston.com, July 30)
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