•  HOME 
  •  BOOKS 
  •  WWP 
  •  DONATE 
  • Loading

Follow workers.org on
Twitter Facebook iGoogle

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 police brutality.

Irene O’Bannon speaks at
July 29 news conference
in support of Professor
Henry Gates in Cambridge,
Mass. O’Bannon’s son was
racially 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.

Robert Traynham

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 profiling.”

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 divide workers.

Steve Gillis

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 their experiences.

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.

Bishop Filipe Teixeira and
Phebe Eckfeldt

Following the news conference the demonstrators carried their signs and messages into the meeting of the Cambridge Police Review and Advisory Board.

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 profiling.

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)