Gates and Crowley: Unlikely Sparks for Racial Fireworks

By Mat Probasco,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 27, 2009 8:55 AM CDT
Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley listens to questions from members of the media at his home in Natick, Mass., July 22.   (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
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(Newser) – A closer look at Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley, and the details of what transpired between them, leads the New York Times to find them the unlikeliest of men to have sparked a racially heated debate. Contrary to earlier reports, Crowley, a diversity trainer praised for his even temper, didn't know the race of the suspected burglar, when he answered the call at Gates' home. Friends call him unassuming when off duty, but expecting respect when in uniform. “I have always thought of him as the most noncop person that I know,” says one softball buddy.

Gates, too, is described by Harvard colleagues as someone more likely to defuse than incite a racial confrontation. "He's got great sensitivity," says one, while another credits him with "extraordinary social intelligence." Things seem to have gone south when Crowley, alone and fearing for his safety due to recent burglaries in the neighborhood, ordered Gates outside. Gates says he refused out of righteous indignation, and things escalated from there. Police arrived in force when Crowley, who has been praised by black police officials, didn't answer his radio.