Gates, who was arrested after a neighbor saw him and another man trying to unjam his front door and mistook him for a burglar, says the incident would have been easily cleared up if he were a white man. Instead, the confrontation led to his arrest on disorderly conduct charges, which Gates, an internationally acclaimed expert on African-American history, called "deeply painful and traumatic."
"I'm outraged that this could happen to me in my own home, but I'm outraged that it could happen to any individual," Gates, 58, told the Washington Post Wednesday, speaking out for the first time since prosecutors dropped criminal charges.
Police in Cambridge knocked on the door of Gates' tidy home in an upper middle-class, mostly white neighborhood, after the neighbor erroneously reported a break-in. Gates was trying to unjam his own door with the help of a driver after returning from a trip to China, he said.
When cops arrived the driver was gone, but an argument began when the officer demanded Gates' ID. Gates told the Post that after proving his identity, he asked for the officer's name. The cop "would not comply," according to Gates.
"Is this how you treat a black man in America?" Gates recounted saying repeatedly to the cop. He told the paper he never dreamed he would be arrested.
The police report accused Gates of "exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior."
Gates scoffed at the notion that his behavior precipitated the arrest.
"I weigh 150 pounds and I'm 5-7," he said. "I'm going to give flak to a big white guy with a gun? I might wolf later, but I won't wolf then."
He told the paper he asked for a personal apology from the cop, but acknowledged his own lawyer said it was unlikely he would get one.
In a statement, the city and police department of Cambridge, Mass., called the incident "regrettable and unfortunate" and said they had "recommended to the Middlesex County District Attorney that the criminal charge against Professor Gates not proceed."
"This incident should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of Professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department. All parties agree that this is a just resolution to an unfortunate set of circumstances," the statement continued.
Gates said the incident has convinced him to make a documentary taking on a "rotten" criminal justice system, which he says is rigged against blacks.
The film would address questions like: "how many black and brown men and poor white men are the victims of police officers who are carrying racists thoughts?"
"I want to be a figure for prison reform," Gates said.