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Editorial Reviews

Shortly after noon on Tuesday, July 16, 2009, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., MacArthur Fellow and Harvard professor, was mistakenly arrested by Cambridge police sergeant James Crowley for attempting to break into his own home. The ensuing media firestorm ignited debate across the country. The Crowley-Gates incident was a clash of absolutes, underscoring the tension between black and white, police and civilians, and the privileged and less privileged in modern America. Charles Ogletree, one of the country’s foremost experts on civil rights, uses this incident as a lens through which to explore issues of race, class, and crime, with the goal of creating a more just legal system for all.

Working from years of research and based on his own classes and experiences with law enforcement, the author illuminates the steps needed to embark on the long journey toward racial and legal equality for all Americans.

Related Reviews

Worthy of Parade Magazine

Charles M. Wyzanski @ 2010-11-17

As a tenured Harvard Law School professor, Charles Ogletree need not have published lest he perish, so one is left to wonder whether this thin volume is nothing more than a very distinguished practicing attorney still trolling for clients. The story of the arrest of Henry Lois Gates, Jr. has much to teach us about the problems of race, class, and crime in America. Unfortunately, Ogletree, as Gates's lawyer, is either not at liberty or not able to do more than narrate it. With all the intellectual heft of a Parade Magazine article, but at 100 times the length, he leaves us with this vapid, and all-too-obvious, conclusion, at page 125, just before his 110-page epilogue: "If we are to learn anything from the race and class encounters addressed in these pages, it is that each American has the capacity, and indeed the obligation, to find ways to eliminate racial disparities in our society and to create opportunities for police and all citizens to mutually respect each other." As for the 110-page epilogue, entitled "100 Ways to Look at a Black Man," it consists of unnumbered episodes, each summarized in but a few lackluster paragraphs, illustrating discrimination as experienced by other, mostly now prominent, African American men. Thin gruel for a $25 purchase price.

The Presumption of Guilt - A Must Read

Dorothy Stoneman @ 2010-09-21

As a white American, I believe that Charles Ogletree's book, "The Presumption of Guilt" is a must read for all of us who have never experienced, and never will, what it is to be black in America, especially what it is to be a black man in America. It is a mind-opening revelation. We need to be reminded that our evolution from a highly oppressive society built partly on slavery and the inequality that was written into our original constitution, to a fully free nation of equal opportunity, responsibility, and safety for all, is not over. Yes, it has changed radically for the better. Now the problem is more subtle; it is below the radar much of the time, or largely obscured by class differences. But in fact, the rooting out of various assumptions, presumptions, and vast differences in the treatment of blacks and whites by the criminal justice system and other systems, is a challenge that still lies before us and that needs white as well as black awareness and support.

As an activist in the Civil Rights generation, I lived in Harlem for 24 years, and I now lead a national program designed to provide opportunity for young people who were born poor and have dropped off the opportunity ladder. I am reasonably familiar with their struggles. The presumption of guilt that follows the low-income young men of color is consistently damaging and sometimes life-threatening.

I was less familiar with the struggles of the highly successful African American men who gave 100 examples of unexpected mistreatment to illustrate the "The Presumption of Guilt." These stories were excellent reminders, important to keep all of us aware that we have a lot more work to do. The first step is to become cognizant of the reality from more points of view than our own. Professor Ogletree, as a black man who has achieved extraordinary success in white America, is a fair-minded, careful communicator of an awareness needed by all.

We now live in a multi-cultural multi-racial society that aspires explicitly to be just and fair to all. It is an extraordinary society in an important stage of development toward one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice, opportunity and love, for all. Charles Ogletree's quick and responsible treatment of the stunningly visible events surrounding the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and his treatment of where this event fits in our history and current society, offers wisdom and vision from several points of view that enlarged my awareness. Many thanks to Professor Ogletree for using his multi-perspective experience to raise our national consciousness.

Excellent Book....Must Read

readingaddict @ 2011-05-14

This was an eye opening book regarding law enforcement and race.
I highly recommend reading this book and sharing it with friends or a book club and start a discussion about the issues raised in this book.
This book offers an opportunity to see issues from a different perspective and to also have empathy and understanding where before it might not exist.
One of the best books I have every read.

I am always surprised when blacks are "surprised"...

J. Smith @ 2010-11-29

I am always surprised when blacks are "surprised" when they get pulled over. I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts. The only black girl from K-12 in the public school.

I try to explain to my friends, other professionals in the DC area, who grew up in black middle class neighborhoods, that Mass. is a different species. No matter the additional letters, behind one's name, black is seen first. So it is not the police officers who need to change and be color blind. That may or may not happen. It is blacks, who have been blinded by class.

I knew from a very young age, that discrimination will come just as sure from the working class, as well as the educated. Growing up, my mother who used to work at a major hospital in Boston, used to tell me as a child about a black doctor, Ivy League trained. When this doctor would come in to see a patient, some patients would ask him to bring the bed pan,.

The majority of people from Mass. are working class, and the first time some of them may ever see a black person is when they come to Boston. So the mindset for some of these whites is that blacks are usually at the bottom. So it's hard for these "whites" to make that switch so fast, that this black man may be "somebody". Blacks from outside of Mass. think that the entire state is liberal and the bastion of education. The small city of Boston is the "bastion". The rest of the workforce comes from outside the city. Boston is really two cities, the students who come from other states, and those that grew up there.

There are blacks who grew up insulated, in a black middle class, or their family kept them among the "right" blacks (segregation within segregation). So these "segregated" blacks think they're different from other blacks, and are shocked when they are treated the same.

When a younger brother came to visit one Christmas from Morehouse, and maybe he too was sheltered because he attended a private school in Mass. And the bouncer wouldn't let him into a club, because he forgot his "college ID". I knew the deal, and my brother got in. Was it b/c of my education, that I was able to handle this situation? No, it was b/c of my small town/working class upbringing, that I knew this bouncer's outlook. I was able to stand in the bouncer's shoes, and viewed the situation from his background.

(And I know in the heat of the moment, it's hard to stand in the other person's shoes.)

The "shock" of being treated like other blacks, prevents the "class blacks" from being able to handle DWB or other situations. Maybe it's because I grew up knowing that I would always be treated as black first, and my qualifications second, I don't have a problem if I'm pulled over when visiting Mass., or if I'm in a car when my brother is pulled over in his Mercedes.

For Professor Gates, and other "class blacks", it's the shock that may escalate a situation. I don't know why, with all the education that we have, forget that we're "black" first, when that's the first thing that comes to some other people's minds.

Of course with this disclaimer, I love my home state. It has taught me a lot, such that there aren't two worlds. I know that in the end we're all the same, but at the same time I'm able recognize that we may have different outlooks. Growing up with working class whites, is not another world to me. I think the mistake that "class blacks" make, is they only know how to move about in their protected walls (campuses, corporations, etc), where everyone knows your name. And they forget how to move outside those walls---the rest of the world.

From Oprah to Gates, please get over your shock that you were treated as a black person. Because it is really Gates who was color blinded by class.

My friends are from all races. And it's funny because if I ever do talk about race (which is rare now), I could do so more with my white friends, because my "class blacks" want to complain: I can't believe so and so with a PhD was denied entrance to a party, etc. Versus what's going on in Sudan or Chechnya. But it seems to me now, that some "educated" blacks need training or at least to know: not to live in the world as it should be, but live in the world as it is. And most importantly for all of us, no matter the race or religion, to know that we do not all share the same background, but we can all find common ground.

Resentments of the Black Elite, Codified

Critical Consumer @ 2010-10-04

In a readable volume, with a collection of borrowed anecdotes, Professor Ogletree shares the cumulative resentment of Black elites over being, they say, so often and so unforgivably confused with the black underclass. By the time African Americans get to Harvard, he seems to argue, they should be immune from traffic stops and police suspicion of all sorts, no matter the circumstances. But they are not immune.

Because race and crime still correlate strongly in America, like it or not. That the Black elite tire of the indignities of being associated or confused with the black underclass and/or criminals is understandable and unsurprising. But the book, like the hackneyed arguments whence it comes, fails to account for, let alone address, the shocking prevalence of black violence, especially black-on-black violence in the American urban context. But the crux of the Ogletree/Gates grievance is not the failure of police to think with appropriate probability (they often do), rather, it is the social slight that sometimes happens when they do, or when they do so ham-fistedly: HOW DARE you suspect me, mighty black scholar or middle class dad, of _____________ [fill in the blank: driving too fast, looking like a fleeing robber, being a burglar, having the same skin color as the 13% of the population that commits a majority of the nation's murders.] How dare you! Can you not intuit my accomplishments and my importance?! Why, officer, you may just end up featured in my next PBS special, you gun-toting Troglodyte!

Ogletree maps out the collective sense of umbrage in a manner that is very accessible and--to audiences unfamiliar with the ins and the outs of the topic--very likely to evoke sympathy. So if you're unacquainted with the (now commonplace) arguments that define and decry ubiquitous "racial profiling," you probably ought to read it. But as a work of scholarship, it is sorely lacking. Why? It does not persuasively address the "baseline problem" that so many other scholars have acknowledged. Nor does it delve very deeply into the theoretical morass that is the well-documented race-crime association. Apparently too messy for Ogletree's message of indignation and simple black victimhood. Instead, he just assumes and ascribes racial animus to police officers everywhere, and decries the insult inherent in being questioned by police in relation to (a) an actual, nearby crime, or (b) behavior that fits fits well-established and legitimately suspicion-arousing patterns.

Get a quick feel for the real issues among social scientists (and not polemicists like Ogletree) by reading this: Article title:
Authors: Engel, R. S. Calnon, J. M. Bernard, T. J.
JUSTICE QUARTERLY, 2002, VOL 19; PART 2, pages 249-274

Or try Google Scholar and "racial profiling" or "police bias". But if you really feel you ought to read Ogletree, save your money and go to the library.

A "must read"

stanley king @ 2010-08-16

Prof. Ogletree's "Presumption of Guilt" is an extremely valuable book. It not only objectively illustrates the facts surrounding the arrest of Prof. Gates by the Cambridge Police but more importantly, it shares with the world a scab on the psyche of most African American men and the injuries that caused it. The topic of race by itself is extremely polarizing. However, when race is discussed within the context of police conduct or misconduct, it often creates a toxic "us versus them" impass that is impenetrable. This book undertakes this daunting task and does an excellent job.

Facts are stubborn things, and Prof. Ogletree has presented facts that any reader can evaluate for themselves despite their socio-political leanings. Most men of African descent in America will testify that if they personally have not experienced an incident similar to those depicted in this book, they know of someone Black who has. The "scab" on the African American male psyche previously mentioned is the realization that despite your education, income, character, and overall accomplishments, your gender coupled with your skin color has permanently maimed you in the sight of law enforcement. More eloqently stated, it has created a Presumption of Guilt. This book has the potential of opening a much needed discussion about race and law enforcement in this country. Professor Ogletree has courageously illuminated a ugly fact that is not popular, political or safe. It is simply right. I would recommend this book to all people interested in justice and helping this country live up to its ideals.

Accessible, informative book

SJ @ 2010-07-18

NOTE: I learned of this book from Charles Ogletree's interview on Democracy Now, an independent daily news and media program. You can see or listen to his interview by visit the following webpage:[...]

REVIEW: The Presumption of Guilt invites readers to recognize, or perhaps be reminded of, the significant effects that race, class, and perceptions of these two identities have on the administration of America's criminal justice system. Author and Professor Charles Ogletree does not intend for his readers to necessarily agree with his perspectives on racial profiling and related conduct in America; he has no expectation for readers to side with his view on the arrest of Professor Gates. His book's goal, as he describes it, is to encourage the understanding of America's persistent social problems in matters concerning race, class, and justice. The author's description and assessment of the arrest of Professor Gates is only the foundation upon which he hopes readers can build their own understanding. He shares the assessments made by other commentators on the arrest, and devotes his examination to the reactions towards the most notable observer, President Barack Obama.

With almost year having passed between the arrest of Professor Gates and this book's publication, Ogletree apparently compiled many other racial profiling/harassment incidents, involving other accomplished black men. These additional encounters highlight the collision of perception and race in our nation's criminal justice system and other areas of livelihood (e.g., education, employment, commerce). When reading these incidents involving police stops on the highway or in a public place, to facing fearful or spiteful reaction by fellow civilians, the title Presumption of Guilt becomes the all the more appropriate for a work that features such upsetting incidents.

Professor Ogletree's book is meant for a wide audience of Americans. Anyone interested in America's contemporary struggle with race and class matters will find this book insightful. The book has a broad, perhaps not entirely radical goal (to get readers thinking about race, class, and their impact within America). I imagine, however, Professor Ogletree did not attempt for his book (even one from a professor) to be the definitive and exhaustive resource on the topics he examined. At best (as in my case while reading the book in public), he sparks our discussion on these issues from informed positions that welcome debate, struggle, and ideas towards progress with our nation's race and class matters.

Disappointing, a Missed Opportunity

Robert M. Hill @ 2011-01-30

The concept - use the indefensible arrest of Professor Gates as a metaphor for the system-wide bias in the criminal justice system that today incarcerates Blacks at an enormously disproportionate rate and marginalizes and disenfranchises Black men in a manner that is in some ways even worse than the pre-1964 legalized segregation of the South. Great idea.

The execution: the actual analysis and insight provided by the author in this book could have fit into a magazine feature. The only reason this could even pass as a book is that the author attaches a lengthy "epilogue" that is about as long as the rest of the book, a collection of seemingly randomly presented anecdotes of prominent African Americans and their experiences of unjustified police contacts, alongside stories of being mistaken for doormen or chauffeurs. I read the whole epilogue, thinking that the stories would somehow be tied to a thesis. Sadly this book seems to advance little more than a question: Can we all get along?

For a disturbing, well-researched and analytical treatment of this issue, I recommend Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Valuable Contribution

Meryl M. @ 2010-07-13

Prof. Ogletree has made a major contribution to what some have called
a 'he said/ he said' incident.

Prof. Gates should be able to say whatever he wants to without triggering
an unprofessional response from an immature policeman.the cop, Crowley, actually went back to his station log
And wrote lies about the case: including that 'two men wearing backpacks were trying to break into a house'. In fact the woman who called in the report didn't mention any backpacks (there were
None), and she also added that the men might live there.
Crowley went into the house, dtermined that Gates lived there but arrested
Him anyway. The tired Gates (just coming back from a trip to China) spent five hours at the police station, while
Crowley added more distortions to his log.

What is frightening about the aftermath of this shameful incident is the way
cops uniformly lined up on the side of Crowley, facts notwithstanding. Ogletree has done a good job of documenting this,
and this is valuable because of the 'beer summit',
Which tended to deny and dilute the blatant racist injury to Gates.
This is just one, famous, incident of a bullying cop misusing his own power. It's the tiny tip of the iceberg of the ways
Blacks are treated in every city every single day -- with impunity.

Tempest in a shallow tea cup

Koreatown Krooner @ 2010-07-01

Even if you side completely with Gates, you'll still find this one dull going. Ogletree pads and fluffs with all his might and somehow stretches this thin material out into a book. Ogletree uses some vivid examples of profiling that are compelling and honest, but the fatal flaw of the book is that the Gates/Crowley clash at the center was merely foolish and overblown. Dr. Gates' whining is an insult to real victims of racism, profiling and a predatory justice system. Skip mouthed off to a cop and got cuffed when the cop had had an earful. The City of Cambridge spent $100,000 dollars to assemble a 12 member commission to probe this non-incident and their conclusion: Both Crowley and Gates acted like jerks.

Cambridge Kid

Tony Clark @ 2010-08-02

Professor Ogletree's The Presumption of Guilt: The Arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Race, Class and Crime in America doesn't emotionally indict Sergeant Crowley and The Cambridge Police Department nor does it blindly exonerate Professor Gates. Through police records, personal encounters of others, and historical evidence Professor Ogletree illuminates a litany of truisms that are prevalent in our society; such as, racial profiling, class stratification, and the complex politics of living as a man of color in the greatest country in the world. As a black male and a native of Cambridge, Mass, where discussions of race and racial disparities can make some queasy and to question a Cantabrigian's motives in this case Officer Crowley's is pseudo blasphemy, an issue that Professor Ogletree counters with examples from The Utopian Republic of Cambridge a great place (my home) that is also plagued by the manacles of racial entitlement even in a "post racial" society. Professor Ogeltree brilliantly challenges The City of Cambridge and other municipalities to examine race at both the micro and macro levels.

Brilliant and Well Done

Emmett G. Price III @ 2010-07-20

THE PRESUMPTION OF GUILT: The Arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Race, Class, and Crime in America is a brilliantly composed treatise on one of the most challenging and polarizing issues within the Unites States - justice. Written by one of the leading authorities, educators and activists on issues of race, justice, civil rights and the law, this book is a must read for any citizen concerned with uncovering the tensions resulting from the misguided abuse of power while discovering corrective measures to protect the presumption of innocence for all.

Prof. Ogletree's exposé on the arrest of Prof. "Skip" Gates and the clever analysis of race, class and crime in the United States is a tremendous contribution to an ongoing exchange of monologues that hopefully will evolve into a substantial and meaningful dialogue. Conversation of a post-racial era is effectively refocused on whether we have reached justice and equality for all. From issues of trust and respect to police discretion and citizen's rights, THE PRESUMPTION OF GUILT puts the "Skip" Gates event into a historical chronicle that is long enough and broad enough to reveal a disturbing pattern. Regardless of what side of the proverbial, bi-passionate bickering one might find oneself on, the amount of media coverage, blogs, editorials and even comedy spoofs reveals that there is something there to be dealt with, even if we continue to deny it. Prof. Ogletree challenges the nation to deal with the "elephant in the room."

With THE PRESUMPTION OF GUILT, Prof. Ogletree touches on the challenges of the current criminal justice system not only through the perspective of the "Skip Gates" arrest but through the stories of Rodney King, Andrew Meyer, Latasha Harlins, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell. If these seem like isolated incidents that are few and far between take a minute to google the name "Oscar Grant." Mention of the recent Arizona senate bill 1070 is worthy of a quick read in itself as it clearly offers a perspective to reveal an underlying issue within the country's fabric that must be "dealt with."

Whether you agree with Prof. Ogletree or not is not the purpose of the read. If you believe in "justice for all," or if you want to examine what Archbishop Desmond Tutu once called America's "illusion of equality," this book will reveal itself to be captivating, informative and extremely interesting.

3 sides to every story

Daphne M Mathews @ 2010-09-11

At last a full account from some else beside the cable news: gates, the officer and finally the truth.


TheRevSwede @ 2010-07-27

"mistakenly arrested by Cambridge police sergeant James Crowley for attempting to break into his own home." Even if you don't read the book, with this on the back cover/description, it immediately screams "biased". After all, Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct, NOT for "breaking into his own home."

Boring, Boring , Boring

booklover21 @ 2010-06-30

Hard to imagine why anyone would want to write a book on this topic. I read the first pages of the book and they were so dry I could have used them to light a fire.

This book is just a wasted dead tree that talks about a dead topic that at one time was in the news. Haven't we learned all we can about the incident from news reports? Of course we have, so why on earth would anyone want to pay good money for this book?
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