In an interview with CNN’s Larry King, former Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested that both the Cambridge police and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates were to blame for last week’s incident.
Saying he has suffered from racial profiling “many times,” the general suggested that Gates could have handled the situation differently. He urged young people confronted by the police to “cooperate. Don’t make the situation more difficult.”
Powell later added, “Do you get angry? Yes. Do you manifest that anger? You protest, you try to get things fixed, but it’s kind of a better course of action to take it easy and don’t let your anger make the current situation worse.
The full exchange on Gates:
KING: You’re saying Gates was wrong?
POWELL: I’m saying that Skip, perhaps in this instance, might have waited a while, come outside, talked to the officer, and that might have been the end of it. I think he should have reflected on whether or not this was the time to make that big a deal. But, he’s just home from China, just home from New York. All he wanted to do was get to bed.
His door was jammed. And so he was in a mood where…
KING: What about those who say he brings the whole history into that body of a black movement?
POWELL: That may well be the case. But I still think that it might well have been resolved in a different manner if we didn’t have this verbal altercation between the two of them.
So, my first teaching point for young people, especially, not for Dr. Gates, that the young people, especially, is, when the police are looking into something, and if you’re involved in it in one way or another, cooperate. Don’t make the situation more difficult. And I think in this case, the situation was made more difficult.
And you could part on the part of the Cambridge Police Department. Once they felt they had to bring Dr. Gates out of the house and to handcuff him, I would have thought at that point some adult supervision would have stepped in and said, OK, look, it is his house. Come on, let’s not take this any further. Take the handcuffs off. Goodnight, Dr. Gates.
And on racial profiling:
KING: Were you ever racially profiled?
POWELL: Yes, many times.
KING: And didn’t you ever bring anger to it?
POWELL: Of course. But, you know, anger is best controlled. And sure I got mad.
I got mad when I, as a national security adviser to the president of the United States, I went down to meet somebody at Reagan National Airport and nobody recognized — nobody thought I could possibly be the national security adviser to the president. I was just a black guy at Reagan National Airport.
And it was only when I went up to the counter and said, “Is my guest here who’s waiting for me?” did somebody say, “Oh, you’re General Powell.” It was inconceivable to him that a black guy could be the national security adviser.
KING: How do you deal with things like that?
POWELL: You just suck it up. What are you going to do? It was a teaching point for him. Yes, I’m the national security adviser, I’m black. And watch, I can do the job. So, you have this kind of — there is no African-American in this country who has not been exposed to this kind of situation.
Do you get angry? Yes. Do you manifest that anger? You protest, you try to get things fixed, but it’s kind of a better course of action to take it easy and don’t let your anger make the current situation worse.