Ogletree explores presumption of guilt in his new book


“The Presumption of Guilt: The Arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Race, Class and Crime in America” by Charles Ogletree, Palgrave Macmillian, 256 pp., $25.

The arrest of Henry Louis “Skip” Gates by Cambridge police at his home last July presented an opportunity to investigate the ongoing racial dimensions of our legal system. Charles Ogletree does just that in his new book, “The Presumption of Guilt: The Arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Race, Class, and Crime in America.”

The Harvard Law professor, who also acted as council to Mr. Gates in the aftermath of the arrest, examines the presumption of guilt, as opposed to innocence, that he says faces many Americans of mixed races when encountered by the law.

Not only does he thoroughly overview the arrest itself, but the author further capitalizes on the occurrence to discuss class and race in a meaningful and accessible way for the reader.

The book begins with a brief analysis of the arrest, including transcripts of reports made by Sgt. James Crowley (the officer responsible for Gates’s arrest) to the dispatcher at the time of the arrest. Mr. Ogletree’s skills as both an adept lawyer and a curious intellectual allow him to comprehensively examine the case for the interested, but perhaps legally naïve reader. Further, the author combines facts of the report with personal facts about Sgt. Crowley and Mr. Gates’s respective backgrounds, both professional and otherwise. His attempt to accurately include both men’s perspectives reflects his hope to find answers rather than point fingers, a noble feat for an author who is a close friend and advisor to Mr. Gates, and subsequently an interested party.

In the remaining chapters, Mr. Ogletree looks at the aftermath of the arrest, particularly at President Obama’s remarks in a speech made soon thereafter, and the subsequent uproar his words caused. The author also shares stories from five distinguished intellectuals, each of whom encountered instances of racial profiling on Harvard University’s campus. By broadening the discussion, Mr. Ogletree provides the reader with a more comprehensive picture of the burden that so many Americans face when they are stereotyped and made victims of the law and its enforcers.

The epilogue of the book is testament to its issues’ pervasiveness — more than 100 pages, divided into eight categories of racial profiling, filled with personal stories that were sent to Mr. Ogletree during his research.

While the author examines several dimensions of Mr. Gates’ arrest, his assessments and presentation of the facts are concise, allowing “The Presumption of Guilt” to be just as easy a read as it is an important one. Though surely qualified to do so, the author does not force any conclusions on the reader. On the contrary, he raises questions that are necessary to understand and explore in order to ameliorate the judiciousness of our legal system as well as our personal relationships.

Author’s Talk with Charles Ogletree, Friday, Aug. 20, 7:30 pm, Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, VIneyard Haven. bunchofgrapes.com.