Why did they think he was breaking and entering? Well, he tried for 15 minutes to break down the door, so a neighbor called the cops. Why was he arrested? Because he yelled at cops for a while. According to Dr. Gates, the cop who saw Gates' ID wouldn't give his own name in return, as Gates hectored him about the injustice of it all. Gates was free to remain within, but once he stepped outside, lecturing, questioning, and probably yelling at the police, they arrested him for disorderly conduct and put him through the usual hassle.
Dr. Gates now says "this is outrageous and that this is how poor black men across the country are treated everyday in the criminal justice system. It's one thing to write about it, but altogether another to experience it." He obviously thinks this wouldn't have happened to a white professor; and maybe he's right. But his judgment of injustice preceded and contributed to the actual incident of unjust treatment!
Let's recap: police get a call reporting "two black men" breaking and entering. They show up and find only a middle-aged nerd. He happens to be black. No injustice so far. They ask the nerd for ID. Would they have asked if he was white? Absolutely: they ask for ID of any person they interact with; I've been asked by police for ID both as a witness and as a victim. So still, no injustice.
Here, Gates' own anti-police prejudice kicked in. He refused to come out on the porch. He did show his ID to one (white) officer who (obviously unafraid) entered the house with him. Then, in Gates' own telling,
he began to ask the officer this question, repeatedly. "I said 'Who are you? I want your name and badge number.' I got angry."Then he followed the officer (who claims to have given his name) outside and was promptly arrested for disorderly conduct. The police should not have arrested him; they could have just driven away. Maybe they would not have arrested a white professor doing the same thing - it's hard to know. The officers here ought to gut-check whether they projected a bunch of stereotypes onto this black man. They should also realize that anger does not always entail danger.
Back to Dr. Gates. Why was he angry? Because police had responded to his neighbor's call? Or because they asked for ID? If they mistreated him otherwise, it's not reported in the very favorable WaPo story.
The impression one gets of Dr. Gates, who reportedly yelled "You don't who you're messing with" as he was arrested, is of a man who carries a chip on his shoulder, assumes he's better than those around him, and doesn't take the time to get to know his neighbors. In short, he's just another overinflated ego from Harvard.