The black Harvard scholar arrested by a white cop this week accepted President Barack Obama's invite to share a beer at the White House, saying he'd like to meet with the commander in chief - and the officer who he says racially profiled him.
"It was very kind of the President to phone me today," Henry Louis Gates Jr. told The Root Friday after Obama issued him an invitation for a sit-down meeting with Sgt. James Crowley, who cuffed Gates, in tow.
"I told the President that my principal regret was that all of the attention paid to his deeply supportive remarks during his press conference had distracted attention from his health care initiative," Gates said.
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"I am pleased that he, too, is eager to use my experience as a teaching moment, and if meeting Sgt. [James] Crowley for a beer with the President will further that end, then I would be happy to oblige," he said.
Obama said this week that the Cambridge, Mass., police who arrested Gates "acted stupidly" when they cuffed the scholar when responding to a burglary call as he attempted to get into his locked home.
"But I think it's fair to say, No. 1, any of us would be pretty angry," Obama said Wednesday night.
"No. 2, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home. And No. 3 — what I think we know separate and apart from this incident — is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately, and that's just a fact."
Seeking to calm the uproar over his remarks on the arrest of a black Harvard scholar by a white cop, President Obama telephoned the officer and then told reporters he wished he "calibrated those words differently."
Obama said his conversation with the Cambridge cop confirmed his belief that Sgt. James Crowley was a good man and an outstanding policeman - and that he had invited both Crowley and Gates for a "beer here in the White House."
Obama said he believes both Crowley and Gates overreacted during the situation -- but the president also acknowledged speaking too soon and too pointedly.
"This has been ratcheting up, and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up," he said. "I want to make clear that in my choice of words, I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge police department and Sgt. Crowley specifically. And I could've calibrated those words differently."
Looking back, Obama said he didn't regret stepping into the controversy and hoped the matter would end up being a "teachable moment" for the nation.
"The fact that this has garnered so much attention, I think, is testimony to the fact that these are issues that are still very sensitive here in America," Obama said.
Obama stopped short of offering a full apology, which many police leaders have demanded. Union leaders gathered earlier to show Crowley support.
With Crowley on hand but not speaking, leaders of a host of police unions said the veteran cop did nothing wrong in arresting Gates on disorderly conduct charges. In addition to Obama's "police acted stupidly," remark, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick called the arrest "every black man's nightmare."
"It was fully within his discretion to make the arrest when the behavior persisted," said Alan McDonald, Counsel for the Cambridge Police Department. "We think that [Obama's] conclusion was dead wrong."
Police union leaders called for both Obama and Patrick to apologize for casting the incident in racial terms "without knowing all the facts."
Crowley went to Gates' house July 16 after a 911 caller said two men had been trying to break in. It was later determined that Gates had been unable to get his door open after returning from an overseas trip, and he and his driver were trying to unjam it. At the home, Gates and the cop had a confrontation that led to Gates' arrest for disorderly conduct. Those charges were dropped on Tuesday.
Gates believes he was racially profiled and is demanding an apology from Crowley. Crowley said he was just doing his job and was respectful, but that Gates told him "IThis is what happens to a black man in America," and said "You don't know who you're messing with."
At yesterday's news conference, Cambridge cop Steve Killian, who is president of the city's police patrol officers association, said Obama and Patrick spoke out of turn.
"I think when the time is right they should make an apology to us," Killian said. "I think the president should make an apology to all law enforcement personnel throughout the entire country, took offense to this."
On Thursday, the White House tried to calm the hubbub over Obama's comments by saying Obama was not calling the officer stupid. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama felt that "at a certain point the situation got far out of hand" at Gates' home.
Crowley said he still supports the president, who attended Harvard Law School in Cambridge and garnered 88% of the vote there in last year's presidential election.
"I think he was way off base wading into a local issue without knowing all the facts as he himself stated before he made that comment," Crowley told WBZ-AM.
Tapes involving the incident could shed light on what really happened.
Cambridge police Commissioner Robert Haas asked City Solicitor Donald Drisdell to review tape of the 911burglary a woman who lives near Gates made after seeing Gates and his driver trying to unjam his front door. When cops responded, Gates and Sgt. James Crowley got into a heated confrontation that led to Gates' arrest on a disorderly conduct charge. Gates says he was a victim of racial profiling, but cops say the acclaimed professor became hostile with them.
Crowley wrote in his report that when he investigated the incident, Gates refused to come out of his home and shouted at him, “This is what happens to black men in America!” and “You don’t know who you’re messing with!” Crowley said he radioed police headquarters to let them know he was with the person who appeared to be the homeowner, but who was “very uncooperative.” The recording of that transmission could also be released.
“One of my first transmissions was to slow the units down and I’m in the residence with somebody I believe resides here, but he’s being very uncooperative. So, that’s in real time,” Crowley told Boston radio station WEEI. “I’m not really sure how much you could hear from Professor Gates, you know, in the background. I, I don’t know. I haven’t heard the tapes.”
Haas did not say what can be heard on the tapes, but said, “I don’t believe Sgt. Crowley acted with any racial motivation at all.”