If only the White House walls, or in this case, lawn could talk. It was by anyone’s account a stunning photo-op – the President and Vice President drinking a beer with Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department. They were hoping a cold beer would cool the heated racial controversy that has been swirling for days.
On July 16, Sgt. Crowley arrested Gates and accused him of disorderly conduct after police responded to a report of a possible burglary at Gates’ Boston-area home. It turned out Gates had broken into his own home because he had forgotten his keys. The charge was later dropped, but the incident sparked a debate about racial profiling and police procedures.
The president stepped into the fray when he said the Cambridge Police Department had acted “stupidly” when they arrested Gates. Those comments only added fuel to the flames.
And so tonight, people around the country, including the tri-state area, watched carefully to see what would happen when the three men at the center of the controversy sat down for a “cold-one.” Some folks in our area said they were hopeful that the White House conversation would foster better dialogue about race throughout the rest of the country.
“I think it’s a good thing,” said Stephen McCrae of Southwest Philadelphia. He also noted, “It might help certain individuals when you have an issue with race you can sit down and have a beer or two and break bread together.” Michael Pekula added, “I think it’s good for relationships, for people’s attitudes and it’s a wonderful thing.”
But others were more pessimistic. Charles Schultz of Drexel Hill said he felt the President was just trying to make up for his “boo, boo.” Jeanne Lebuhn of Devon agreed and said she would have liked the President to stay out of the debate altogether: “It’s just ridiculous there are more important things going on in this world than something like that.”
But for all the talk about the White House beer, little is known about what was actually discussed. Sgt. Crowley described the meeting as “cordial,” but that is about as much information as the public has gotten.
So the rest of us are left to imagine what it must have been like to sit outside the White House, drinking a beer and discussing race with the two most powerful men in the country.
Eugene Green who lives in Southwest Philly says he would have given a lot to have a seat at that table: “I wish he’d invite me for a beer. I would love to go to the White House and have a beer with the President.”