- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wading into a sensitive racial fight for the first time, President Obama said police who arrested black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. for disorderly conduct in his own home “acted stupidly.”

Mr. Obama, the nation’s first black president and a friend of Mr. Gates, a renowned scholar, at first hedged the question by saying he wasn’t aware of all the facts, but then rebuked the Cambridge, Mass., police and said racial profiling still “haunts” the country.

Mr. Gates, director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, was arrested by a white officer last week on charges of disorderly conduct. A police report indicates that officers responded to a report of suspected burglary, and Mr. Gates had just returned from a trip and had to force entry into the jammed door of his Cambridge home.

The professor said the police were racist because he provided identification that it was his home.

Police said Mr. Gates at first refused to show his ID and yelled when they asked. Mr. Gates, however, said he freely handed over his identification.

Asked about the incident during a White House press conference Wednesday - one day after charges were dropped against Mr. Gates - Mr. Obama took sides.

Mr. Obama joked at first that if he was caught “trying to jigger” his way into his home in a similar situation, but then caught himself and noted the White House is now his residence and that if he was an intruder, “I’d get shot.”

Reporters in the room laughed as he kept making his point that police acted properly until Mr. Gates had proven he resided at the home.

“I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that,” he said.

The president went on to say anyone would have been angry and “that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.”

He added, “There’s a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.”

Mr. Obama said his election is testimony to racial progress, but added that “blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently and oftentime for no cause,” which he said is suspicious “even when there is good cause.”

“The more that we’re working with local law enforcement to improve policing techniques so that we’re eliminating potential bias, the safer everybody is going to be,” he said.

The city of Cambridge issued a statement calling the events “regrettable.” Mr. Gates asked Sgt. James Crowley to apologize, but on Wednesday the sergeant refused to do so, according to the Associated Press.

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