- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

President Obama Friday called the Boston police sergeant who arrested a black Harvard professor in a bid to clear the air in what has become a growing national racial controversy.

In a surprise appearance in the White House press room, Mr. Obama revealed he had spoken directly with Sgt. James Crowley, calling him a “good man.”

Mr. Obama also said it was “unfortunate” that his own remarks on the incident at a Wednesday night White House press conference had fueled the media frenzy surrounding the incident. At the press conference, Mr. Obama accused the police of acting “stupidly.”

“Because this has been ratcheting up and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up, I wanted to make clear in my choice of words I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sgt. Crowley specifically,” Mr. Obama said Friday.

“I could have calibrated those words differently,” the president said, although he rejected critics who said he should not have addressed the incident at all.

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Sgt. Crowley, who is white, led a police team that arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his Cambridge, Mass. home July 16. Mr. Gates, a nationally known African-American scholar and friend of the president, had jimmied open his front door because he forgotten his keys while returning from a business trip. Charges of disorderly conduct against Mr. Gates were later dropped.

Mr. Gates accused the police of racism, saying he was treated disrespectfully and arrested because he was black.

Sgt. Crowley has defended his conduct in the incident and the Cambridge police force and other law enforcement organizations have praised his actions and rejected the president’s characterization.

Mr. Obama said the five-minute phone conversation ended with Sgt. Crowley suggesting he, Mr. Obama and Mr. Gates gets together at the White House for a beer. The officer also asked the president if he could gets the local and national press off Sgt. Crowley’s front lawn.

“My impression of him was that he was an outstanding police officer and a good man, and that was confirmed in the phone conversation,” Mr. Obama said.

He added, “I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home to the [police] station. I also continue to believe, based on what I heard, that Professor Gates probably overreacted as well.”

Mr. Obama said he hoped the incident could be a “teachable moment” for the nation on racial sensitivities and the often troubled history of blacks and the police in America.

“The fact that this has become such a big issue I think is indicative of the fact that, you know, race is still a troubling aspect of our society,” he said. “Whether I were black or white, I think that me commenting on this and hopefully contributing to constructive, as opposed to negative, understandings about the issue is part of my portfolio.”


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