CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — A multiracial group of police officers on Friday stood with the white officer who arrested a prominent black Harvard scholar and asked President Barack Obama and the state’s governor to apologize for comments the union leaders called insulting.
Obama said Wednesday that Cambridge police “acted stupidly” during the disorderly conduct arrest of his friend, Henry Louis Gates Jr., in his own home near Harvard University. Gov. Deval Patrick said Gates’ arrest was “every black man’s nightmare.”
Both Obama and Patrick are black, and the president’s comment marked his first foray into a divisive racial issue — a striking departure from his “post-racial” impartiality.
Dennis O’Connor, president of the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association, said Obama’s remarks were “misdirected” and the Cambridge police “deeply resent the implication” that race was a factor in the arrest.
“President Obama said the actions of the CPD were stupid and linked the event to the history of racial profiling in America,” O’Connor said. “The facts of the case suggested that the president used the right adjective but directed it to the wrong party.”
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Officers responded to Gates’ home on July 16 after a woman called police and said she saw two black men with backpacks trying to force open the front door. The woman, Lucia Whalen, has not responded to repeated attempts for comment.
Gates has said he returned from an overseas trip, found the door jammed, and that he and his driver attempted to force it open. Gates went through the back door and was inside the house on the phone with the property’s management company when police arrived.
Police said he flew into a verbal rage after Sgt. James Crowley, who is white, asked him to show identification to prove he should be in the home. Police say Gates accused Crowley of racial bias, refused to calm down and was arrested. The charge was dropped Tuesday, but Gates has demanded an apology, calling his arrest a case of racial profiling.
Gates, 58, maintains he turned over identification when asked to do so by the police. He said Crowley arrested him after the professor followed him to the porch, repeatedly demanding the sergeant’s name and badge number because he was unhappy over his treatment.
Crowley has refused to apologize, saying he followed protocol.