At a round table off the White House Rose Garden Thursday evening, President Obama met with a white Cambridge, Mass., police officer and a black Harvard University professor in an attempt to tamp down a controversy over racial profiling – and, not incidentally, to limit any political damage to himself.
The meeting over mugs of beer was the remarkable culmination of an event that sparked worldwide interest – although undoubtedly it was not the last word on the subject.
Sgt. James Crowley met briefly with reporters after his White House visit in a wood paneled conference room at AFL-CIO headquarters. Professor Henry Louis Gates did not meet with the press but returned to his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard.
Crowley said he had had a “cordial and productive discussion” with Professor Gates, that it was a “positive step in moving forward,” and that there had been “no tension” in the meeting. The two men plan to meet again to continue their discussions. They “have a venue in mind,” although Crowley declined to disclose the location.
In his press conference performance, which got rave reviews from TV commentators, Crowley said that there had been no apologies offered during the meeting and that the two men had “agreed to disagree” on certain issues.
'It was very cordial'
They had met each other’s families during tours of the White House. They then continued the tour “as a group – it was very cordial,” Sgt Crowley said.
Gates had been taken into custody by Crowley earlier this month after Crowley charged Gates with disorderly conducted for loudly protesting the policeman’s actions in response to a report of a burglary in progress at Gates’ home. The charges were later dropped. At a press conference a few days later, President Obama was asked about the incident, saying that the police had “acted stupidly.”
The resulting uproar over racial profiling and police conduct distracted the public from Obama’s message on healthcare and appeared to damage the president politically. A new poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that Obama’s overall approval rating fell from 61 percent in mid-June to 54 percent currently.
Obama's 'acted stupidly' comment hurt him
Andrew Kohut, Director of the Pew Center, said in a statement that Obama’s comments on the arrest “appear to have played some role in his ratings decline.” According to Pew, 80 percent of Americans were aware of the President’s comments on Professor Gates’ arrest and by a margin of 41 percent to 29 percent, respondents disapproved of the president’s remarks about the case.
After the meeting the White House released a statement from Obama saying he was “thankful to Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley for joining me at the White House this evening for a friendly, thoughtful conversation. Even before we sat down for the beer, I learned that the two gentlemen spent some time together listening to one another, which is a testament to them. I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart. I am confident that has happened here tonight, and I am hopeful that all of us are able to draw this positive lesson from this episode.”
The story appears to be far from over, however. For one thing, it’s likely to feature in a documentary film Gates is making on racial issues. Speculation is that Crowley may appear in the film, although Crowley told reporters Gates had not invited him to appear in the documentary during their meeting.