Since beer summit, America has seen 'two good people'

Gates can joke about the incident now, he said Sunday. Crowley has shown respect toward the man he once arrested.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    President Barack Obama, right, and Vice President Joe Biden, left, have a beer with Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., second from left, and Cambridge, Mass., police Sgt. James Crowley in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington Thursday.
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At the time, it seemed a throwaway pleasantry when the president was ankle-deep in anger about his "acted stupidly" comment.

"My sense is you've got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved," President Obama said of Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley in opening a July 24 press conference.

On recent evidence, it would seem that he was exactly right.

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On a Cambridge, Mass., front porch on July 17, race brought out indignation and frustration. Beginning with Mr. Obama's "beer summit," however, the nation has gotten perhaps the better measure of the professor and police officer.

For a president looking for "teachable moments," it is an instructive and cautionary tale: Race can sometimes bring both the best and the worst out of "two good people."

The worst is already well known. Gates lost his temper, alleging that police suspected him of breaking into his own home because he was black. Crowley overreacted, some police say, arresting a Harvard professor with a cane on his own property.

The best began the first moment that Gates and Crowley saw each other after the charges of disorderly conduct were dropped. In a post-meeting press conference, Crowley said: "The professor and I encountered each other while we were both on individual tours of the White House, and the professor approached me and introduced his family, I introduced my family, and then we continued on with the tour, but as a group."

A photographer caught this image of Crowley helping Gates down the steps at the White House.

Crowley's press conference was one to dismiss any notion of a rogue cop abusing authority. In measured and respectful words, he complimented the man he had arrested two weeks earlier for yelling words of abuse at him.

Speaking of his plans to meet with Crowley again, he said: "I would also like to listen to Professor Gates' perspective, and certainly he has the credentials to enlighten me a little bit, and I think that perhaps the professor, as he expressed to me, has the willingness to listen to what my perspective is as a police officer."

Gates's response has been less public, but no less thoughtful. After the woman who called 911 broke down in a news conference, saying she was distraught that people assumed she was racist, Gates sent her flowers.

On his website, Gates spoke of the need for him and Crowley to use this as the teachable moment that the president, his friend, seeks: "It is incumbent upon Sergeant Crowley and me to utilize the great opportunity that fate has given us to foster greater sympathy among the American public for the daily perils of policing on the one hand, and for the genuine fears of racial profiling on the other hand."

He was even able to joke about the incident with Crowley, Gates said Sunday in his first public appearance since the arrest, an event on Martha's Vineyard to promote his book, "In Search of Our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past."

"I said to him, 'I would have sworn you were 6-feet-8 inches tall,' " Gates recalled saying to Crowley, according to AP. "He said, 'I used to be, but I've lost 2 to 3 feet over the last two weeks.'"

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