What was the accusation?
On June 16 of 2009, Harvard University professor Henry Gates, Jr. was arrested at his home by police officer Sergeant Crowley, who was responding to a report of someone breaking into the residence. The incident generated national media attention as a potential example of racial profiling and Gates was charged with disorderly conduct for the way in which he dealt with police during the confrontation at his home. President Obama fanned the flames of this controversy by stating: “I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the fact, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home, and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.” Members of law enforcement were critical of Obama’s handling of the situation and the president offered statements of “regret” for his comments. In response, he conducted a press conference indicating that this was a “teachable moment” for those involved and discussed his intention to have a beer at the White House with Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley. The event would later be known as the “Beer Summit.”
Key Apologia Strategies:
Over the last day and a half, obviously, there’s been all sorts of controversy around the incident that happened at Cambridge with Professor Gates and the police department there. I actually just had a conversation with Sergeant Jim Crowley, the officer involved. And I have to tell you, as I said yesterday, my impression of him was that he was an outstanding police officer and a good man and that was confirmed in the phone conversation and I told him that. And because this has been ratcheting up, and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up, I want to make clear that in my choice of words, I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge police department or Sergeant Crowley specifically. And, I could have calibrated those words differently.
And I told this to Sergeant Crowley. I continue to believe based on what I’ve heard that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home and to the station. I also continue to believe based on what I heard that Professor Gates probably overreacted as well. 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 and the way they would have like it to be resolved. The fact that it has garnered so much attention I think is a testimony to the fact that these are issues that are still very sensitive here in America. To the extent that my choice of words didn’t illuminate, but rather contributed to more media frenzy I think that was unfortunate.
What I would like to do then is to make sure that everybody steps back for a moment and recognizes that these are two decent people, not extrapolate too much from the facts. But as I said at the press conference, be mindful of the fact that because of our history, because of the difficulties of the past, African-Americans are sensitive to these issues. Even when you’ve got a police officer who has a fine track record on racial sensitivity, interactions between police officers and the African-American community can sometimes be fraught with misunderstanding. My hope is that as a consequence of this event, this ends up being what’s called a “teachable moment,” where all of us instead of pumping up the volume, spend a little more time listening to each other and try to focus on how we can generally improve relations between police officers and minority communities. And that instead of flinging the accusations, we can all be a little more reflective in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity. Lord knows we need it right now because over the last two days, as we discuss this issue, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but nobody’s been paying much attention to health care. I will not use this time to spend more words on health care, although I can’t guarantee that will be true next week.
But, I just wanted to emphasize that one last point I guess I’d make. There are some who say that as president, I shouldn’t have stepped into this at all because it’s a local issue. I have to tell you that that part of it I disagree with. The fact that this has become such a big issue I think is indicative of the fact that race is still a troubling aspect of our society 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. So, at the end of the conversation, there was discussion about my conversation with Sergeant Crowley, there was discussion about he and I and Professor Gates having a beer here in the White House. We don’t know if that’s scheduled yet, but we may put that together. He also did say he wanted to find out if there was a way of getting the press off his lawn. I informed him that I can’t get the press off my lawn. He pointed out that my lawn is bigger than his lawn. But, if anyone has any connections to the Boston press as well as national press, Sergeant Crowley would be happy for you to stop trampling his grass. Alright, thank you guys.
Obama: Police who arrested professor ‘acted stupidly'(2009, July 23). CNN. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/07/22/harvard.gates.interview/
Cooper, H. (2009, July 22). Obama criticizes arrest of Harvard professor. New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/23/us/politics/23gates.html
Spillius, A. (2009, July 24). Cambridge police demand apology from Barack Obama over ‘stupid’ comments. The Telegraph (UK). Retrieved from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/barackobama/5902222/Cambridge-police-demand-apology-from-Barack-Obama-over-stupid-comments.html