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    Thursday, July 30, 2009

    CNN - Obama, Biden, professor, officer sit down over brews

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    Obama, Biden, professor, officer sit down over brews

    President Obama sat down for a beer at the White House Thursday night with a top African-American professor and the police officer who arrested him earlier this month.

    They were joined by a previously unannounced guest, Vice President Joe Biden.

    Sgt. James Crowley and Henry Louis Gates Jr., both dressed in suits, sat down with Obama and Biden, who both had their white dress shirt sleeves rolled up.

    Video from the meeting showed mugs of beer being delivered to the men, who sat at a round table at the edge of the White House's Rose Garden, munching peanuts and pretzels from silver bowls.

    The president was drinking Bud Light, Biden was drinking Buckler (a nonalcoholic beer), Gates was drinking Samuel Adams Light and Crowley was drinking Blue Moon.

    After the meeting, Crowley told reporters that the men had a "cordial and productive discussion," in which they agreed to move foward rather than dwell on past events.

    He said he and Gates plan to meet again and will speak by telephone to finalize details in the coming days. Both men bring different perspectives, he said, but he would like to hear more about Gates' views.

    "It was a private discussion. It was a frank discussion," Crowley said of the meeting, but would not divulge specifics except to say that no one apologized.

    Gates was arrested July 16 and accused of disorderly conduct after police responded to a report of a possible burglary at his Boston-area home. The charge was later dropped. The incident sparked a debate about racial profiling and police procedures.

    After the meeting, the renowned Harvard professor reflected on the significance of the event and thanked Obama for arranging the meeting.

    "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," Gates said in a statement on his Web site, The Root.

    "Let me say that I thank God that live in a country in which police officers put their lives at risk to protect us every day, and, more than ever, I've come to understand and appreciate their daily sacrifices on our behalf. I'm also grateful that we live in a country where freedom of speech is a sacrosanct value and I hope that one day we can get to know each other better, as we began to do at the White House this afternoon over beers with President Obama," he said.

    "At this point, I am hopeful that we can all move on, and that this experience will prove an occasion for education, not recrimination. I know that Sergeant Crowley shares this goal. Both of us are eager to go back to work tomorrow."

    After the incident, Obama himself quickly got involved, saying at a news conference that police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, "acted stupidly."

    His comment itself drew criticism and later he softened his stance, saying, "I could've calibrated those words differently."

    After the meeting, Obama said in a statement he was thankful to Gates and Crowley for joining him at 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," the president's statement said. "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."

    Earlier Thursday, Obama said the chat was prompted by an exchange he had with Crowley, who said in a phone call with Obama, "Maybe I'll have a beer in the White House someday."

    The president replied that that could be arranged.

    On the meeting's being dubbed the "Beer Summit," Obama said, "It's a clever term, but this is not a summit, guys. This is three folks having a drink at the end of the day, and hopefully giving people an opportunity to listen to each other, and that's really all it is.

    "This is not a university seminar. It is not a summit. It's an attempt to have some personal interaction when an issue has become so hyped and so symbolic that you lose sight of just the fact that these are people involved," he said.

    He said he would be surprised if the media makes the meeting out to be more important than his meeting Thursday with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, president of the Philippines, but "the press has surprised me before."

    Gates and Crowley brought their families to the White House, and the two toured the East Wing together before the meeting, officials said. The two met Obama in the Oval Office before moving out to the Rose Garden. Their families were touring the West Wing during the sit-down.

    Separately, a Boston, Massachusetts, police officer became part of the controversy by referring to Gates in a mass e-mail as a "banana-eating jungle monkey."

    Officer Justin Barrett later apologized, saying he's not a racist. He told a local television station on Wednesday night that he was sorry for the e-mail.

    "I regret that I used such words," Barrett told CNN affiliate WCVB. "I have so many friends of every type of culture and race you can name. I am not a racist."

    He was placed on administrative leave after the e-mail surfaced, and he might lose his job as a result.

    Barrett's attorney, Peter Marano, on Thursday offered an apology on his behalf.

    "Justin Barrett is a citizen, a husband, a father, a soldier, a police officer and a human being," Marano said in a statement. "He has made a mistake -- his poor choice in words is that mistake. His lack of thought into the possible outcome of using such words has caused this debate. Justin never intended for these words to bear such a racial connotation."

    Meanwhile, a black Cambridge police sergeant on the scene the day of Gates' arrest wrote a letter to Crowley, asking him to mention to Gates and Obama that he is now known as the "black sergeant" and to some others as an "uncle Tom."

    "I'm forced to ponder the notion that as a result of speaking the truth and coming to the defense of a friend and colleague, who just happens to be white, that I have somehow betrayed my heritage," Sgt. Leon Lashley wrote. "Please convey my concerns to the president that Mr. Gates' actions may have caused grave and potentially irreparable harm to the struggle for racial harmony in this country and perhaps throughout the world."

    Lashley wrote in the letter he would like Gates to reflect on the incident and ask himself what responsibility he bears, what he can do to heal the rift and what he can do to mitigate the damage done to the officers' reputations.

    CNN - Will White House beer help nation chill on race?

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    Will White House beer help nation chill on race?

    Lucia Whalen strolled down a sidewalk near Harvard University, enjoying a lunchtime ritual she'd repeated many times in her 15 years working in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But on this day, July 16, her outing would become something else altogether -- the first steps in a national drama.

    An older woman approached Whalen, worried that she'd just witnessed two men breaking into a home. That's when Whalen, a first-generation Portuguese-American, called 911 from her cell phone -- alerting police to 17 Ware St. -- the home, as it turns out, of renowned Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

    Whalen's call -- now clearly the well-intentioned act of a passerby -- ignited a firestorm over race and police relations, a national debate that went all the way to the White House. It was a call she says she never expected to be "analyzed by an entire nation."

    Gates was arrested by Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley for disorderly conduct, a charge that was later dropped. Exactly what happened inside Gates' home may never be known, but it seems clear that the key players in this saga brought their own personal history with race to the moment. That was true of Gates and Crowley, as well as the nation's first African-American president.

    All three will meet for a beer today at the White House to help chill the furor over Gates' arrest and, in Obama's words, try to turn the events of the past two weeks into a "teachable moment."

    "White woman" targeted

    It's a bit ironic, said Whalen's attorney Wendy Murphy, that the three people who "reacted badly" will sit down together while the "one person who did not overreact" will be at work Thursday. "Maybe it's a guy thing," Murphy said, adding of Whalen: "She doesn't like beer anyway."

    Gates' arrest sparked heated rhetoric on TV, radio and the Internet. Initially, it seemed to break down along racial lines: African-Americans saw it as racial profiling by a white officer. Whites asked why the acclaimed scholar on black history didn't just show his ID to Crowley at the outset. Wasn't the officer just doing his job?

    Even Whalen, the Good Samaritan, got smeared in the initial response. The police report identifying her as a "white woman" resulted in a torrent of accusations that she racially profiled Gates and his driver when she first called 911.

    But a review of the call showed she never identified the suspects as "black" -- and even told a police dispatcher she wasn't sure it was a break-in. "The criticism at first was so painful for me. ... I was frankly afraid to say anything," Whalen said Wednesday, fighting back tears. "People called me racist and said I caused all the turmoil that followed, and some even said threatening things that made me fear for my safety."

    Whalen is sensitive to the issue of racial profiling, because of her own olive-skinned complexion, her attorney said.

    Two men; two views

    Inside 17 Ware St., Gates and Crowley exchanged words as the officer sought to determine whether Gates belonged in the home. Each blamed the other for a situation that escalated; each felt the other brought prejudices to the moment.

    Both had personal experience with racial profiling. iReport: Racial profiling, from both sides

    Long before his acclaim as a scholar of black history, Gates had faced the prejudice of a white man. Gates was just 14, and had suffered a hairline fracture in his hip.

    "The white doctor who examined Gates shortly afterward questioned the boy about his injury as well as his career plans. When the young Gates replied that he wanted to be a doctor and then correctly answered many questions about science, the doctor made his diagnosis," according to a biography of Gates posted on Gale, an online research tool.

    "He told Gates to stand and walk, and the young boy fell to the floor in intense pain. The doctor then turned to Gates's mother and explained that her son's problem was psychosomatic -- a black boy from Appalachia who wanted to be a doctor in the mid-1960s was an overachiever."

    Gates, now 58, walks with a cane as a result. "The most subtle and pernicious form of racism against blacks [is] doubt about our intellectual capacities," he once said.

    The typically soft-spoken Harvard professor is revered worldwide for being at the fore of African-American issues. His award-winning PBS documentaries have made him one of the most powerful forces of academia, admired by colleagues of all races.

    At the time of his arrest, Gates had just returned from China, where he had filmed the ancestral cemetery of Grammy-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma as part of an upcoming series on immigration in America.

    Gates told CNN's Soledad O'Brien that his arrest was a wake-up call.

    "What it made me realize was how vulnerable all black men are -- how vulnerable all people of color are and all poor people to capricious forces like a rogue policeman," he said. "It was the fault of a policeman who couldn't stand a black man standing up for his rights right in his face."

    But those who know Crowley, including African-American colleagues, say not so fast.

    For years, Crowley taught a racial profiling class at a Massachusetts police academy -- hand-picked by an African-American police commissioner.

    He also tried to save the life of Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis in 1993 when the black athlete died during an off-season practice. "I wasn't working on Reggie Lewis the basketball star. I wasn't working on a black man. I was working on another human being," he told the Boston Herald.

    Two black officers on the Cambridge force have stood solidly by their comrade.

    Sgt. Leon Lashley was outside Gates' house when the professor was arrested. He has no problems with the way Crowley handled the situation.

    "It happened to be a white officer on a black man, and the common call a lot of times is to call it a racist situation," said Lashley. "This situation right here was not a racial-motivated situation. ... There's nothing rogue about him. He was doing his job."

    Lashley acknowledged that if he, as a black officer, had entered the home first, it likely would've been a different outcome.

    Kelly King, another African-American Cambridge officer, said she has known Crowley for more than a decade and that he's "a good police officer, a good man with character."

    "I think Professor Gates has done a very good job of throwing up a very effective smokescreen, calling race into this. It had nothing to do with it," she told CNN's Don Lemon with Crowley at her side.

    She said people who have turned against Crowley need to "keep their minds open and realize that we would not support someone that we felt wronged someone else. ... We would not support anyone in blue doing the wrong thing."

    When she finished speaking, she and Crowley embraced. "You've got to be touched by that," CNN's Lemon said.

    The officer at the center of the controversy nodded his head, fighting off tears.

    Obama steps in

    A third player ratcheted up the controversy and he, too, brought history to the moment. President Obama entered the fray when he said police "acted stupidly." His comments outraged many in law enforcement, and he soon did a mea culpa, saying he could've "calibrated" his words differently.

    Obama is a friend of Gates. A graduate of Harvard Law School, the president also once studied under Charles Ogletree, the law professor who represents Gates.

    As state senator in Illinois, Obama pushed for a racial profiling bill in 2003. According to the Chicago Tribune, the bill created a means for police to track the race of drivers stopped for traffic infractions over a period of years.

    In his 2006 book "The Audacity of Hope," Obama said his status insulated him from the "bumps and bruises" of the typical black man in America.

    But, he said, "I can recite the usual litany of petty slights that during my 45 years have been directed my way: security guards tailing me as I shop in department stores, white couples who toss me their car keys as I stand outside a restaurant waiting for the valet, police cars pulling me over for no apparent reason."

    "I know what it's like to have people tell me I can't do something because of my color, and I know the bitter swill of swallowed-back anger."

    As the three men sit down together at the White House, there are many lessons to be drawn from this most teachable moment. Not the least of which might be that race is still a major factor in perceptions, and misperceptions.

    As for Whalen, she says she would still make that 911 call if she had it to do over again.

    "I would hope people would learn not to judge others," she said.

    She added, "I was just trying to get lunch."

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