July 24th, 2009
03:02 PM ET
5 years ago

Obama speaks with Gates' arresting officer

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama said Friday he told the police officer who arrested an African-American Harvard professor that he did not mean to malign the Cambridge Police Department when he said the department "acted stupidly."

"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 Sgt. (James) Crowley specifically," Obama said. "And I could have calibrated those words differently. And I told this to Sgt. Crowley."

Obama spoke at the White House daily news briefing, an hour after police unions in Massachusetts called on him to apologize.

He did not apologize for his remark, but repeated that he believed his choice of words was unfortunate.

The president said he continues to believe, "based on what I have heard, that police overreacted," and he also believes that the professor - his friend, Henry Louis Gates Jr. - "probably overreacted as well."

"My sense is you have 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," he said.

He also rejected the idea that he should not have gotten involved because it is a local issue.

President Obama's full statement after the jump:

THE PRESIDENT: Hey, it's a cameo appearance. Sit down, sit down. I need to help Gibbs out a little bit here.

Q Are you the new press secretary?

THE PRESIDENT: If you got to do a job, do it yourself. (Laughter.)

I wanted to address you guys directly because over the last day and a half obviously there's been all sorts of controversy around the incident that happened in 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 that as I said yesterday, my impression of him was that he was a 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 have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home 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 liked 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. So 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'd like to do then I make sure that everybody steps back for a moment, 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, you know, African Americans are sensitive to these issues. And 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, 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 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've discussed this issue, I don't know if you've noticed, but nobody has been paying much attention to health care. (Laughter.)

I will not use this time to spend more words on health care, although I can't guarantee that that will be true next week. I just wanted to emphasize that - one last point I guess I would 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 a 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 - (laughter) - 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. (Laughter.) I informed him that I can't get the press off my lawn. (Laughter.) He pointed out that my lawn is bigger than his lawn. (Laughter.) But if anybody has any connections to the Boston press, as well as national press, Sergeant Crowley would be happy for you to stop trampling his grass.

All right. Thank you, guys.

Updated at 3:00 p.m. EDT


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (295 Responses)
  1. Predicta

    Good for Obama. At least he can admit he was wrong.

    July 24, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  2. Russell E.Wilcox

    It's too late. He already maligned them.

    July 24, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  3. two left shoes

    They are Offended: Lets take a poll of the number of Black americans that has been offended over the past WEEK via Racial Profiling, wrongful convictions, etc. The police has a $#%#@@ of a nerve.

    July 24, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  4. Brewer

    Get out your pen and paper kids. Now write down "THE PRESIDENT HAS CLASS" 500 times. Turn it over and repeat.

    July 24, 2009 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  5. Right Leaning Independent

    What did he mean???

    July 24, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  6. Chuck, Tennessee

    So what did he mean when he sad the officer actied "stupidly"?

    July 24, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  7. John

    CRIME IN USA is all because of the Highhandedness of the Police.

    Our Police is the Most ill Trained, Arrogant, Low I.Q and Bunch of Idiots.

    I am an White law abiding Citizen and never involved in any Crime all my life. My Neighbor is Hispanic and has 2 Teenage Boys. These boys drink and may be take drugs.

    These boys Play Basketball at 12:00 in the night with their father. I cannot sleep. All the time the Ball comes to my property and hits my windows. It even broke my Porch Light.

    I called the Police and they came. Can anybody imagine what the 2 Police Officers told me?

    POLICE TOLD ME TO MOVE, FIND ANOTHER HOUSE, SELL OF MY THIS HOUSE AND GO ANOTHER PLACE.

    I am a Lawyer. I did not want to teach law to the Police Officers. Law does not Expect me to Withdraw from my House. Law does not expect People to be Cowards. City and County Law prohibits Nuisance. Noise Nuisance is Prohibited.

    July 24, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  8. Phyllis

    Given the reputation of the Boston area police officers' bias against minorities, I don't think that they should be surprised to be called stupid and I believe Obama was very generous to offer them an apology.

    July 24, 2009 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  9. Mike G

    Why did you stoop to their level Obama? If this was Bush or any other white president and the roles in the situation were changed(black cop white professor) the cop would have already been fired. Who has the audacity to ask the president for an apology. Someone that doesn't respect the president thats who.
    Well, its too late now anyway. Gates is off and running with this one and based on that garbage press conference the little cops of Cambridge plan to do the same.

    July 24, 2009 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  10. GGG

    Obama overstepped his grounds... He should of never commented on it... This is what fuels racism... Practice what you preach!!!

    July 24, 2009 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  11. history repeats

    ok thats fine......but not for teh republicans DESPERATELY looking for a new lewinsky story to distract the people from the issues at hand like HEALTHCARE. thats the point for SLOWING EVERYTHING DOWN!! they know americans attention span is very low

    July 24, 2009 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  12. Michael in Houston

    I suuport President Obama. However, I have one question....why is the President of the United States taking questions much less answering questions about an event at the level of this one? This was a man locked out of his home that resulted in a confrontation by the police responding. How on earth does something this trivial get filtered up to the President and filtered back by the President with the response he came up with?? He should have dismissed the question until he knew the facts and even then he should not have had any comment whatsoever. This is beneath his office by miles.

    July 24, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  13. Brian0901

    Prof. Gates proved he lived there. If he didn't want Officer Crowley there that was his business and Crowley should have left. I don't care who you are, Police or not, you are only welcome in my home when I say you are. I only respect authority when it respects me.

    July 24, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  14. Expat American

    I believe many have lost the plot; President Obama shouldn't have directly addressed the issue in the first place; especially since it had nothing to do with the healthcare issue that he had been addressing before answering the question. At the most a statement should have been issued via the White House but not directly through him. He is not the President of African American issues. He is the President of the United States.

    President Obama will learn at time goes on that he cannot address every issue; but the country needs him to address those that only a President should address. Someone else could have addressed the Gates issue.

    July 24, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  15. inofritzn

    1 and done son... Your true values showed. You wannabe president

    July 24, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  16. Keith, CO

    Let me first say that we are going to need to sing Kumbaya my lord after this.

    I thought about it some more and obama clearly should have stayed out of it. It is touching he wanted to come to his friends defense but is unfair to jump to conclusions about a situation that has not been investigated. Not to mention breaking his cool demeanor that serves him so well.

    My first reaction was knee jerk due to me sometimes feeling racially
    profiled myself. we have to learn to wait before we rush to judgment.

    Anyone feel like singing Kumbaya and letting this ugly business rest?:}

    July 24, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  17. Zman

    Don't you apologize Mr PRESIDENT

    July 24, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  18. Julia Byrd- Hayden Idaho

    Racism, alive and well and growing. If this had been a white guy, the tables would be turned against the rogue cops.

    July 24, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  19. Larry S

    And this is an opology . . . he stated his initial dumb remark on national television . . . and all this is was is a phone call. Again, BO does not have enough intelligence to speak unless his remarks are pre-written by others. So many are wrong when they state BO is intelligent. This is another fact proving his lack of intelligence and his lack of ability to lead.

    July 24, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  20. Matt

    You may not have ment to malign the police department but you did malign them. Why is Obama only sorry about the controversy he causes but never what he did.

    July 24, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  21. cbpds

    Prez of USAAAA aplogising ? :).....guess its a sideaffect of the healthcare issue

    July 24, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  22. Nick 27, So Cal

    Is the country so bored that we have to create controversy!! Focus on the real issues!!!

    July 24, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  23. Larry S

    And this is an apology??? . . . he stated his initial dumb remark on national television . . . and all this was is a phone call. Again, BO does not have enough intelligence to speak unless his remarks are pre-written by others. So many are wrong when they state BO is intelligent. This is another fact proving his lack of intelligence and his lack of ability to lead.

    July 24, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  24. Astonished

    This is it? One sentence? Way to apply equal standards, CNN. We crucify a policeman for doing what any policeman would do in the same situation, and the President openly maligns him and his department, and when he realizes he's done wrong, you post the barest–literally, you have done the bare minimum here–acknowledgment of that fact? What's your game, CNN?

    July 24, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  25. John

    I think that Pres. Obama finally did the right thing. Anyone who has the courage and strength to apologize when he's wrong gets my respect. This is much better that yesterday's staffer trying to explain that stupidity didn't mean stupid which, in itself, sounded pretty lame.
    I suspect that we will never again hear from Pres. Obama the words "I don't know all the facts, but.." followed by him offering his opinion. We all have alot to learn, even the President. Apologize and move on is the best policy.

    July 24, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
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