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. Reggie

    Obama has dug himself into a hole. Oh well, he's still gowing through On-the-job training to be president....

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

    Why is this man(Obama) so angry. He said what he meant, and he meant what he said. He is one angry person. I do not believ e anything he says and now we are really seeing him for what he is. When he can't bash Bush there is nothing to him. Without a teleprompter, you can see what he says.

    July 24, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  3. he did not mean to malign the Cambridge Police Department

    now we're talking

    way to go Obama, that is the best solution to this so far

    the officer was hasty, but Obama's friend was only in custody for four hours, not good but not terrible either

    please don't do this again Obama

    July 24, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  4. 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 for the facts before we rush to judgment.

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

    July 24, 2009 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  5. Terri

    He is better than me because I would not have apologized. The policeman needs to admit as well that he allowed the situation to get out of hand.

    July 24, 2009 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  6. MsDp

    Mr. President, you are the man and this is why you are good for this country. Even though I don't think you stated anything out of order, I am very proud that you are man enough to do what you did simply because the officer felt wronged. I call you peace maker as well as leader-because you are not afraid to give another person what that person needs. According to the Good Book, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are the children of God". So be it.

    July 24, 2009 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  7. Larry

    President Obama handled that very well. It was an unfortunate situation that got completely out of hand.

    July 24, 2009 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  8. maddox

    Why doesn't Nobama apologize to the Officer in public the same way he degraded him in public?

    July 24, 2009 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  9. watching

    I'm proud, Obama is a man of character that faces all controversy head on

    July 24, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  10. Ilona Proud Canadian

    CNN, just this morning via many of your reporters,
    including Ed Henry, showcased this confrontation
    over and over again, and it is abundantly evident that
    you are giving credence only to the police officer.

    CNN, you even had the police officer on your airwaves
    to give his side of the story.....................

    Now please,....... when are you going to bring Professor
    Gates on your airwaves to give his side of the story?

    Please CNN, fair is fair.....................so please do not
    moderate my comment into the netherworld.........

    Just show us that you can be fair, by giving Professor
    Gates a chance to give his side of the confrontation!

    July 24, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  11. RJ

    I teach my children every day to respect everyone, think before opening their mouths, know all the facts before passing judgment and now they see that the President of the United States, supposedly the most powerful man in the world, calls an entire police department "stupid" on national TV while admitting that he did not have all the facts. Why is that? Because the "suspect" is black and is his friend.

    The President absolutely meant to malign the CPD. He was "outraged" that his black friend, who should be above the law, was arrested for disorderly conduct.

    It would be one thing if the President took sides knowing all the facts, but by his own admission, he did not know all the facts. It is Obama and Gates who intentionally keep the race card alive.......otherwise their buddies Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson would have no audience.

    Shame on them. I hope next time the CPD won't show up at Gates house when there IS an emergency...the good old moral from the story "The Boy Who Cried Wolf".

    July 24, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  12. Kevin in Ohio

    CNN.... I notice you keep moving the palin article to the top of the ticker even though comments have been closed for that article. Your true left-wing colors are not only showing...they are OBVIOUS!

    July 24, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  13. LIP

    You really got to wonder just what he meant to do. If it is to continue to play the race card or the Democratic card, then he surely did that and in spades.
    As the President of the country and a learned scholar, Obama should have known that all people, regardless of race, are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Obama basically condemned this police officer without first getting the facts and automatically assumed that because his buddy was black and the arresting offficer was white, that it was racial profiling.
    This was wrong by all standards and is indefensible and he should apologize for what he said.

    July 24, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  14. 60's survivor

    conflict resolution for everyone please! this is a positive thing. everyone has a bad day ever once in awhile. lord knows I do !!!

    July 24, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  15. JustTheFactsMan

    Maybe this will teach B.O to keep his race card in his pocket till he know's the fact's. Idiot.

    July 24, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  16. Angela TX

    Why Prez? You should've stood your ground. This is WEAK

    July 24, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  17. Zero.

    No! He said "I am bigger than you mister policeman, Dont tell me how to chose my words."

    July 24, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  18. mb[texas

    I support the President completely.But this instance what he said
    should not have been said.I do know that some police officers
    do over react in situations and this situation should have been
    handled differently.But police officer have a tough job,problems
    should be handled bu superiors and then released to public.

    July 24, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  19. NOBAMA

    Im so glad somebody finally shut that NOBAMA up!

    July 24, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  20. mb[texas

    I support the President completely.But this instance what he said
    should not have been said.I do know that some police officers
    do over react in situations and this situation should have been
    handled differently.But police officer have a tough job,problems
    should be handled but superiors and then released to public.

    July 24, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  21. eviemae

    think before u speak! making it a black issue is excuse for Gates bad behavior. LE deserves our respect for they protect us! Risk their lives for jerks like Gates!!!

    July 24, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  22. Ann

    Please let the issue die. Prof Gates was probably loud and angry, but that is no cause for arrest, which was the "acting stupidly" part of President Obama's comment. He did not call Crowley or the department stupid.

    July 24, 2009 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  23. Butch Dillon

    Once again, Obama proves himself to be the anti Bush. I don't know what they talked about, but they talked and it was because the president chose to make the conversation happen. And this is the man Limbaugh declared to have a chip on his shoulder? Hardly!!!

    July 24, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  24. willie purvis

    i am a black man from yazoo city ms,i know all about this kind of police profiling after all we all as black men have our own story, and i think what our president did was correct. for to many years black man been targets of police harrasments.not only did the police act stupidly but like an ignorant jack ass. name one white person harrased for being in thier own home. i think the racist neighbors has more of the blame than the police because they knew that man lived in the house. so all you rascist biggots out there get over it and move on. i hopr the professor sues the police department and anyone else that blows this issue out of proportion.

    July 24, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  25. barbara

    yea right. anytime the POTUS jumps in to offer an opinion about any group of people, he is plying the victim and community prganizer. he has other things to tend to. he should just mind the store and leave enforcing the law to those that are certified to do so.

    July 24, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
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