July 22nd, 2009
09:30 PM ET
14 years ago

Obama: Police 'acted stupidly' in arresting Harvard scholar

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, "acted stupidly" by arresting Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates after they were called to his home on a report of a burglary last week, President Barack Obama said Wednesday.

Disorderly conduct charges against Gates - one of the most prominent African-American academics - were dropped Tuesday after the incident drew national attention, with all involved calling it a "regrettable and unfortunate" incident. Asked about the matter in a White House news conference Wednesday, Obama said it shows "how race remains a factor in this society.

"That doesn't lessen the incredible progress that has been made," said Obama, the first African-American U.S. president. "I am standing here as testimony to the progress that's been made. And yet, the fact of the matter is that, you know, this still haunts us."

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (115 Responses)
  1. The Judge

    Surprised sharpton isn't already there stirring it up and grabbing the spotlight.

    July 22, 2009 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  2. Post always rejected by CNN

    I think they were both at fault. When someone called and said the man was breaking into his own house and the police showed up, all he had to do was explain, show his identification with his address and everything would have been over. Maybe the police would have helped him get the door open, which they say had been jammed.

    Right away the professor took offense, the police got offensive and it escalated.

    July 22, 2009 10:07 pm at 10:07 pm |
  3. Boo Hoo

    Another "planted" question. This "Professor" apparently acted loudly and belligerently and got exactly what he deserved. HE is the one that made race an issue.

    When oh when will black people grow up?

    July 22, 2009 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  4. John

    Sweet, so we all now permission from the president to disrespect police officers!

    You just set the precedent Obama! Thanks.

    July 22, 2009 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  5. Matt B

    The police officer in question still says that Professor Gates would not provide identification when asked and started yelling at the officer. It's a typical he said, he said incident. Somehow, President Obama knows enough about the situation to varbally lash the officer and say that Gates was telling the truth and the officer was not. And let's not forget, he gets to play the race card as well.


    There are only two people who know the truth about what happened and you are not one of them.

    July 22, 2009 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  6. Tom

    Isn't it interesting that the important part of Obama's response was left out of the report/write-up on the main page of CNN?

    "That doesn't lessen the incredible progress that has been made," said Obama, the first African-American U.S. president. "I am standing here as testimony to the progress that's been made. And yet, the fact of the matter is that, you know, this still haunts us."

    Huh, why leave this out of any reporting done on Obama's answer. Nice way to make it seem like Obama is just crapping on the US.

    July 22, 2009 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  7. T

    Let's see, it was reported that he was not helpful and refused initially to give his name/ID to the authorities after they arrived on scene. I believe he should be prosecuted for disorderly conduct. The police are the people that you SHOULD give information to when asked for, it would all have been sorted out much quicker and nothing would have gone any further.

    July 22, 2009 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  8. Dover

    I am an Obama supporter, voted for him, and for the most part am happy with his performance taking into consideration the disaster he walked into after the Bush administration. I do not think he should have made any judgement calls on the matter of the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. He was not there. The story from gates side is he was being picked on because of his color. The story from the police side is he was seen breaking into a house and became argumentative right away. There is such a thing as disorderly conduct which is an arrest-able offense, whether you are waving your id around or not. If the cops were investigating whether or not a break in occurred, he should have cooperated and been grateful they are looking out for his welfare. Obama should not have weighed in on this. Yes, there could have been discrimination. Yes, the professor could have played the race card too soon. Obama wasn't there, he should have remained neutral.

    July 22, 2009 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  9. Only 21% of Americans trust republicans to lead them into the 21st century!

    I agree.

    I do not blame the cops for approaching Gates, but once he proved who he was that should have been where Gates "thanked the cop for doing his job" and the cop says "glad you understand I was just doing my job"

    But no, they cart him of to jail.

    This 58 year old white male also thinks it smacks of racial profiling!

    July 22, 2009 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  10. Barb

    If the professor wouldn't have acted like a jacka.. he wouldn't have gotten himself arrested.

    July 22, 2009 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  11. anon

    This goes beyond race. It actually shows how unsafe ALL Americans are, even in our own homes due to the attitudes and ignorance of the police who are paid by us to defend us.

    July 22, 2009 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  12. Ron, Sanford Maine

    From what I understand, the police were correct in arresting this man. All he had to do is answer the police's asking who he is and what he's doing there. All he had to do is tell his name, pull out his driver's license and why he was trying to break into his own house. All would have been clarified immediately. Instead, he made a mountain out of a mole hill.

    This can happen to anybody. Losing my house keys in the past I have entered through the front porch window.

    Much ado about nothing!

    July 22, 2009 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  13. Scott

    So obama is now an expert in law enforcement. Does he even care what happened beyond the obvious and FAR overused accusation of racism? This "professor" was arrested for how he reacted. These cops responded to a call of a break-in in progress. He treats them with anything but respect and it's racism?
    obama once again proves, just like other black leaders, that it is they that cling to racism, not the rest of the country.
    I thought this was a post racial America? I guess it's not for those who continue to use it as an excuse and a crutch.

    July 22, 2009 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  14. it's pretty simple.

    The police work for the people. An officer shows up on a breaking and entering call, finds the homeowner at home. The homeowner properly identifies himself and says that there is no problem - the officer says: "Oh, thank you sir - sorry to have bothered you, and leaves."
    If a police officer can't handle that level of courtesy, then he doesn't belong on anyone's police force.

    July 22, 2009 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  15. LacrosseMom

    This is what CNN thought was NEWSWORTHY about our president's news conference?????????????? CNN a tabloid now?

    And ..... yeah..... the police that arrested a man in his OWN home, acted stupidly!

    You show your I.D. and you are arrested?????????????????

    July 22, 2009 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  16. Lolbama

    Obama acted stupidly for commenting.

    July 22, 2009 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  17. Marie

    Sure it was stupid once the professor showed his ID why was he arrested because he asked because he was african american or because he was an out of line because he was an african american for asking the question?

    July 22, 2009 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  18. Al

    Thank you Mr. President I'm tried of Police saying they were just doing their job, knowing that Mr. Gates live their. I don't trust the police.

    July 22, 2009 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  19. Mike

    It's amazing to me that these police officers are being criticized for doing absolutely everything right. Where's the accountability for the professors actions? He makes klansmen actually seem sensible.

    July 22, 2009 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  20. JonDie

    The police acted CRIMINALLY.

    But amazingly, on one national news show a former NYC police official said that the police needed to be able to rough people up like that...otherwise people would lose respect for the police.

    You're too late, Mr. former NYC police official, I already have no respect exactly because so many of you are racists officers who think you can rough up innocent people, black, white or what color they may be, and I have even less respect for police officials like you who defend the criminal actions of the police.

    That NYC police official should move to Texas...where roughing p black folks and Hispanic is considered to be normal and acceptable.

    July 22, 2009 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  21. AJ

    Obama will do anything and say anything to keep the black vote. He's thrown the gay community under the bus, thrown law enforcement under the bus and thrown his integrity under the bus. Lets hope the American public throws Obama under the bus in the next election.

    July 22, 2009 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  22. Tasty Cheddar

    So how did the Prof create "loud and tumultuous behavior in a PUBLIC space" when he was inside his OWN home....

    July 22, 2009 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  23. Here we go again

    Abner Louima. Amadou Diallo. Sean Bell, Patrick Dorismond. Ousmane Zongo. Nathaniel Levi Gaines ... The list goes on. What I do know is that the cop will lie and those who have not been stopped driven, getting their keys, or walking while black will tend to believe him instead of a Harvard professor in his own house who happens to walk with a cane.

    July 22, 2009 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  24. Rich

    Well..he told it like it is...didn't he? I'm glad he did not shy away from the issue. Some police officers too often while interacting with minorities or poor whites sees them as criminals rather than sometimes innocent victims. Their thinking when approaching suspects is too often seen thru colored lenses. I don't believe this is true for most whites.

    I once had an experience where I was driving in Southern Virginia where I was taking my 7 year old to be with her father for the summer. I got lost, and was happy to see two squad car pulled along the road. I assumed asking them for directions was the safest thing I could do at the moment, and pulled within 50 feet of them. I could be clearly seen as my niece. Yet as I approached them with paper directions in hand, they pulled their guns from their holsters. I was shocked and disappointed, and realize immediately that the cops say me as someone who would hurt them as oppose to someone who needed help. It was a lesson learned. I never ask a cop for anything since. Instead, I ask stranges. It's been much safer for me.

    July 22, 2009 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  25. More of the Politics of Hope

    Despite stating, "I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts...", President Obama feels comfortable finding that the police "acted stupidly." I wasn't there either, nor am I a friend of anyone involved, but the reports are two men appeared to be forcing open the door of a house. The police came to investigate. Rather than explaining that he, the owner of the home, had forced his own door open with the assistance of his driver, the professor chose to be uncooperative. Why is it "stupid" to arrest someone who refuses to cooperate and chooses to be belligerent to law enforcement under these circumstances. If this had not been a well-known black Harvard professor but, instead, a plumber, barber, mechanic, etc., of any color, would he/she have been given a pass? The police were there to protect this man's home–shouldn't he have been grateful? And shouldn't the President, having admitted he does not know all the facts, reserve judgment on the actions of the police rather than deeming their actions "stupid"?

    July 22, 2009 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
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