Obama 'stupidly' comment sparks debate

July 23, 2009 11:55:57 PM PDT
A white police sergeant who arrested renowned black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. said Thursday he's disappointed President Barack Obama said officers acted "stupidly," despite acknowledging he didn't know all the facts.

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What began as a dispute between a home owner and a police officer has grown into a national debate on race. The police officer involved-- once taught racial profiling. The man arrested, Henry Louis Gates, is black and one of the most prominent scholars in America. Gates also just happens to be friends with the president of the United States. The debate started before President Obama commented, but once he did, it exploded.

It's very unusual for a sitting president to take sides in a police matter, but the president broke with custom last night -- fueling the story about what happened to a Harvard professor.

"Getting into a shouting match with a police officer, whether in your own home or anywhere else, is not a particularly good idea," said KGO Radio host Gene Burns.

All day, KGO Radio hosts and listeners sounded off over an incident even the president got involved in, after last night's news conference.

"The Cambridge Police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home," said President Obama.

In an exclusive interview with ABC's Nightline, President Obama stood by his statement. He was referring to the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. who was mistakenly suspected of burglary when a neighbor saw him trying to force his way into his home, after he locked himself out.

By the time Cambridge police arrived, Gates was inside and showed proof he lived there, but when asked to step outside, Gates refused, and after words were exchanged, he was taken to police headquarters.

"I think it doesn't make sense with all the problems we have out there to arrest a guy in his own home, if he's not causing a serious disturbance," said President Obama.

The sergeant in question, Sgt. James Crowley, took on the president Thursday.

"I think he is way off base wading into a local issue without knowing all the facts, as he himself stated before he made that comment. There was a lot of yelling, there was references to my mother. Mr. Gates was given plenty of opportunities to stop what he was doing," said Sgt. Crowley.

Crowley is a career cop who was even picked by a black police officer to teach a racial sensitivity class at the academy. His fellow officers and chief are backing him.

"I do not believe that it was racially motivated," said Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas.

However, Harry Edwards, Ph.D, a U.C. Berkeley Professor emeritus of sociology, says this whole issue underscores an important point.

"There are literally hundreds of thousands of minority men who are confronted with this situation every day," said Edwards.

The president went on to say that he does have extraordinary respect for the difficulties of the job that police officers face. And while President Obama said the sergeant acted stupidly, a White House spokesman says he was not calling him stupid.

LINK: Read the text of President Obama's speech

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