President Obama addressed the controversy over his comment about Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley and the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates today during a White House press briefing. Obama said he spoke with the police officer, that he still thinks the police overreacted ... and that Crowley wanted to know whether Obama could get the press off of Crowley's lawn.
Obama went before the cameras and said immediately that he had called Crowley on the phone, and that he knew the sergeant is "a good man. And that was confirmed in the phone conversation. And I told him that."
"In my choice of words, I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department, or Sergeant Crowley specifically. 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 ... professor Gates probably overreacted as well.
"My sense is you've got two good people ... and neither of them were able to resolve the incident the way that it should have been resolved, or 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 very sensitive here in America. ... Be mindful of the fact that, because of our history, because of the difficulties of the past, African-Americans are sensitive to these issues.
"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 be fraught with misunderstanding."
Obama said he hoped the incident could be considered "what we call a teachable moment, where all of us . . . 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."
He then disagreed with those who think that the president shouldn't have stepped into the situation because it was a local issue. The fact that the story took on national proportions proves that "race is still a troubling aspect of our society," he said.
By the way, said Obama, at the end of his conversation with Crowley, there was some discussion of Obama, Gates, and Crowley having a beer in the White House. "I don't know if that's scheduled yet," Obama deadpanned, "but we may put that together. But he also did say that he wanted to find out if there was a way of getting the press off his lawn."
"I informed him," Obama said, "that ... I can't get the press off my lawn," drawing big laughs from the gathered reporters.
Not to be outdone, after Obama left the room, press secretary Robert Gibbs took to the podium and quipped, "I have almost all the confidence in the world that whatever I say is not going to make the news tonight."
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