Obama Addresses Race and Louis Gates Incident

Scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested at his home.
Scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested at his home. (Frank Franklin Ii - AP)
  Enlarge Photo    
Thursday, July 23, 2009

President Obama said Wednesday night that race still haunts America, even as he noted "the incredible progress that has been made."

Obama was asked at the end of his news conference about the arrest last week of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. outside his home. The incident has sparked a national discussion about race relations.

Obama noted that "Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here," and he referred to the professor's account of arriving home to find a jammed door, forcing it open and then being confronted by a white police officer looking for proof that Gates lived in the home. According to Gates's account, he showed the officer his ID and became angry when the officer would not identify himself.

The president said he understood the professor's outrage. If he was trying to "jigger into" his old house in Chicago, he said he assumed the police would be called on him as well.

"Now, I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played," Obama said. "But I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home."

Obama continued: "What I think we know, separate and apart from this incident, is that there's a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That's just a fact." He said that he had pushed for the passage of legislation in the Illinois legislature to address the problem.

Obama went on to say that he stood in the White House "as testimony to the progress that's been made."

"And yet the fact of the matter is, is that, you know, this still haunts us," Obama said. "And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently, and often time for no cause, casts suspicion, even when there is good cause."

-- Krissah Thompson

© 2009 The Washington Post Company