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Gates, Police Officer Share Beers, Histories With President

President Obama and Vice President Biden share beers with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and police Sgt. James Crowley in the Rose Garden.
President Obama and Vice President Biden share beers with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and police Sgt. James Crowley in the Rose Garden. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)   |   Buy Photo

After initially dismissing the clamor over his remarks, Obama came before reporters less than 48 hours later to "recalibrate" his statement and make clear that he thought that both Crowley and Gates had "overreacted" during their confrontation.

Apparently, however, the president had already suffered some political damage. A new poll by the Pew Research Center found that 41 percent of Americans disapprove of the president's comments, compared with 29 percent who approve.

Gates, 58, was arrested in his Cambridge home on July 16 after Crowley responded to a 911 call about a possible burglary there. Gates had just returned from a trip to China and had trouble getting in his front door, and he and the Moroccan driver who retrieved him from the airport jimmied the lock and forced open the door. A woman who saw the men called police to report a possible break-in.

When Crowley arrived, he questioned whether Gates lived in the home and demanded identification. Gates became upset and the two got into a verbal altercation that ended with Gates's arrest on disorderly conduct charges. The charges were later dropped.

Thursday evening, the two men were in suit coats enjoying a beer with Obama and Biden, who were both in shirt sleeves as they sat in the Rose Garden. The men were served beer in glass mugs by White House butlers: Sam Adams Light for Gates and Blue Moon for Crowley, Bud Light for the president and Buckler for Biden.

Before the meeting, the men spent time getting to know each other and were accompanied by their families for a joint tour of the White House. As they talked, the two men focused on their families and their histories in Cambridge, Ogletree said. "It was forward-looking, not focused on the past," Ogletree said. "They were just trying to find some common ground. It was a very warm, frank and quite open discussion."

As Gates and Crowley met with Obama, Ogletree met with Alan McDonald, the lawyer for the police unions in Massachusetts, and other law enforcement representatives from Cambridge to talk about how both camps can work together.

The incident not only forced the issue of race and law enforcement into the national spotlight, but it also prompted police departments around the country to take a closer look at their training protocols.

"I will go over our racial profiling orders just to make sure we're doing everything according to the rules and regulations," said Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington. "It doesn't mean that anything's wrong with our rules, but this is a good time to go back and make sure officers are . . . affording people their civil rights."

John Foust, director of academic training for the D.C. police, said the Cambridge incident made the agency reassess its curriculum.

"It made us take a second look to make sure we have the important topics covered," Foust said.

The D.C. police department requires recruits to take courses in diversity and racial profiling, as well as hate and bias crimes.

Maj. Huey Thornton of the Montgomery, Ala., police said the Gates-Crowley incident is being discussed among officers and in staff meetings.

"I don't think any department would like to find themselves in a situation like that," Thornton said. "It shows the scope of what you're subject to get involved in while responding to calls for service. And whatever training you've received, it's what you should always rely on. That's the teachable moment."

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