Group to Review Henry Gates Incident

By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 10, 2009

Nearly two months after the arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. ignited a debate on racial profiling that drew in President Obama, an independent panel will begin the work of reviewing the incident.

The task of leading the review falls to Chuck Wexler, whose District-based research group will dig through the facts of Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley arrest of Gates and study the aftereffects of the incident, which made Cambridge a topic of national discussion this summer.

"I'm just hoping to make sense of this thing," said Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. "This is one of those cases where everyone has an opinion about it. It's almost like some kind of Rorschach test. People see it and they read into it what they want."

Wexler's panel was first announced by Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas after Obama said his department had "acted stupidly" in arresting the professor on his front porch. Obama later pulled back from that statement and invited both Crowley and Gates to the White House to talk and sip beer.

The 12-member panel will not look specifically for wrongdoing, but rather will focus on what actions could have created a better outcome, Wexler said. Among the questions: What kind of training could have prevented the incident? Why did this particular episode receive so much attention?

"People want to know, 'How did we get here?' " Wexler said. "Our starting point is the incident, but the incident only took six minutes."

Wexler described the panel membership as diverse. Half are Cambridge community members, and the other half are experts in a variety of fields from around the country. Wexler and the others will interview Crowley and Gates and look at previously unreleased police records. They will then meet periodically for three to five months and produce a report.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company