The police officer who arrested a black Harvard professor says President Obama offended police when he accused Cambridge authorities of acting stupidly.
“I was a little surprised and disappointed that the president, who didn’t have all of the facts by his own admission, then weighed in on the events of that night and made a comment that really offended not just officers in the Cambridge Police Department but officers around the country,” Sgt. James Crowley told CNN affiliate WHDH-TV in Boston. Obama, however, stood by his comment, saying he is “surprised by the controversy surrounding” it. “I think it was a pretty straightforward commentary that you probably don’t need to handcuff a guy, a middle-aged man who uses a cane, who’s in his own home,” Obama told ABC’s “Nightline.” Watch Crowley’s response » When Obama waded into the story by answering a question about it during his news conference Wednesday night, he admitted that he “may be a little biased” because the professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr., is a friend. “I don’t know all the facts,” he also conceded. He said he did not know what role race played, but “the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.” Crowley, in the police report about the incident, accused Gates of refusing to cooperate with him and repeatedly accusing him of racism when he went to Gates’ home following a report of a possible break-in July 16.
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Crowley said he tried to determine whether there was someone else at the home and wanted to ensure Gates’ safety. Gates, however, told him “that I had no idea who I was ‘messing’ with” and was being so loud that he could not give pertinent information to the department when he was calling in, the sergeant said. Crowley’s report said that when he asked to speak with Gates outside, the professor at one point responded, “I’ll speak with your mama outside.” Authorities have said they may release tapes of the officer calling in, in which Gates is heard in the background. Gates ultimately was arrested for disorderly conduct, but the department later dropped the charges. Cambridge police Commissioner Robert Haas said he “deeply regrets” the arrest but stands by the procedures his department followed. “I trust [Crowley’s] judgment implicitly. He is a stellar officer,” Haas said. He added the department is “very proud about its diversity within this community and how hard we’ve worked over the years to build a strong, solid relationship [between] the department and the community.” Haas said he agreed with Crowley about Obama’s remarks. “I have to tell you the officers take that very personally and basically feel hurt by that comment. We truly are trying to do the best service we can to the community and sometimes we make mistakes. We’re human. But we learn from those mistakes and we move on,” he said. Numerous police officers, including African-Americans, have spoken up on Crowley’s behalf and portrayed him as a good and fair officer. Crowley, who is white, had once been chosen by a black police officer to teach a police academy course on ways to avoid racial profiling. iReport.com: “Shame” on Gates Obama said he had heard of Crowley’s record, saying, “I don’t know all the extenuating circumstances, and as I said, I respect what police officers do. From what I can tell, the sergeant who was involved is an outstanding police officer, but my suspicion is probably it would have been better if cooler heads prevailed.” Gates’ legal team argues that authorities are misrepresenting the professor and the officer, and Gates has said he is determined to keep the issue alive despite the charges being dropped. “This is not about me; this is about the vulnerability of black men in America,” he said this week.
Attorney Charles Ogletree said Gates might sue the department and would bring forward witnesses who say they’ve had similar experiences with Crowley. When asked for specific examples, Ogletree said only that they may come out in time depending on how the police department handles the situation moving forward.