Obama: Police who arrested professor ‘acted stupidly’

Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. talks Wednesday about his ordeal with Cambridge police.
President Obama said that police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, "acted stupidly" in arresting a prominent black Harvard professor last week after a confrontation at the man’s home.

“I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played,” Obama said Wednesday night while taking questions after a White House news conference. Cambridge authorities dropped disorderly conduct charges against Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Tuesday. Obama defended Gates on Wednesday night, while admitting that he may be “a little biased,” because Gates is a friend. “But I think it’s fair to say, No. 1, any of us would be pretty angry; No. 2, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and, No. 3 … that there’s a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.” The incident, Obama said, shows “how race remains a factor in this society.” Watch the president address the incident » Gates told CNN on Wednesday that although charges had been dropped, he will keep the issue alive. “This is not about me; this is about the vulnerability of black men in America,” Gates told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien. Gates said the mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts, called him to apologize about the incident, in which he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. CNN could not confirm Wednesday night that an apology was made. Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons did not respond to requests by CNN for comment. Gates said he’d be prepared to forgive the arresting officer “if he told the truth” about what the director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research said were “fabrications” in the police report.

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The officer, Sgt. James Crowley, told CNN affiliate WCVB earlier Wednesday that he will not apologize. “There are not many certainties in life, but it is for certain that Sgt. Crowley will not be apologizing,” he said. Crowley wrote in the Cambridge police report that Gates refused to step outside to speak with him, the police report said, and when Crowley told Gates that he was investigating a possible break-in, Gates opened the front door and exclaimed, “Why, because I’m a black man in America” the report said. The report said Gates initially refused to show the officer identification, but eventually produced a Harvard identification card, prompting Crowley to radio for Harvard University Police. “While I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence, I was quite surprised and confused with the behavior he exhibited toward me,” Crowley said, according to the report. Gates was arrested for “loud and tumultuous behavior in a public space” and was released from police custody after spending four hours at the police station. He said Wednesday that he and his lawyers were considering further actions, not excluding a lawsuit.

Gates said that although the ordeal had upset him, “I would do the same thing exactly again.” Earlier this week, a prosecutor dropped the charge against Gates and the city’s police department recommended that the matter not be pursued.