(CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama said this afternoon that in a telephone conversation with Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department he talked to Crowley about having him and Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.--the African American scholar whom Crowley arrested--to the White House for a beer.
Crowley arrested Gates for disorderly conduct outside his home last week, and Gates accused Crowley of racial profiling--an the episode became an issue of hot national debate over the past two days after President Obama said at a White House press conference that the Cambridge Police had “acted stupidly."
Making a surprise appearance in the White House press room this afternoon, President Obama expressed regret that he had helped in “ratcheting up” controversy over the incident and said that “I could have calibrated those words differently."
Obama said he had called the arresting officer, Sgt. Jim Crowley, today.
“I have to tell you that, as I said yesterday, my impression of him was that he was a outstanding police officer and a good man and that was confirmed in the phone conversation—and I told him that,” Obama said.
At the end of Obama’s unexpected visit to the press room, he said that he had talked to Sgt. Crowley about having both him and Gates to the White House for a beer.
“So at the end of the conversation there was a discussion about--my conversation with Sergeant Crowley--there was discussion about he and I and Professor Gates having a beer here in the White House,” said Obama. “We don't know if that's scheduled yet, but we may put that together.”
Obama also indicated he joked with Sgt. Crowley about getting the press off his lawn.
“He also did say he wanted to find out if there was a way of getting the press off his lawn,” Obama said about Crowley. “I informed him that I can't get the press off my lawn. He pointed out that my lawn is bigger than his lawn. But if anybody has any connections to the Boston press, as well as national press, Sergeant Crowley would be happy for you to stop trampling his grass.”
Obama said he continued to believe that both Prof. Gates and Sgt. Crowley overreacted.
“I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home to the station,” said Obama. “I also continue to believe, based on what I heard, that Professor Gates probably overreacted as well. My sense is you've got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved and the way they would have liked it to be resolved.”
Obama said he hoped the incident would now end up being a “teachable moment” about race relations in the United States.
“What I'd like to do then I make sure that everybody steps back for a moment, recognizes that these are two decent people, not extrapolate too much from the facts--but as I said at the press conference, be mindful of the fact that because of our history, because of the difficulties of the past, you know, African Americans are sensitive to these issues,” said Obama.
“And even when you've got a police officer who has a fine track record on racial sensitivity, interactions between police officers and the African American community can sometimes be fraught with misunderstanding,” Obama said.
“My hope is, is that as a consequence of this event this ends up being what's called a ‘teachable moment,’ where all of us instead of pumping up the volume spend a little more time listening to each other and try to focus on how we can generally improve relations between police officers and minority communities, and that instead of flinging accusations we can all be a little more reflective in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity,” said Obama.