Obama, Biden, professor, officer sit down over brews
President Obama sat down for a beer at the White House Thursday night with a top African-American professor and the police officer who arrested him earlier this month.
They were joined by a previously unannounced guest, Vice President Joe Biden.
Sgt. James Crowley and Henry Louis Gates Jr., both dressed in suits, sat down with Obama and Biden, who both had their white dress shirt sleeves rolled up.
Video from the meeting showed mugs of beer being delivered to the men, who sat at a round table at the edge of the White House's Rose Garden, munching peanuts and pretzels from silver bowls.
The president was drinking Bud Light, Biden was drinking Buckler (a nonalcoholic beer), Gates was drinking Samuel Adams Light and Crowley was drinking Blue Moon.
After the meeting, Crowley told reporters that the men had a "cordial and productive discussion," in which they agreed to move foward rather than dwell on past events.
He said he and Gates plan to meet again and will speak by telephone to finalize details in the coming days. Both men bring different perspectives, he said, but he would like to hear more about Gates' views.
"It was a private discussion. It was a frank discussion," Crowley said of the meeting, but would not divulge specifics except to say that no one apologized.
Gates was arrested July 16 and accused of disorderly conduct after police responded to a report of a possible burglary at his Boston-area home. The charge was later dropped. The incident sparked a debate about racial profiling and police procedures.
After the meeting, the renowned Harvard professor reflected on the significance of the event and thanked Obama for arranging the meeting.
"It is incumbent upon Sergeant Crowley and me to utilize the great opportunity that fate has given us to foster greater sympathy among the American public for the daily perils of policing on the one hand, and for the genuine fears of racial profiling on the other hand," Gates said in a statement on his Web site, The Root.
"Let me say that I thank God that (I) live in a country in which police officers put their lives at risk to protect us every day, and, more than ever, I've come to understand and appreciate their daily sacrifices on our behalf. I'm also grateful that we live in a country where freedom of speech is a sacrosanct value and I hope that one day we can get to know each other better, as we began to do at the White House this afternoon over beers with President Obama," he said.
"At this point, I am hopeful that we can all move on, and that this experience will prove an occasion for education, not recrimination. I know that Sergeant Crowley shares this goal. Both of us are eager to go back to work tomorrow."
After the incident, Obama himself quickly got involved, saying at a news conference that police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, "acted stupidly."
His comment itself drew criticism and later he softened his stance, saying, "I could've calibrated those words differently."
After the meeting, Obama said in a statement he was thankful to Gates and Crowley for joining him at for "a friendly, thoughtful conversation.
"Even before we sat down for the beer, I learned that the two gentlemen spent some time together listening to one another, which is a testament to them," the president's statement said. "I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart. I am confident that has happened here tonight, and I am hopeful that all of us are able to draw this positive lesson from this episode."
Earlier Thursday, Obama said the chat was prompted by an exchange he had with Crowley, who said in a phone call with Obama, "Maybe I'll have a beer in the White House someday."
The president replied that that could be arranged.
On the meeting's being dubbed the "Beer Summit," Obama said, "It's a clever term, but this is not a summit, guys. This is three folks having a drink at the end of the day, and hopefully giving people an opportunity to listen to each other, and that's really all it is.
"This is not a university seminar. It is not a summit. It's an attempt to have some personal interaction when an issue has become so hyped and so symbolic that you lose sight of just the fact that these are people involved," he said.
He said he would be surprised if the media makes the meeting out to be more important than his meeting Thursday with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, president of the Philippines, but "the press has surprised me before."
Gates and Crowley brought their families to the White House, and the two toured the East Wing together before the meeting, officials said. The two met Obama in the Oval Office before moving out to the Rose Garden. Their families were touring the West Wing during the sit-down.
Separately, a Boston, Massachusetts, police officer became part of the controversy by referring to Gates in a mass e-mail as a "banana-eating jungle monkey."
Officer Justin Barrett later apologized, saying he's not a racist. He told a local television station on Wednesday night that he was sorry for the e-mail.
"I regret that I used such words," Barrett told CNN affiliate WCVB. "I have so many friends of every type of culture and race you can name. I am not a racist."
He was placed on administrative leave after the e-mail surfaced, and he might lose his job as a result.
Barrett's attorney, Peter Marano, on Thursday offered an apology on his behalf.
"Justin Barrett is a citizen, a husband, a father, a soldier, a police officer and a human being," Marano said in a statement. "He has made a mistake -- his poor choice in words is that mistake. His lack of thought into the possible outcome of using such words has caused this debate. Justin never intended for these words to bear such a racial connotation."
Meanwhile, a black Cambridge police sergeant on the scene the day of Gates' arrest wrote a letter to Crowley, asking him to mention to Gates and Obama that he is now known as the "black sergeant" and to some others as an "uncle Tom."
"I'm forced to ponder the notion that as a result of speaking the truth and coming to the defense of a friend and colleague, who just happens to be white, that I have somehow betrayed my heritage," Sgt. Leon Lashley wrote. "Please convey my concerns to the president that Mr. Gates' actions may have caused grave and potentially irreparable harm to the struggle for racial harmony in this country and perhaps throughout the world."
Lashley wrote in the letter he would like Gates to reflect on the incident and ask himself what responsibility he bears, what he can do to heal the rift and what he can do to mitigate the damage done to the officers' reputations.