Who acted stupidly, the police or the president?

July 24, 2009

The tussle between a black Harvard scholar and the white police officer who arrested him is turning into a quesion on presidential judgment. 

Did President Barack Obama really need to take sides in this particular case?

It was a bit of a surprise this week when he allowed himself to get embroiled in the debate on race sparked by the arrest of Henry Louis Gates right at the end of his prime-time “get healthcare done now” news conference.


The International Brotherhood of Police Officers is furious, accusing the president of alienating public safetly officers across the country. Online polls in Massachusetts also show strong support for the arresting officer.

And suddenly the media have something far juicier to chew on than an occasionally dry debate about the intricacies of public and private health provisions.

“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 on Thursday, further fueling the debate.

“My suspicion is that words were exchanged between the police officers and Mr. Gates and that eveybody should have just settled down and cooler heads should have prevailed.”

People’s views on this incident are likely to be shaded by their own experience. Not only blacks and Hispanics, but anyone who has had a brush with an overly zealous police officer, will probably have some sympathy for Gates.

Others who believe the police are doing an extremely difficult job, a public service, under tremendous pressure, will probably see the point of view of Sergeant James Crowley.

The president obvioulsy has his own experience, and his own perspective on this.

Was it good to hear him speaking from the heart, or should he have stood aside and confined himself to the usual politician’s evasion: “I don’t know all the facts” and left it at that?

BREAKING NEWS: The president now says he could have “calibrated” his words differently. Obama popped into the White House briefing room on Friday afternoon to express regret for helping to  ratchet up the whole incident. Obama also said he hoped to invite Crowley and Gates to the White House for a beer.

Is this another example of the president overreaching himself and having to row back, or just a storm in a tea cup?

Are you satisfied with the president’s regrets? Can we all have a friendly beer together now, or do you think Mr Obama should have stuck to his guns?

Click here for more Reuters political coverage

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Obama at news conference)


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I agree with the president. The police officer did act stupidly. In my opinion, the officer only arrested Gates, because his ego was bruised. He didn’t like the things that Gate’s said to him, and wanted to abuse his authority. Once the officer verified that this is indeed the man’s home, he should have apologized and left. If Obama feels like the officer acted stupidly, he is entitled to his opinion, as the rest of us are. I don’t want to hear a “politically correct” answer, I want to hear your true opinion. In response to one of the other bloggers, there are plenty of INNOCENT people, who have died or been wounded, at the hands of some overly zealous officer, who shot first, and asked questions last.

Posted by angela | Report as abusive

Way to go King Obama; continue dragging the Office of the most powerful and (used to be) respected position in the world down into your little, prejudice, bias, muck-raking ghetto that you live in. We got the change alright, with all its glorious, little-minded, classless STUPIDITY…you’ve certainly got the audicity, indeed.
Good luck…and GOOD-BYE, sir, …sooner than later, we must hope.

Posted by Jose Fullerinski | Report as abusive

I’m withholding my judgment on the matter until Paris Hilton weighs in on it. I’m still not certain if I like her with short hair but her opinion on these things matters to people who find it important.

On the one hand Paris came out for the Old Guy but on the other, she has had her share of run ins with the police. Certainly her opinion is the most important one in biggotgate.

What does Paris Hilton Think?

I’m waiting for that article and will follow the leader.

I’m not understanding the comments being made. No one is denying the officer was right for asking for identification, but once he received proof of residency, there should not have been an arrest. I use to work in a police department, and heard plenty of stories where the officer deliberately provoked a person, just so they could arrest, or cause bodily harm. Heard it straight from the officers mouth.

Why are you calling Obama a racist? He didn’t say the officer was stupid for arresting a black man, he said he was stupid for arresting a man who identified himself as the home owner. There’s a difference.

Posted by angela | Report as abusive

The president prefaced his statement by saying Lewis is a friend. He expressed his opinion. These type of things should not be scrutinized by the media or whomever. He is entitled to an opinion as is everyone. He is human and he brings a very human side to the office of the presidency. Many, many presidents including there moms and other relatives has said worse.

Posted by MO | Report as abusive

The fact that a NEIGHBOR of the esteemed Mr. Gates called the cops on him while he was entering his own home is the first offense to Mr. Gates here. If his neighbor was so observant as to see him struggling to open his jammed door and care enough about the house’s and resident’s safety to call and report it to cambridge police, shouldn’t this same neighbor really have recognized Mr. Gates as her/his OWN NEIGHBOR? I mean, come on.

Secondly, the police officer should have shown his badge to Mr. Gates and/or told him his badge number and name. The fact that the officer refused to give Mr. Gates this information is clear indicator that the officer knew he was in the wrong, was acting in a manner innapropriate to the situation, and was avoiding accountability.

Posted by duh | Report as abusive

The police not only acted stupidly but abused their power. And that is apart from whether or not you think race played any role. Or whether or not Gates lost it, which he probably did. Don’t be so sure how you’d react if treated like a burglar in your own home.

It’s not 1955 and you can’t arrest people because you think they are “uppity.” The cop should have DEFUSED the situation once establishing that it was Gates home (which the cop said he did in the police report) by simply saying sorry for the mixup and goodnight.

This kind of arrest must occur everyday. This time the cop picked on the wrong guy.

Posted by jimmyJam | Report as abusive

I was very disturbed by Obama’s reaction and comments. His reaction was wrong on so many levels, its truly flabergasting..
- He is the president, as such he should not get involved
- He did not have all the facts, as such he should not get involved
- He pulled the race card, a president of all people should never do that
-This episode is making me think that his association with reverand Wright is not an aberation.
- This was an ungarded true insight of the president’s thinking and mind.
- I remember thinking highly of Nelson Mendela and his statesmanship, then one day he made a couple of comments on an event similar to this… And his true colors came out. He was a racist.
I beleive that botth Obama and Mandela are racists, not because they are bad people but simply because they are still victim of their past and still carrying a huge chip on their shoulder about what the white man did to them… Because of that, neither are ready to be leaders of all people..

Posted by majolie | Report as abusive

oops! forgot this line:

I don’t think Obama has misjudged the situation at all. It may be that it would have been more politically prudent not to express his views about it, but as a former attorney and community organizer, he does know what he’s talking about. I think it’s great for people who hold office to express their views, and I think it’s really a shame that our country is the kind of place where a person is attacked by the media, corporate interests, and various other groups for doing so.

I hear LOTS of conservative people in office expressing very strong and unfettered opinions. Why is it so scary when someone a little bit left of center does it?

Posted by duh | Report as abusive

This may be the weakest comment of all :

“If you weren’t at the scene, you really don’t know what happened and therefore cannot make a judgement on what happened. ”

Really? What the heck do you think occurs every second of every day in the justice system. People not at the scene make judgments about what happened. Like the DA that dropped the case did.

I read the police report. And news articles. Those are the only facts I have recourse to. And I discount the news reports. Reading the police report in a light most favorable to the cop (assuming everything he wrote is true) leads me to conclude no arrest should have been made. The cop acted as stupidly as Gates. But the cop is the one that should be trained to deescalate.

Posted by Ditto | Report as abusive

The police. The police are freaken morons. They break the law all the time. I saw one cop do this crazy illegal left turn.

Posted by Jeff | Report as abusive

sensorship of comments is very left wing of you reuters.

Any hope that I had of obama being a reasonable man with a shot at becoming a decent president was lost this week. He has proven that he is nothing more than a racial huckster who uses the race card to elevate himself and get his way. This time he, and his affirmative action race baiting pal from harvard, picked a fight with the wrong white guy.

You can only cry wolf “racism” so many times before folks get wise to your game. Just look at Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Does anyone take these frauds seriously anymore?

This professor obviously tried to provoke racism out of the officer but could not do it. The professor became further enraged when the officer treated him with the utmost respect before slapping the cuffs on him for being disorderly. Even a fellow Black officer agreed with teh arrest 100%. To make matters worse, the president fell right in line with the race baiter by siding with the professor and commenting before he had the facts.

Sadly we are stuck with a hybrid Jesse Jackson/Al Sharpton race huckster for a president who, incidentally, has never really experienced what is truly is like being black in America. Born in Hawaii? Raised by white parents? Lived in Indonesia for 7 years? Affirmative Action given Harvard degree? Can anyone identify one experience that can point to obama’s experience as a black man? He has been handed everything in life by guilty white liberals.

Posted by Perry | Report as abusive

“I hear LOTS of conservative people in office expressing very strong and unfettered opinions. Why is it so scary when someone a little bit left of center does it?”

Because Duh, Every time the left of center comments on something like this they inject the race card into it. They always end up calling someone a racist even when it is unwarranted, which 9 times out of 10 is uncalled for. This time, they picked a fight with the wrong white guy. This time the president of the united states wrongly got himself into the middle of it and the multi-racial police force stood shoulder to shoulder with the office. KUDOS to the Cambridge police for sticking up for their own who was falsly accused by the president of the United States.

It is very unprofessional and unpresidential for a president to play politics by attacking citizens. This kind of behavior is expected out of a left wing race baiting harvard professor but not the president.

Posted by Perry | Report as abusive

He is our #1 Human Being responsible for USAll He is Human,He drinks Beer than God.
He Makes mistakes thank God ,He is Right most of the time and as far as I know

Posted by stuart lawson | Report as abusive

I was a white man working at an important civil service job in a city that is 98% black and I can picture this exactly as I saw it time and again where I worked. A large fraction of black people who have done well and hold important positions (say school principal, for example)have this “Don’t you dare mess with me” attitude.

It’s an attitude that makes it alright for them to park in a handicapped spot (because they’re important). One black woman who didn’t appreciate me asking her to back up rose up in indignation to tell me I couldn’t talk to her that way “because she was the Mayor’s sister”.

While we haven’t heard all the bits and pieces of this situation in Cambridge, I think we can all agree that this wouldn’t have happened if Gates would’ve calmed down and followed the police officer’s instructions as he is bound by law to do. But it sounds like Gates was having a “you don’t mess with ME” day.

Posted by Douglas Collins | Report as abusive

There was a high level of feeling that we as a society had moved past racism to a greater extent by electing Obama, but by his comments about the police officer acting stupidly, this was a major setback. It is encouraging to see President Obama wants to mend fences by inviting Crowley and Gates to the White House. We are a forgiving society and should forgive Obama for making this more of a racial issue than it should have been.
The racial wounds have been healing for the most part since the painful case of O.J. Simpson. His case should have never been about racism, because most people admired and loved O.J Simpson when he was a football hero to blacks as well as white people. Many aspiring young running backs wanted to wear number 32 on their jersey like O.J.. The issue should have been about whether O.J. was guilty of the two murders or not; many felt he was guilty and hoped he would be more forthcoming and asking for forgiveness.
While there is still some racism on both sides, we have come a long way and should move forward in a positive way to eliminate racism.

Why do people on the internet not know how to spell or use appropriate grammar and syntax? I understand that shortcuts are easy and save time, but everyone seems to not care enough about what they are saying to take the time to proofread (or even spellcheck) their comments. Do you people really have opinions? Or are you simply fueling the fire? On both sides of this argument, every comment I’ve read is nothing more than so much inane rambling.

Posted by Tom | Report as abusive

WE told you so..This is your change..isn’t he a nice guy…He has only Good things to say about the Police… now…Spoken like a Great American President that he is …isn’t everything just hunky-dorey ..he has brought such a great feeling for america a round the world.. he should be the WORLD President…yea Comrad Obama….

Posted by Cabmaker-1 | Report as abusive

As intelligent a man as he is, The President should not have commented about the incident the way he did.
Anyway, President Obama was magnanimous enough to invite both men for a beer in the Whitehouse.
We should move on & let the President sell the Health-Reform bill.

Dev Akhbar

Posted by Dev Akhbar | Report as abusive

good post… I don’t agree with all that you said but with most of it… Although I was weary of most of his policies, I was rooting for Obama to succeed. I was particularly heartned by his take on blacks and how time had come for them to shift focus internaly to their own culture and comunities. Boy was he telling white people what they wanted to hear. As it turns out, Obama is just a better educated and smarter version of Jessy Jackson and AL Sharpton, who knew!…
Anyway, when I add this episode to his association with reverand wright, I have no choice but to say, President Obama, you have lost my support…
Its going to be along 3.5 years…

Posted by majollie | Report as abusive

The President acted stupidly in this case. I’m a minority, but I believe the police did his job profesionally and correctly.

Posted by Noel Tran | Report as abusive

To be a president does not mean that what you do is right.
He has the right to do wrong and behave as an idiot.He has right to drink a little more and to take part in one of the most important international meetings deciding on human destiny.He is right to have a few lovers while he is officially married.He has right to marsch towards his own land to re take his lost position.He is right to take part in corruptions.He has also right to resign if he thinks ” no! this is not my job “.just kdng

Posted by mani naim | Report as abusive

I (and I’m sure millions of other people want to know), why Obama even had the time to comment on the issue. Other than the fact that Obama is friends with Gates, he needs to be concerned with doing his duties. The campaign propaganda hasn’t stopped and it’s time to show some results, not showboating around at baseball games as millions of Americans starve and lose everything they’ve worked for. And as for his friend Gates, “When the police tell you to do something, just comply, believe me, it works quite well.”

It sounds to me like he had Jesse Jackson on speed dial and the race card in the other hand waiting for cops to do something that would create a stir. Never mind the fact that he was breaking into his own home (technically a crime until proof of deed) and had police called on him in an upscale neighborhood. Never mind the fact that he resisted while throwing up the race card, with a black officer on scene.

And Obama wants to damn those police who acted “stupidly” because he knows what it’s like being a black man harassed by racist cops all the time right?

Harvard just isn’t what it used to be!

Posted by judd | Report as abusive

Gates screwed-up. Period.

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

What a mess!

Posted by grw5459 | Report as abusive

Pres. Obama ONLY has about 10 major problems to deal with, INHERITED from Bush and evil Cheney. Already it looks like he has helped to avoid yet another Republican Depression.

Obama mis-spoke about this incident and has admited it. It appears Prof. Gates, the cop, and Obama will share a beer soon and discuss it in a civilized manner.

Those who make this into a big deal too easily forget the Biggest Blunder in US History that Obama is trying to deal with, the Bush/Cheney Iraq War !!!$$$

Posted by Richard | Report as abusive

Mr Hossayn Obama is the best president United States has ever had.
Mr Obama is an honest man capable of communicating at all levels.
Mr Obama is surrounded by people who constantly try to discredit him.
Mr Obama has every right to feel angry discussing the WRONGFUL ARREST.
If you are a decent American, then you should believe and support your president.
If you are not a decent American, then you will continue supporting hatred and intolerance and end up like Bush (Mess).

Posted by Razmik | Report as abusive

I think the President acted incorrectly when he referenced this issue the other night during his press conference. Likewise, I think Mr Gates and the police officer could have performed better, as well.

Obviously, the proverbial bell has been rung and life does not provide us a do-over. Having said that, however, the President — as I think is indicated by his latest comments and actions regarding the matter — has given all parties involved a way to recover with their dignity and honor intact.

Indeed, no one has to be a loser in this. Instead everyone simply needs to follow the President’s lead. Each party needs to acknowledge that if they had it all to do over again, each could have chosen actions that would have helped defuse the situation rather than inflame it. Subsequently, all three parties would vow to learn from this unfortunate incident, while offering it up to everyone as a lesson from which all of us could learn.

By the way, or for what it‘s worth, while I am a lifelong Democrat, I did not vote for Mr Obama and I have remained quite critical of his presidency to date. This incident will not change this fact, but I felt compelled to give him credit for doing the magnanimous thing after initially “blowing” the handling of this matter.

Posted by Bristol Mercheson | Report as abusive

At least those of us on the right can admit Bush made some stupid comments, but it amazes me how the left defend Obama like they do. Is there anything this man can say or do that you people will admit is wrong? For people who claim to be so open minded, you certainly son’t seem to be able to think for yourself.

You can all have your hope and change back cause this guy is terrible!!!!

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive


Posted by robo | Report as abusive

There is – in a civil society – a necessary jousting of civil liberties and civil conduct. I would say the eminent Dr. Gates could have maintained the high ground had he stuck with complaints about his individual rights, rather than class injustices. He could have been “everyman,” instead of just another minority with a chip on his shoulder. And still, it’s not even remotely clear that his individual liberties or civil rights were abused in any way.

Now to the President… To start a statement with “I don’t have all the facts” – then proceed to pontificate anyway shows a lack of impulse control. It also indicates he believes “in the absence of concrete information, I’ll side with the black man.” That smacks of racism, no?

Besides the flap over racism, what has infuriated so many decent people out in fly-over country? That the President insists on rhetoric containing useless words like “calibrate” and “regrettable” when he should have simply apologized. His original words did – in fact – impugn the motives and actions of Officer Crowley.

Posted by Bram Floria | Report as abusive

Winning the war on racial profiling is very important to President Obama. If this is the truth, why would the President say what he said, when he did not have the facts of the case. I believe that Mr. Gates was wrong, and I believe President Obama was incredibly reckless in the comments he made. The position of the President of the United States is a position of tremendous power and responsibility. Making comments as reckless as this, in my opinion, can not be forgiven. In this country, you have the right to freedom of speech, to basically say whatever it is you want to say, but as President of the United States, every statement you make has an overwhelming reaction.

I don’t believe this was a racial incident until Mr Gates brought the matter up, which was re-enforced by President Obama.

Posted by Kyle | Report as abusive

The President of the United States should choose his words carefully as he is held to the highest standard. Unfortunately his teleprompter must have been on the fritz.

The true persona comes out when his personal opinions are open to the public without editing from his staff.

Posted by TOM | Report as abusive


Posted by DONNA | Report as abusive

Let’s call a spade a spade here. President Obamma was right on the money when he said Crowley was stupid. If it were me, I would have said stupid idiot and a few other adjectives that I’m not allow to use in this blog. Thanks for the honesty Mr President!

Posted by Lori | Report as abusive

I am reminded of the old saying: “There isn’t a problem in the world that can’t be made worse by calling the cops”

Posted by Jim Wilson | Report as abusive

Obama, who was portrayed in the liberal press as the “Messia who will unite the country” has once again shown his true color; black. He has devided this country more than any President that I can recall. His fiscal policies will bankrupt this country and as the dollar slides into the toilet his “change” is worth less daily.
For those of you who can recall the Carter years with 13% inflation, 12.4% unemployment, and the prime rate was 15%,may want to consider the consequences of putting an AMATEURE in the White House.

Posted by Joe Novak | Report as abusive

I believe we should find out just who the neighbor was who called the police when Prof. Gates came home. Why did this neighbor do this? Did (s)he not know him? Not recognize him? I guess in our neighborhood we know each other well enough to recognize each other, and if we weren’t quite sure we would call out, “Who’s there!” and check it out, cellphone in hand, before we called the police. It just seems strange that if the professor had lived in his house long enough for the address to get on his license, his neighbor ought to have recognized him or at least have been reasonably sure enough to give a holler. I am curious if this neighbor could possibly have used this as a way to harass the professor.

And yes, it is a tempest in a tea cup, but if someone shows you their license with the address on it, you back off, and if the police are doing their jobs, you don’t go all postal on them. As my dad used to say, this is six of one and a half-dozen of the other. Since we weren’t there and don’t know for sure what happened, we really don’t have the right to judge for or against, and President Obama should know that. He slipped up this time.

Posted by JayPea | Report as abusive

The author should not minimize the fact that the USA is still a racist society with racist institutions, despite the much-celebrated election of a 50% black man as president.

The main issue here is racial profiling by racist officers, which happens to blacks and Latinos everyday, and not the language used by Obama.

Yes, Obama should have been more diplomatic, but it is fair to say that institutional racism continues unchecked because of such diplomatic approach and attempts by authors such as this one to shift the focus from the real problem: racism and inequality in the USA.

Posted by Vincent | Report as abusive

Obama is denigrating the highest office of our land. The teleprompter is off and he cannot resist showing his true biases and his snap judgments that are themselves totally racist. We put him in this office — will we learn? Hopefully he will be a one-term president, since he is not representing all of us, but just a slim group of people. The officer, by all accounts, followed protocol, did an admirable job with a bizarre situation and what a week he has had.

Posted by Heather | Report as abusive

American friends, why do you ask for all this perfection from your presidents? To me, Bush’s slips of tongue made him a bit more sympathetic, balancing some of his arrogance. Now Obama has demonstated that he too can make stupid remarks. So what? Judge your presidents not on their very human imperfections, but on their policies!

Posted by Peter Helby ( Copenhagen, Denmark) | Report as abusive

It’s quite worrisome when the president of the United states is so reckless as to make a determination like this after admitting that he hasn’t got all the facts.
Is this what he is really like without his teleprompter?

Posted by Davi998 | Report as abusive

as latino many times I been profiled,just because I own my business and drive a mercedes benz,it depends in wich city of Birmingham,AL. it happens very often, both white and black police officers are the same.

“So Obama makes a mistake by not getting all the facts before merely talking, then gets all the facts and tries to make amends. That’s far better than Bush ever did. Obama’s mistake isn’t going to cost us $3 billion.”
- Posted by borisjimbo

That’s right. Obama’s mistakes have cost us 7 trillion. So far.

Posted by Whoopsie | Report as abusive

Are police “over-zealous”? Yes, of course. My experience is that today police have very little tolerance for citizens who “get up in their faces”. I believe that’s a general problem for police forces, period.

On the other hand, you have a man (Gates) who has made a very nice life out of being a victim. Does anyone have any surprise that upon being arrested on the nebulous charge of “disorderly conduct” that he would claim the role of black victim of system? It’s what he does, it is how he makes his living.

The notion that 2 Harvard educated black men are going to sit down with a white blue collar cop and “have a beer together” is a joke, an elitist fantasy of class harmonies. (Anyone talking about economic profiling these days?) Bottom line: Racial profiling does still exist here in the USA but this case is not one of them. Reading the police report (even if one assumes bias), it’s clear that Gates was offended that he, in his exalted status as a well-known Harvard personality, wasn’t being deferred to. The cop did his job by the book–and for the record, I’m not a big fan of cops, having had my own issues with them. Gates was behaving exactly the way privileged white men used to behave, except that in 2009 instead of being let off the hook for obnoxious behavior like his white counterparts had been in the past, he was arrested. These politically correct days, a white man would have been arrested also…Gates, get over yourself! And the Prez, knowing one of the people involved, in this particular case, should have kept his mouth shut and let the matter sort itself out on its own…

Posted by kushka53 | Report as abusive

There was absolute Racial Profiling going on. The President profiled the arresting officer based on his race that HE must be in the wrong simply because he was a white officer arresting a black male.

End of story. It goes both ways and racism is alive and well and the President proved it by his statements based on no information other than a black man was arrested so of course the white officer was ‘stupid’.

If the situation were reversed I doubt that he would have felt a need to call the police stupid. Of course I suppose when his buddy the Terrorist was arrested for blowing up police buildings and later arrested those who arrested him were probably ‘stupid’ too.

Isn’t it a little scary that the message is out there LOUD AND CLEAR? Don’t mess with Obama or his friends or you and your family will be attacked? Look what happened to Joe the Plumber for asking a simple question that Obama accidentally answered truthfully.

Americans… be afraid. Be very afraid when the result of a perceived insult to Obama or one of his friends of ends in you being in the hot seat. It is just the first step…. Not unlike Germany in the 30′s… It always starts with an egomaniac and small steps then leaps and bounds from there.

The first sign is Obama’s inability to apologize for his behavior. It is easy for him to apologize for everyone else’s behavior but his must be beyond personal review for how could he possibly do anything that would require an apology.

So the question isn’t whether Obama was stupid or the police officer… The question is. How Stupid are “We the People”? Or have we just been duped?

Posted by Tweak | Report as abusive

Officer Crowley should be fired for refusing to give Prof Gates his Name and Badg#. He thinks he doesnt have
to answer to or apologize to any Black man. Pure and simple.

Posted by Jerry | Report as abusive

I am glad the president stood up for the common’s man rights. We have to many police officers that think that they are judge dredd. They are almost always slanting the truth in the situation to favot the state…aren’t police officers supposed to tell what happened without bias or predujice (to serve and protect…it appears that many of our law enforecement officers are incapable of performing their jobs less often than not). If the officers of the law are unable to bring people to justice without influencing their bias….would we really have justice? I think not, and with that said we have a bunch of ignorant A.H pointing our judiary system in the wrong direction and will not do anything but punish the punishable (which is not justice!).

Posted by Jeff C | Report as abusive