WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, under tremendous pressure from police to clarify his remarks, spoke by telephone Friday with the Cambridge, Mass., police officer who arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and said he did not mean to publicly malign the officer when said police had "acted stupidly" in arresting Gates.
Obama made a surprise appearance at Friday's daily press briefing to personally announce that he'd spoken with Sgt. James Crowley.
"I could have calibrated those words differently," Obama said. The president maintained that the arrest was "an overreaction" but said that "Professor Gates probably overreacted as well."
Obama called the controversy a "teachable moment" and said both men are "two decent people."
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Later, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said he did not believe Obama had spoken to Gates and that Gates had no advance notice of the president's announcement.
Obama said the controversy shows that in terms of racial profiling and relations between blacks and law enforcement, "these are issues that are still very sensitive here in America.
He also said his initial input "didn't illuminate, but rather contributed to more media frenzy" and conceded, "I think that was unfortunate."
"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.
The president said he and Crowley also talked about the possibility of "he and I and Professor Gates having a beer here in the White House," but that nothing firm was scheduled.
Obama thanked reporters for their time, but took no questions.