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Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. moderated his vociferous demands for police apologies on Friday, saying that he would be glad to share a beer with President Barack Obama and Sgt. James Crowley at the White House, and that he, too, hoped his experience could be used as a "teaching moment."
"If my experience leads to the lessening of the occurrence of racial profiling, then I would find that enormously gratifying," Gates wrote in a statement on the website of the African American culture magazine The Root, of which he is editor-in-chief. "Because, in the end, this is not about me at all; it is about the creation of a society in which 'equal justice before law' is a lived reality."
The remarks appear to suggest a shift in tone from only days earlier, when Gates had called on Crowley, the officer who had arrested him, to "beg my forgiveness." Gates, who had also publicly flirted with the idea of filing a lawsuit against police over the encounter, said in a television interview on Tuesday that "this [incident] has just to do with human relations between a man who did something terribly wrong and then lied about it."
But since then, the media's attention has shifted dramatically, as new details and accounts of the incident have been revealed. Crowley, who taught a police academy class on racial profiling for several years, has repeatedly stated that he would not apologize and that Gates had behaved loudly and irrationally at the scene. He has since received the full support of various police unions and a black police officer who had also been on the scene.
And Obama, who had said earlier in the week that police "acted stupidly" in arresting Gates, acknowledged Friday that his word choice was flawed and that both parties may have overreacted during the confrontation. The President was reportedly concerned that his words had distracted from his health care reform efforts and helped fuel the media "obsession," and called Crowley and Gates to have a beer at the White House.
"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 emphasized that people should take care to "not extrapolate too much from the facts" and that Crowley and Gates are "two decent people."
"My hope is...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," Obama said.
Now, Gates seems to have tempered his own incendiary demands for an apology as well, stating that his "principal regret" was distracting attention from the President's health care initiative. He said that he would use a new documentary for PBS to study the history of racial profiling.
"My entire academic career had been based on improving race relations, not exacerbating them," Gates said in an e-mail to the Boston Globe. "I am hopeful that my experience will lead to greater sensitivity to issues of racial profiling in the criminal justice system. If so, then this will be a blessing for our society. It is time for all of us to move on, and to assess what we can learn from this experience."
—Staff writer Peter F. Zhu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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