Barack Obama - The Beer Summit

Last Updated : Apr 18, 2010


In the summer of 2009, a friend of President Obama's was arrested after police responded to a breaking and entering call.  President Obama's friend is African American and the arresting cop was white.  Charges of racism ensued and President Obama made unsubstantiated claims about the officer's behavior.  When his claims drew criticism, President Obama called for a beer summit with the arresting officer and the President's friend. 


Timeline of Events

On July 16, 2009, the Cambridge, Massachusetts police department responded to a report of two men possibly breaking into a house.  Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley responded to the call, and eventually arrested Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr..

Professor Gates claimed that when he returned home from a trip to China, he found that his front door was jammed shut. After he entered through the back door, he again attempted to open the front door with assistance of the taxi driver. During this attempt, a neighbor saw the two men pushing on the door and called the police.

Sgt Crowley and numerous other police officers arrived at the scene not long after the taxi driver left, and there are differing accounts of the events that transpired afterwards.

According to Gates, he saw Crowley at his door as he was speaking to the Harvard Real Estate Office to have his front door fixed. When he opened the front door, Crowley immediately asked him to step outside. Gates did not comply and asked Crowley why he was there. When told that Crowley was a police officer investigating a reported breaking and entering, Gates replied that it was his house, and he was a Harvard faculty member. Crowley asked Gates whether he could prove it; Gates told him he could, and turned to go to the kitchen to fetch his wallet. Crowley followed him into the house. Gates then handed Crowley his Harvard University ID and a current driver's license, both including his photograph, the license also giving his address. 

Gates then asked Crowley for his name and badge number, but Crowley did not respond. Following repeated requests for Crowley's name and badge number, the officer left the kitchen; Gates followed him to the front door. As he stepped out the front door and asked the other officers for Crowley's name and badge number, Crowley said, "Thank you for accommodating my earlier request," and arrested Gates on his front porch.

In an interview published in The Root on July 21st, Gates said that when Crowley first asked him to step outside onto the porch, "the way he said it, I knew he wasn’t canvassing for the police benevolent association. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I realized that I was in danger. And I said to him no, out of instinct. I said, 'No, I will not.'" "He demanded that I step out on the porch, and I don't think he would have done that if I was a white person." Gates called the references to loud and tumultuous behavior in the police report a "joke"; he had been physically incapable of yelling at the time, due to a severe bronchial infection. As he was walked to the car in handcuffs, he asked, "Is this how you treat a black man in America?"

According to the police report, Crowley arrived at the scene, went up to the front door, and asked Gates to step outside. Crowley explained he was investigating the report of a break-in in progress; as he did so, Gates opened the front door and said, "Why, because I'm a black man in America?"

Crowley's report states that he believed Gates was lawfully in the residence, but that he was surprised and confused by Gates' behavior. Crowley then asked Gates for a photo ID so as to verify he was the resident of the house; Gates initially refused, but then did supply his Harvard University identification card. Crowley wrote that Gates repeated shouted requests for his identification. Crowley then told Gates that he was leaving his residence and that if Gates wanted to continue discussing the matter, he would speak to him outside. Gates replied, "Ya, I'll speak with your mama outside." On the 911 dispatcher audio recordings, a man's loud voice is heard in the background at several points during Sgt. Crowley's transmissions.

Gates stepped onto his front porch and continued to yell at him, accusing him of racial bias and saying he had not heard the last of him. Faced with this tumultuous behavior from Gates now outside his residence, Crowley warned Gates that he was becoming disorderly. When Gates ignored this warning and persisted in his behavior, and likewise ignored a second warning from Crowley, Crowley informed him that he was under arrest.


Involvement of the President

The controversy involved President Obama when he was asked during a health care press conference what he thought the arrest said about race relations in America.  The President then recounted the event noting that at the time it was believed that Professor Gates lost his keys.  Despite acknowledging that he did not have all the facts at hand, the President stated that it could not be denied that the police in the incident "acted stupidly".  He then went on to cite that statistics show that blacks and hispanics are targeted by cops more often than other races, tying one issue to the other.



The Beer Summit 

This response caused in uproar in some communities as it seemed that the President was placing the police at fault for the incident based on the past history of the entire country.  In response to this, President Obama held what was later called "The Beer Summit" where Officer Crowley, Professor Gates, President Obama, and Vice President Biden talked about race relations while having a beer at the White House.



[1] Website: The Smoking Gun Article: Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Police Report Author: NA Accessed on: 04/12/2010

[2] Website: Real Clear Politics Article: Obama's Henry Gates-gate Author: Clarence Page Accessed on: 04/12/2010

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