Thursday, July 23, 2009

Obama and Henry Louis Gates

By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 23, 2009; 10:12 AM

President Obama said Wednesday night that racial issues still haunt America, even as he noted "the incredible progress that has been made."

Obama was asked at the end of his news conference about the arrest last week of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. outside his home. The incident has sparked a national discussion about race relations.

Obama noted that "Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here," and he referred to the professor's account of arriving home to find a jammed door, forcing it open and then being confronted by a white police officer looking for proof that Gates lived in the house. According to Gates's account, he showed the officer his ID and became angry when the officer would not identify himself.

The president said he understands the professor's outrage. If he were trying to "jigger into" his old house in Chicago, Obama said, he would assume that the police would be called on him as well. But once Gates showed his ID, he added, it seemed to him the officer should have considered the issue resolved.

"Now, I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that," Obama said. "But I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home."

The remarks received extensive coverage overnight on blogs and top billing on several television news shows Thursday morning.

"What I think we know, separate and apart from this incident, is that there's a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That's just a fact," Obama said Wednesday night. He said he had pushed for the passage of a bill in the Illinois legislature to address the problem.

Obama went on to say that he stood in the White House "as testimony to the progress that's been made."

"And yet the fact of the matter is . . . this still haunts us," he said. "And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently, and oftentime for no cause, casts suspicion, even when there is good cause." to complete WP article

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