Obama more bartender than mediator at beer summit

Fri Jul 31, 2009 7:29am EDT
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By David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama played bartender-in-chief on Thursday at a "beer summit" of the main players in a racially charged case that he hoped would be a "positive lesson" in a national dialogue on race.

Obama, the first black U.S. president, said it was a "friendly, thoughtful" conversation over beer at the White House with prominent Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, who is black, and police Sergeant James Crowley, who is white.

Crowley arrested Gates, a well-known documentary filmmaker, for disorderly conduct on July 16 after a confrontation at the professor's home, sparking a media frenzy as Gates, 58, accused the policeman of racial profiling. Crowley, who had taught courses against racial profiling, denied that.

Obama inflamed the situation by saying he thought police "acted stupidly" in arresting his friend.

"I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart," Obama said in a statement after the meeting in a garden outside the Oval Office.

"I am confident that has happened here tonight, and I am hopeful that all of us are able to draw this positive lesson from this episode."

Race remains a prominent and sensitive issue in the United States, which has struggled to overcome a legacy of slavery, segregation and discrimination.

Crowley said it was a private and frank discussion, adding he and Gates have different perspectives.   Continued...

<p>President Barack Obama (R) sits down for a beer with Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates (2nd L), Cambridge, Massachusetts, police Sergeant James Crowley (2nd R) and Vice President Joe Biden to try to start a dialogue on better race relations in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, July 30, 2009. REUTERS/Jim Young</p>