31 Jul 2009

Obama seeks to take froth off racial flare-up

10:14 pm on 31 July 2009

US President Barack Obama has tried to quell a debate over race by sharing a beer with two men whose actions sparked questions about racial profiling by the police.

Prominent Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, a black friend of Mr Obama's, and white police sergeant James Crowley were invited to a meeting the White House said could provide a springboard for a national dialogue on race.

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

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

After having a beer with the pair in a garden outside the Oval Office, Mr Obama said he hoped "that all of us are able to draw this positive lesson from this episode".

Two lights and a Blue Moon

Sgt Crowley said it was a private and frank discussion, adding that he and Mr Gates had different perspectives.

Asked about the President's contribution to the meeting, the sergeant said: "He provided the beer."

Mr Gates said he and Sgt Crowley had been cast together "through an accident of time and place" and must use the opportunity "to foster greater sympathy among the American public for the daily perils of policing on the one hand, and for the genuine fears of racial profiling on the other hand".

For the record, Sgt Crowley had a Blue Moon (spicy orange-flavoured beer), Mr Gates a Sam Adams Light (lager-style) and Mr Obama a Bud Light, America's best-selling beer.