Published July 30, 2009
After nearly a week of anticipation, happy hour finally arrived Thursday at the White House.
President Obama knocked back some cold beer in the Rose Garden with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and police Sgt. James Crowley of Cambridge, Mass., the two men at the heart last week of a heated debate over race in America.
Vice President Biden also joined them in a gathering that some dubbed the "beer summit" to clear the air after the recent uproar. Obama described it afterward as a "friendly, thoughtful conversation."
"I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart," Obama said. "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."
The dispute began July 16 when Crowley, while investigating a report of a potential burglary at Gates' house, arrested the agitated professor on a charge of disorderly conduct. Gates, who is black, accused the white sergeant of racial profiling. The disorderly conduct charge was dropped -- but the dispute exploded into a national debate, particularly after Obama said the police had "acted stupidly" in arresting Gates.
Obama later said he could have "calibrated" his words differently, and he organized Thursday's gathering to diffuse any remaining tension and settle the matter with a conversation over each man's brew of choice.
Gates and Crowley, dressed in dark suits, had Sam Adams Light and Blue Moon, respectively, while Obama, in rolled-up shirt sleeves, had a Bud Light. Biden joined them for a non-alcoholic Buckler beer.
They also munched on peanuts and pretzels served in small silver bowls as the media snapped photos.
Crowley said at a news conference after the meeting that he and Gates have agreed to meet again to continue their conversation.
"This was a positive step in moving forward as opposed to reliving the events of the last couple weeks," he said, adding that he hopes it will be the basis of meaningful conversations in the future.
When asked if anything was solved in the meeting, Crowley said "I think what you had today was two gentlemen agreeing to disagree on a particular issue. I don't think that we spent too much time dwelling on the past. We spent a lot of time discussing the future."
Gates followed with a message on The Root, a Web site he edits, saying that he had developed a greater appreciation for police officers and their "daily sacrifices on our behalf."
"It is incumbent upon Sergeant Crowley and me to utilize this great opportunity that fate has given us," he said.
Before the meeting, Obama had tried to downplay its significance.
"With respect to tonight, I have to say I'm fascinated with the fascination about this evening," Obama told reporters. "I know this has been called the 'beer summit.' It's a clever term, but this is not a summit, guys. It's three folks having a drink at the end of the day and hopefully giving people an opportunity to listen to each other. And that's all it is.
"This is not a university seminar. It's not a summit. It's an attempt to add some personal interaction when an issue has become so hyped and so symbolic that you lose sight of the fact that these are people involved including myself, all of whom are imperfect."