Black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. says he's ready to move on from his arrest by a white police officer, hoping to use the encounter to improve fairness in the criminal justice system and saying "in the end, this is not about me at all."
After a phone call from President Barack Obama urging calm in the aftermath of his arrest last week, Gates said he would accept Obama's invitation to the White House for a beer with him and Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley.
In a statement posted Friday on The Root, a Web site Gates oversees, the scholar said he told Obama he'd be happy to meet with Crowley, whom Gates had accused of racial profiling.
"I told the president that my principal regret was that all of the attention paid to his deeply supportive remarks during his press conference had distracted attention from his health care initiative," Gates said. "I am pleased that he, too, is eager to use my experience as a teaching moment, and if meeting Sergeant Crowley for a beer with the president will further that end, then I would be happy to oblige."
It was a marked change in tone for Gates, who in the days following his arrest gathered up his legal team and said he was contemplating a lawsuit. He even vowed to make a documentary on his arrest to tie into a larger project about racial profiling.
In an e-mail to the Boston Globe late Friday, he said: "It is time for all of us to move on, and to assess what we can learn from this experience."
In a statement to The Associated Press, Gates promised to do all he could so others could learn from his arrest.
"This could and should be a profound teaching moment in the history of race relations in America," Gates said. "I sincerely hope that the Cambridge police department will choose to work with me toward that goal."
Gates, 58, did not say in his statement if he planned to file a lawsuit.
Crowley did not return a telephone message seeking comment Saturday.
The outcry began Monday, when word broke that Gates had been arrested five days earlier at the two-story home he rents from Harvard.
Supporters called the arrest an outrageous act of racial profiling. Public interest increased when a photograph surfaced of the handcuffed Gates being escorted off his porch amid three officers.
Cambridge police moved to drop the disorderly conduct charge on Tuesday — without apology, but calling the case "regrettable."
Obama, who had said Cambridge police "acted stupidly" in arresting Gates, sought to tamp down the uproar Friday. He spoke to Crowley and Gates during separate telephone calls and declared that Crowley was a good man.
Obama invited the officer and the professor to the White House for a beer. He conceded his words had been ill-chosen, but he stopped short of a public apology.
A trio of Massachusetts police unions released a joint statement shortly after Obama's latest comments, saying Crowley had a friendly and meaningful conversation with the president.
"We appreciate his sincere interest and willingness to reconsider his remarks about the Cambridge Police Department," according to the statement. "It is clear to us from this conversation, that the President respects police officers and the often difficult and dangerous situations we face on a daily basis."
Gates added that he hoped his arrest would lead to a greater understanding about racial profiling in America.
"If my experience leads to the lessening of the occurrence of racial profiling, then I would find that enormously gratifying," Gates said on The Root. "Because, in the end, this is not about me at all; it is about the creation of a society in which 'equal justice before law' is a lived reality."