Nouveau psychodrame national américain après la (courte) arrestation de Henry L. Gates, l'un des plus célèbres intellectuels noirs américains, et professeur à Harvard. Barack Obama l'a soutenu en traitant le policier qui l'avait arrêté d'avoir agi d'une manière "stupide" ; mais ce soir, le président est revenu sur ses remarques en s'excusant d'avoir traité le policier de "stupide". Visiblement, Gates a suréagi à l'intervention de la police, pourtant venue protéger sa demeure près d'Harvard. Barack Obama a proposé avec humour que les trois hommes se retrouvent à la Maison Blanche pour en discuter...

Les principaux extraits (en anglais) de la polémique et des faits, tels que rapportés par le New York Times. Pour paraphraser Sartre, "être noir n'est pas un problème, mais avoir un problème et être noir c'est avoir deux problèmes".



"Obama Says He Regrets His Language on Gates Arrest"




WASHINGTON — President Obama said Friday that he “could have calibrated” his words more carefully in the controversy over the arrest of a black Harvard professor by a white police officer, but added that there had been an “overreaction” by both sides in a case that touched off an intense discussion about race in America.

“To the extent that my choice of words didn’t illuminate, but rather contributed to more media, I think, that was unfortunate,” Mr. Obama said, making an unusual unannounced visit to the White House briefing room in an effort to ease the controversy.

The president, who on Wednesday said that the police in Cambridge, Mass., “acted stupidly” in the arrest of Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr., a prominent Harvard scholar of African-American history, sought to clear up the matter. He said he hoped the case could become “a teachable moment” to be used to improve relations between minorities and police officers.

The president said that he conveyed his sentiment to Sgt. James Crowley in a telephone call on Friday afternoon. The call, which lasted about five minutes, came after police officials in Massachusetts and beyond accused Mr. Obama of maligning the character of Sergeant Crowley and the entire Cambridge police force.

“I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up, I wanted to make clear that in my choice of words, I think, I unfortunately, I think, gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sergeant Crowley specifically,” Mr. Obama told reporters. “I could have calibrated those words differently, and I told this to Sergeant Crowley.”

Mr. Obama did not specifically use the word “apology,” but aides said that was the sentiment conveyed during his call with the police officer. Mr. Obama, the nation’s first black president, has walked a careful line in his writings and in his political career when addressing race. Since taking office six months ago, he has delivered only a handful of speeches devoted specifically to race.

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But an unscripted remark at a news conference on Wednesday evening — particularly the two words “acting stupidly” — touched off a widespread discussion about race that overshadowed the promotion of the president’s health care plan and other agenda items.

“I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home to the station,” Mr. Obama added. “I also continue to believe, based on what I heard that Professor Gates probably overreacted as well. My sense is you’ve got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved and the way they would have liked it to be resolved.”

Professor Gates was arrested on July 16, when the police were called to his Cambridge home after a report of a burglary in progress. The professor said he told the police that he lived in the house and that he was jimmying open a damaged front door. Still, the police report said he was arrested for “loud and tumultuous behavior in a public space.”

The disorderly conduct charges against Professor Gates were later dropped, and the city of Cambridge, its police department, the Middlesex County district attorney’s office and Professor Gates issued a joint statement calling the incident “regrettable and unfortunate.”

The brief and surprise appearance by Mr. Obama before reporters on Friday afternoon was an attempt by the White House to move beyond the controversy that has dominated the last two days.

Only hours earlier, Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, said the president had made his final remarks about the issue. But advisers said the mounting criticism from police groups and others persuaded the president to address the matter in an attempt to move on.

Mr. Obama, carefully measuring his words to avoid further criticism from either side, “Even when you’ve got a police officer who has a fine track record on racial sensitivity, interactions between police officers and the African-American community can sometimes be fraught with misunderstanding.”

One hour after calling Sergeant Crowley, Mr. Obama reached Professor Gates by telephone. An administration official said the call was "a positive discussion," and that it ended with an invitation for the professor and the police officer to meet at the White House — to have a beer, as the president said in his remarks to reporters. There was no immediate word on whether Professor Gates accepted the invitation.

Trying to lighten the moment in the press room, Mr. Obama said of his conversation with Sergeant Crowley: “He also did say he wanted to find out if there was a way of getting the press off his lawn. I informed him that I can’t get the press off my lawn. He pointed out that my lawn is bigger than his lawn.”

And though he conceded that he should have approached the issue somewhat differently on Wednesday night, Mr. Obama said he disagreed that he should not have stepped into it at all.

“The fact that this has become such a big issue I think is indicative of the fact that, you know, race is still a troubling aspect of our society,” Mr. Obama said. “Whether I were black or white, I think that me commenting on this — and hopefully contributing to constructive, as opposed to negative, understandings about the issue — is part of my portfolio.”

The president’s impromptu news conference diffused the bold statements by leaders of the Cambridge and Massachusetts police officer unions made two hours earlier in seeking his apology along with one from Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts for linking racial profiling to the arrest.

At a news conference in a Cambridge hotel Friday morning, Sergeant Crowley stood flanked by other officers. While he did not speak, a day after offering two long interviews to Boston news organizations, his union representatives spoke for him, with forceful words for the president.

Sgt. Dennis O’Connor, the president of the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association, said he was offended by President Obama’s assertion that the police department had acted “stupidly,” and by his connecting those actions to a history of racial profiling in America.

“The facts of this case suggest that the president used the right adjective, but directed it to the wrong party,” Sergeant O’Connor said, suggesting that Professor Gates had introduced racial concerns. “His remarks were obviously misdirected, but made worse yet by a suggestion that somehow this case should remind us of a history of racial abuse by law enforcement.”

Governor Patrick had weighed in Tuesday when the charges of disorderly conduct against Professor Gates were dropped, calling the incident “troubling,” and saying that it was “every black man’s nightmare.”

Sergeant O’Connor said, in prepared remarks, that the Cambridge police officers “deeply resent the implication and reject any suggestion that in this case or in any other case, they allow race to direct their activities.”

And to President Obama and Governor Patrick, he said, “We hope they will reflect on their past comments and apologize to the men and women of the Cambridge police department.” Steve Killian, the president of the Cambridge Police Patrol Officers Association, who described himself as a third-generation Cambridge police officer, said even more bluntly, “I think the President should make an apology to all law personnel throughout the entire country.”

He started his statement by saying, “Cambridge police are not stupid.”

Since the arrest occurred on the front porch of Professor Gates’s home in Cambridge last Thursday afternoon, both the sergeant and the professor have offered divergent accounts, each accusing the other of belligerent and strange behavior.

At heart, the dispute between Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley centers on two things: which one treated the other rudely and whether they properly identified themselves. Professor Gates, 58, says the sergeant repeatedly refused to reveal his name or badge number; Sergeant Crowley, 42, says the professor initially refused to provide identification, then produced only his Harvard ID card, which included no address, to prove he lived in the house.

Earlier in the week, Professor Gates requested a personal apology from Sergeant Crowley. But on Thursday, the sergeant said he would not offer one.

President Obama fueled the story — and the polarizing national debate about race and law enforcement in America — on Wednesday night by commenting on the arrest at the end of a national news conference that was primarily about health care reform.

Sergeant O’Connor said at Friday’s news conference that the president went too far. When a person says up front they do not know the facts, as President Obama and Governor Patrick both said in their separate comments, Sergeant O’Connor said, “one would expect the next statement to be, ‘So I cannot comment.’ ”

Mr. McDonald, his group’s lawyer, said the president’s conclusion about the case “was dead wrong.”

“If he knew all the facts,” Mr. McDonald said, “he would have concluded that had Professor Gates simply cooperated with the investigation that Sergeant Crowley was undertaking, Sergeant Crowley could have cleared the matter.”

He added: “In our view there was nothing stupid about what happened. What happened to produce a different outcome was directly under the control of Professor Gates. That’s something the president didn’t fully appreciate.”



* Jeff Zeleny reported from Washington and Liz Robbins from New York. Abby Goodnough contributed reporting from Boston. Ariana Green from Cambridge, Mass., and and Helene Cooper from Washington.


Copyright : New York Times