With mugs of beer and calm conversation, President Obama tried to get past a political uproar Thursday, hailing a "friendly, thoughtful" conversation with the black professor and Irish cop whose dispute had ignited a fierce debate over race in America.
"I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart," the nation's first black president said after the highly anticipated meeting ended. "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."
Under the canopy of a magnolia tree in the early evening, Obama joined the other players in a story that had knocked the White House off stride: Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cambridge, Mass., Police Sgt. James Crowley.
Vice President Joe Biden was with them on a Rose Garden patio.
"We agreed to move forward," Crowley said later when asked if anything was solved. "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."
The issue in question began when Crowley investigated a potential burglary at Gates' house and ended up arresting the protesting professor for disorderly conduct. The matter mushroomed into a debate on racial profiling, fueled when Obama said in a prime-time news conference that the police "acted stupidly." He later expressed regret.
Gates said after Thursday's White House gathering that he hoped the entire experience would prove to be an "occasion for education, not recrimination." He said the burden now rests with him and Crowley to use the opportunity to foster wider awareness of the dangers facing police officers and the fears that some blacks have about racial profiling.
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