WASHINGTON -- (AP) President Barack Obama was asked at his primetime White House news conference Wednesday about the recent arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Gates, who is African-American, has been trying to push open the front door of his house, which was stuck, which prompted a neighbor to call police.
"I should say at the outset that Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here," the president said. "I don't know all the facts." He said the initial situation – in which police were called after seeing someone attempting to enter the house in an unconventional way – was fine.
"I mean, if I was trying to jigger into - well, I guess [the White House] is my house now, so…" he said, prompting laughter. "It probably wouldn't happen. But let's say my old house in Chicago. Here, I'd get shot."
"My understanding is, at that point, Professor Gates is already in his house," he said. "The police officer comes in. I'm sure there's some exchange of words. But my understanding is, is that Professor Gates then shows his I.D. to show that this is his house and, at that point, he gets arrested for disorderly conduct, charges which are later dropped.
"Now, I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that," Mr. Obama continued. "But I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there's a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That's just a fact."
The president then said that a racial profiling bill he worked on in the Illinois state legislature, which was prompted by "indisputable evidence that blacks and Hispanics were being stopped disproportionately," was a sign of how "race remains a factor in the society."
"And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently and often time for no cause casts suspicion even when there is good cause," the president said. "And that's why I think the more that we're working with local law enforcement to improve policing techniques so that we're eliminating potential bias, the safer everybody is going to be."
The police sargent accused of racism in Gates' arrest, Sgt. James Crowley, said Wednesday he would not apologize to Gates, who has demanded an apology.