Page last updated at 21:28 GMT, Friday, 24 July 2009 22:28 UK

Obama regrets 'stupid' comments


Obama regrets 'Gates Gate' remarks

US President Barack Obama has told reporters he should not have described the arrest of a black Harvard professor as "stupid".

Mr Obama has faced criticism for wading into the controversy during a televised news conference on Wednesday.

Professor Gates was apprehended at his own home after a witness saw him apparently trying to force his way in.

He was held for disorderly conduct after allegedly accusing the arresting officer, Sgt James Crowley, of racism.

I could have calibrated those words differently
President Barack Obama

Making a surprise appearance at the daily White House press briefing, Mr Obama said he should have chosen his words more carefully at his Wednesday news conference.

"Because this has been ratcheting up and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up, I wanted to make clear in my choice of words I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sgt Crowley specifically," Mr Obama said.

"I could have calibrated those words differently," he added.

Mr Obama also revealed that he had spoken to Sgt Crowley on the telephone, and described him as an "outstanding police officer and a good man".

He said he continued to believe that Professor Gates's arrest was "an overreaction", but that "Professor Gates probably overreacted as well".

Obama critics

On Wednesday, Mr Obama had said: "The Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home."

Professor Gates at a book signing in 2006
Professor Gates leads the African American research centre at Harvard

And he put the arrest in the context of "the long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately".

Critics seized on his comments, saying the president should not be getting involved in individual cases, especially if he was not in full possession of the facts.

Officers were called to Prof Gates's house after a woman reported seeing two black males - the professor and his driver - trying to force entry.

Prof Gates's lawyer later said the professor had just returned from a trip overseas and, upon arriving at the property with a driver, found his front door jammed and had to force it open.

Although the exact facts of the incident are disputed, Prof Gates was asked to provide the officer with identification. He was then asked to step outside his house and was arrested.

According to police, Prof Gates shouted at the officer and accused him of racial bias.

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