Obama Defends Criticism of Cambridge Police in Arrest of Gates

Speaking about race, the president said that while African Americans and Hispanics are more frequently stopped by police, "That doesn't lessen the incredible progress we've made. I'm standing here as testimony to that. And yet the fact of the matter is it still haunts us."

Jim Carnell, union representative of the Boston Patrolmen Association, said the president's comments are unforgiveable.

"With one sentence, our president set this country back 100 years. For the president of the United States to use a prime-time news conference to push through comments in favor of his friend that cast police officer in this country as stupid is unforgiveable," Carnell said at the headquarters of the Boston police.

Charles P. Wilson, National Chairman of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, told ABC News that the officers involved "could have taken a different path on handling that case" but also said that the president could have used different language.

"I want the president of this country, regardless of who he is -- a black man in the White House, a white man in the White House, or any other person in the White House -- to be able to acknowledge and recognize there are still issues of race in America," Wilson said.

Some Republicans seized on the president's comments. The National Republican Senatorial Committee launched banner advertisements on "select web sites" asking people to vote on whether Obama's comments were presidential.

Crowley said he won't apologize for the way he responded, even though the Harvard professor has asked for one.

"The apology won't come from me. I've done nothing wrong," he told WBZ.

Gates' attorney, on the other hand, said they were pleased by the president's comments.

Charles Ogletree, Gates' attorney and a fellow Harvard professor, told "Good Morning America's" Dan Harris today that Gates "was simply pleased that Barack acknowledged he was a friend and what he had read and heard and understood to have been reported that Professor Gates did not violate the law."

The Boston Herald reported that Crowley is the same police officer who, 16 years ago, gave basketball player Reggie Lewis mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as the Celtics star suffered a fatal heart attack. The paper said many questioned at that time about whether Crowley did enough to save the black player in the aftermath of the incident.

ABC News' George Stephanopoulos said on "Good Morning America" that Obama's joke about breaking into the White House and getting arrested was "a real human solid moment" but that his comments that the Cambridge police had acted "stupidly" in arresting Gates may have crossed the line.

His comments are unlikely to hurt the president, but it certainly has moved the focus of attention from health care to the Gates controversy.

Was Gates 'Belligerent?'

One of Crowley's neighbors supported the sergeant's account, saying that the police report that said Gates was "belligerent" was not completely off the mark.

Today Ogletree told "GMA" that Gates "made that clear that he'd be happy to talk" with Crowley to discuss the incident.

Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons, who apologized to Gates after the incident, said she would like to meet with the professor, the police chief and the arresting officer. She said she was not expecting Obama's comments.

"I was surprised to hear it come up in a press conference in Washington, D.C., that was about health care reform," she told "Good Morning America."

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