"The president was right on target [on] racial profiling. We all know we come from communities where some of us actually understand and have been racially profiled," said Rep. Barbara Lee, D- Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The lawyer for the union representing the Cambridge police said that president was wrong to conflate the Gates case with the history of racism in the U.S.
"Notwithstanding my great respect for President Obama, I think he was dead wrong to malign this police officer specifically and the department in general. This is an excellent police department dedicated to non-discrimination," said Alan McDonald, the lawyer for the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association.
"It was inappropriate to use the situation to implicate the history of racism in America. This had nothing to do with race and everything to do with Gates' behavior," McDonald said.
Larry Ellison, president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, said, "I think he was saying it as a friend of 'Skip' Gates, but he's got to rememberhe's the president of the United States and what he said has global implications for police."
While black leaders praised Obama for entering the fray, they cautioned that the president alone could not heal a centuries-old wound.
Obama has discussed race relations only a few times since running for the presidency and taking office, most recently at a meeting last week of the NAACP.
In that speech, Obama spoke more about black Americans taking responsibility in their own lives, more than about institutional racism in the U.S.
As a state senator in Illinois, Obama sponsored a bill that would study racial profiling by police in that state.
He also spoke out against the conviction of six black teenagers from Jena, La., who were accused in 2006 of beating a white man.
"Obama is the president for all American not just black Americans. He has enough on his plate as commander in chief – two wars, an economy in the tank – that he should not necessarily become the healer in chief," said Brazile.
"This was not an abstract question on race. 'Skip' Gates is a friend of the Obamas and Barack went to Harvard," she said. "His role is important and his voice is important. But if Americans want to fix race in America, in the big picture, it's going to be up to us to have that conversation."