July 26, 2009 -- As Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley prepare for beers with President Obama, some hope the toasting at the White House will be just the start of new, long-needed conversations about race in this country.
"There's no reason to sweep it under the rug. For too long in our history we have just not wanted to have this conversation," Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said today on ABC News' "This Week With George Stephanopoulos."
"We can have a very constructive face-to-face conversation -- pull the resentment, the fear -- so that people can come to a point of tolerance and acceptance," she said.
Crowley arrested Gates at the Harvard professor's home in Cambridge, Mass., earlier this month on a charge of disorderly conduct. Gates allegedly argued with Crowley, who was at the home to investigate a report of a possible break-in. Gates later said he and his driver were trying to open a broken lock on his home.
White House Press Secretary Gibbs said on "Fox News Sunday" that the meeting over beers could happen soon.
"Sgt. Crowley told the president he was game, and I read that professor Gates is the same way, so hopefully we can get that done in the next several days," he said.
But that meeting may only be the start of the healing.
Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons told ABC News today that the city will host a forum on race later this summer.
"What this has provided us is an opportunity to look at an unfortunate situation and look at what we can bring out of that to make our city better," Simmons said.
"It's about having community dialogue, giving people a constructive opportunity to talk about what's on their mind," she said.
"We don't live in a color-blind society, and Cambridge is no different than the rest of the country," Simmons said.
Black Men 'Too Scared' of Police
Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, a sociologist and an Obama biographer, told CBS' "Face the Nation" that Gates' behavior toward the police officer at the time of his arrest was unusual. Gates was said to have yelled at Crowley and called him a racist, according to the police report.
"Most black men would never say what professor Gates allegedly said, according to Sgt. Crowley," Dyson said. "We are too scared."
Dyson remembered being ordered to take a sobriety test at a 3 a.m. traffic stop in New Jersey while a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University. When he told the police officer he was a teacher and a Baptist priest, Dyson said the officer replied, "Yes, and I'm the ... president of the United States."
"Racial profiling is real," he said.
On "This Week," Brazile recalled how her parents warned her brothers to stay quiet and keeping their heads down when being confronted by police.
"There remains in this country a history -- a painful, shameful history -- of racial profiling," she said. "And it's not that black people walk around waiting to be called victims, it's because it is a dreadful fear."
Gates and Crowley are expected to head to the White House soon after being invited by President Obama to meet with him over beers.
"I think the president sees this as an opportunity to get dialogue going on an issue that has had historic -- that has been historically troubling and one he has worked on and they both seem very eager to move forward," White House adviser David Axelrod said today on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Gates accepted Obama's invitation Friday night on The Root, the Web site Gates runs. In a statement posted on the Web site, Gates said that he and Obama agreed that his experience could be used as "a teaching moment," and, "if meeting Sgt. Crowley for a beer with the president will further that end, then I would be happy to oblige."
"If my experience leads to the lessening of the occurrence of racial profiling, then I would find that enormously gratifying," Gates wrote. "Because, in the end, this is not about me at all; it is about the creation of a society in which 'equal justice before law' is a lived reality."
Obama's Involvement: Too Much?
Debate continues, however, on whether Obama went too far in his involvement in the controversial case.
Brazile said on "This Week" that the president, "having had the experience of many black men in this country," may have been using "his heart over his head" when he said Cambridge police acted "stupidly," a comment that provoked criticism from Cambridge police, among others.
Still, Brazile said, Obama was right to speak out.
"I think the president was trying to raise a much larger issue, but unfortunately his word choice got in the way," she said.
But ABC News political analyst George Will said the president had no business getting involved in the matter in the first place.
"Presidents should understand that some things are not any of their business," he said, "such as local police disputes in Cambridge, Mass."
Obama, he said, is "ubiquitous."
"Somewhere between the remoteness of Charles de Gaulle and the ubiquity of Barack Obama, there's a happy medium," Will said.
With reports from ABC News' Yunji de Nies.