Colin Powell: Gates Should Have 'Reflected'

Obama hopes Suds Summit with Gates and Crowley fosters dialogue about race.

July 28, 2009, 7:09 AM

July 28, 2009— -- As President Obama gets ready to hoist a cold one with Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the Cambridge police officer who arrested him, another prominent African American is saying the Harvard professor "should have reflected" on his actions in dealing with the cop.

In an interview with CNN's Larry King to air tonight, former secretary of state Colin Powell, when asked whether "Skip" Gates was wrong, said, "I am saying Skip, perhaps in this instance, might have waited a while, come outside, talked to the officer and that might have been the end of it. I think he should have reflected on whether or not this was the time to make that big a deal."

At the same time, Powell does not take the blame fully away from the police officer and added that Gates, who had just returned from a trip to China and found his front door to be jammed, was probably "in a mood where he said something."

The Bush-era official says the issue, which has garnered national attention, "might well have been resolved in a different matter" if Gates -- who he said has been his "friend for many years" -- and the arresting sergeant did not get into a verbal spat.

Powell told King he himself has been racially profiled many times and even though it's frustrating, "it's kind of a better course of action to take it easy and don't let your anger make the current situation worse."

Gates and Sgt. James Crowley -- the two men who have found themselves at the center of a national debate on race -- are set to meet Obama on Thursday evening in what might be the first case of beer diplomacy at the White House.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said today the session will not have a formal agenda, but rather, it will offer the opportunity to "step back a bit" and have a dialogue.

"This is about having a beer," he said.

According to Gibbs, Gates and Crowley are paying for their own transportation to Washington.

Crowley is expected to bring his family with him to visit the White House but the meeting will take place only between himself, Gates and Obama. The three men will sit outside at the picnic table by the White House's new swing set.

Gibbs said the meeting will be a "poignant moment" and communicate the message that "despite what was said after that, we can still sit down and discuss issues that are important like this, that we can, I think, as the president has said many times, disagree without being disagreeable."

Crowley arrested Gates, former host of the PBS show "African-American Lives," on charges of disorderly conduct after responding to a 911 call of a suspected break-in. Gates, returning from a trip to China, was trying to get into his house after being locked out.

The charges were later dropped, but Gates claims Crowley treated him unfairly and would not respond to his requests for his badge number.

Crowley says the professor was loud, accused him of arresting Gates because he "was a black man in America," and even made a reference to Crowley's mother.

Some are skeptical over whether the meeting between the three men and the issue that has taken center stage in the last week and a half will spur a national discussion on larger issues about race relations.

"I fear not, but I hope so," Randall Kennedy a professor of law at Harvard University, told ABC News.

Kennedy said the meeting will have people talking and there will be some degree of public learning, but that he hopes "the discussion would go in a more illuminating way than much of it has gone."

While the Cambridge Police Department and some national organizations are standing behind Crowley, police groups representing minorities say the president should not back down from the discussion.

The beer meeting serves "no significant purpose for resolving those issues that impact people of color," said Sgt. Anthony Miranda, executive chairman of the Latino Officers Association. "We need to keep this on the broader level."

Ronald Hampton, executive director of the National Black Police Association, echoed that sentiment.

"I don't think it's going to change anything," he told ABC News. "It is not going to do anything if we don't have a serious conversation about it. People need to come together and talk about it."

Gibbs said today the White House has not suggested that one meeting would solve existing problems between minority communities and law enforcement, but reiterated that the president views the meeting as a "teachable moment."

Obama Called Gates and Crowley

Obama jumped into the middle of the heated debate when he was asked about the incident at his prime-time news conference last week. Obama said the Cambridge police acted "stupidly" in arresting his friend, Gates, sparking a flurry of angry responses from police organizations. The president later clarified his remarks, saying that cooler heads should have prevailed on both sides, and turned it into what he called a "teachable moment" for the country.

Obama called Crowley and Gates on Friday and proposed that the three get together to discuss the incident at the White House over a beer. The White House is now hoping to turn the debate into a dialogue about racial profiling.

"I think the president sees this as an opportunity to get dialogue going on an issue that has... been historically troubling and one he has worked on," White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation."

But moving ahead may not be such an easy task as both men are steadfastly sticking by their claim that the other is not telling the truth.

As for what beer they'll drink, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs noted Monday that the president hoisted a Budweiser at the All-Star Game in St. Louis earlier this month, while Sgt. Crowley told the president he was more partial to Blue Moon. Gates told the Boston Globe he likes Red Stripe and Beck's, but the White House doesn't stock foreign beer.

In the hopes of clarifying the story, on Monday the Cambridge Police Department released the 911 tape and radio dispatches from the incident.

The tapes do little to settle the differing accounts between Gates and the arresting officer.

Read the full transcript of the tapes here

The woman who made the 911 call, Lucia Whalen, reported seeing two men break the screen door of Gates' front entrance to enter the house. The woman admitted she saw suitcases, and said several times she's not sure whether the two are house residents or are breaking in.

When asked about the race of the men, the caller said she thought one looked "kind of Hispanic" but didn't see what the other man looked like.

In his police report, Crowley wrote that Whalen told him when he arrived at the scene that she saw what appeared to be two black men with backpacks on the porch of the house. Whalen's attorney vehemently denied that claim, saying that her client never mentioned the men's race to the sergeant and specifically never mentioned the word black.

In the radio dispatches -- which shed little light on what really went on inside the home and between the two men -- a police officer identified Gates as the man inside the house, saying he is uncooperative and asks to "keep the cars coming." Except for vague noises in the background, the conversation between Gates and the officers is incomprehensible.

For its part, the city of Cambridge is hoping to leave the story in the past.

"It is my hope these events will serve as a catalyst ... that we will come away with a better understanding of how we can interact as a community, Mayor E. Denise Simmons told reporters Monday. "And how we can avoid situations like this from occurring."

Simmons was with City Manager Robert Healy to announce a new committee that, among other things, would examine the role of race and police-civilian interactions.

"It's time to move forward, lessons learned and go from there. I hope they enjoy their beer at the White House," Healy said.

ABC News' Karen Travers and Jon Garcia contributed to this report.

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