July 24, 2009 in Nation/World

Obama stands by remarks on arrest

Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Thursday stood by his comments that a police officer “acted stupidly” in arresting Harvard University black studies scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. on a disorderly conduct charge at his own home last week.

But some law enforcement advocates condemned Obama’s remarks as unfair, and Republicans said he had commented without knowing the full facts of the arrest.

Obama appeared to soften his view of the case Thursday, one day after his remarks at a prime-time news conference. The president called Cambridge, Mass., police Sgt. James Crowley an “outstanding officer” and seemed to assign blame jointly to the officer and to Gates.

“I think that I have extraordinary respect for the difficulties of the job that police officers do,” Obama told ABC News on Thursday in an interview to be aired on “Nightline.” “And my suspicion is that words were exchanged between the police officer and Mr. Gates, and that everybody should have just settled down and cooler heads should have prevailed.”

Still, Obama stood by his initial criticism of the Cambridge police, saying in the ABC interview that he was surprised it had generated controversy. “I think it was a pretty straightforward commentary that you probably don’t need to handcuff a guy, a middle-aged man who uses a cane, who’s in his own home,” he said.

One police union leader on Thursday demanded an apology. David Holway, president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, asked in a letter if Obama had sided with Gates because he is a professor, rather than a “working-class” police officer.

But at least one major police union was trying to smooth over hard feelings.

“In a perfect world, we would get by this,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police. “Both sides are trying to find our way.”

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