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July 30th, 2009
04:30 PM ET

A “Teachable Moment” at the White House?

President Obama has invited police Sgt. James Crowley and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates for beer.
President Obama has invited police Sgt. James Crowley and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates for beer.

David Gergen | Bio
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Political Analyst

President Obama promised last week that he would convert the ugly confrontation between a black Harvard scholar and a white police officer into a “teachable moment” for the nation. As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Sgt. Jim Crowley come to the White House today for their “beer summit,” how can he succeed? How should the three men structure their conversation and how should they then talk to the country?

For counsel, I turned to an excellent family therapist who has had a long record of success in counseling couples (aka, my wife Anne), and she provided some sound answers. Each of the parties, she said, has to recognize up front that during a contentious incident that set them off, their minds were flooded with emotions that overcame their rational selves.

The key to achieving reconciliation is for each of them to talk through the incident as they saw it each step of the way, analyzing what they saw and said, and with their rational minds, trying to figure out how they might have handled it better. It is critical that the other player(s) not interrupt but let them tell their story fully. Hearing the other person respectfully allows one to see how their perspectives differed – and from that, begin to reframe the incident in ways that bring them closer together.

Once Gates, Crowley and the President have drawn lessons among themselves and begun the process of reconciliation (they may not get there right away), then they could be in a position to speak to a broader audience about what they learned – “the teachable moment”.

But there are two things that are also critical to remember: they have to talk quietly with each other first and find some common understandings before they talk to the public. Otherwise, the exercise will be phony. In addition, their conversation has to be among the three alone, without other family members or friends accompanying them to the White House. Otherwise, they could play to the crowd.

If all of it works, the nation could well benefit from a conversation that deepens our understanding of how racial and class conflicts arise and how we can get to higher ground. Sound advice – from a great source!

soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. Henry

    I'm Black......Which shouldn't matter but it does........All these people are Human.....We act like no one can make Mistakes.....They all did...White or Black......Get over that and fix the real problem....Racism is here and it's BIG.....Anyone that says it's not is on far more than just BEER......

    July 31, 2009 at 5:34 am |
  2. Randolph

    I could appreciate the attention that this story is getting. It pinpoints a critical issue and brings to light a community relationship issue that desperately needs attention. In this field, it would be difficult growing if we as a people cannot coincide. One is essential to the other. A black man and a white police officer needs to be each other as if they were one. Meaning that a black man essentially is a protector and a server. A white police officer is a member of the community and hope for an oppressed people. What we truly are is mankind whether we be black or white, or between the contrast. The occupation of racism and living up to negative stereotypes should be eradicated from our society. We should be what we were made to be and that is together.

    July 31, 2009 at 5:08 am |
  3. dottie

    l say to officers,, don't approach a education black man.
    like you would approach a gangster thugs.there is different..
    believe me it's is.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:44 am |
  4. dottie

    l say to officers,, don't approach a education black man.
    like you would approach a gangster thugs.there different..
    believe me it's is.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:42 am |
  5. dottie

    yeah! the White House summit l think were a good ldeas : The President had a meeting between these two high ranking officials,to tone down what really took place in ours nation because the world
    is watching the U.S and we all know that racism really exist.
    in ours nation,history prove it. The President merely want to toned
    down this kind of situation in ours nation,he didn't want it to
    intensity.l hope we all learned a lesson from the ordeal.l'm also
    really happy that the media kept it's on the forefront.
    therefore we all can address this problem, and l hope this
    kind of misunderstand will not happen anymore.
    l think the officers should take a course in psychology
    or reiterated on what he was taught in police academy,and
    Professor Gates should acted : professional an carry himself
    like a college professor.,think before act and speaking.take inconsideration the indivdual point,this way you should pay due attention to the other person, to with refrain from violating & disrepecting someone.
    respect-polite greeting offered to somebody.
    we all should repect each others, no matter whether you are
    black, white or brown.= color people.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:27 am |
  6. Kalvin Lathan

    People lighten up. This was nothing more than a high level urinating contest by two proud men. Gates went to far and Off. Crowley had to save face in front of colleagues after he was berated by Mr. Gates. Was it a case of profiling? No, and is this a teachable moment? No, because it's now political. I truly believe this great country isn't ready to have an honest discussion on race or air it's dirty laundry. Racial tensions are only going to get worse in this country. Jobs are being lost by the thousands everyday. When the economy is going bad racial tension explodes because somebody has to be the fall guy. What the average person doesn't understand is that there's a lot of money to be made off of this division of race. Get focused people racial tension is a smoke screen because as long as we're pointing fingers at one another we are getting robbed by the big biz and lobbyist. Classism is a bigger problem than racism.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:07 am |
  7. Bill cheeks

    I am afraid that the real culprit in this fiasco is sgt Crowley. He should have withdrawn the minute it was established that dr Gates lived at the house- it does not matter what Gates was saying.. He was not threatening the offiicer with harm... dr Gates was using a cane. Officer Crowley did not deserve to be at the White House as he lied about what Ms Whaley had said. He filed a false incident report. The officer stated that Ms Whaley said that there were two Black men attempting a breakin. This mistatement of the truth cause the concerned citizen to be villified and ridiculed about statement attributable to her that she did not make.Officer Crowley has yet to apologize to Ms Whaley the 911 caller and neither has the Police Union Association come front stage to condemn the in accurate reporting in the police report. The police association demanding the President of the United States apologize was disrepectful to say the least.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:04 am |
  8. gaylord

    I watched the post News confrence with the media and I am sorry to say ,I feel Srg.Crowly comes across with a "better than you attitude "somewhat amazes me how this beer chat with the President and Vive Pres. could have been productive ,if he had that attitude during the meeting, again just my view point has I heard the officer speak after the chit/chat meeting.Was it not this type of attitude that got things off in the wrong direction when the incident happen??? You tell me ???But again many police come across just has this officer does during this poat news conference, just look at his face and espically his forehead, all wrinkled up, he was not the least bit relaxed from what I saw. just merely my observations, thats all , thank you for your time.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:21 am |
  9. Therman

    I agree with the president, even if the words didn't sound right when he said; the police acted stupidly. All he meant was that after establishing that the initial call was a mistake and after establishing that the professor was in his own house he should have just left. but he continued to investigate. He according to the professor asked who else was in the house, which the professor found offensive especially after he showed he was the home owner. Also on the police dispatch recording you could hear the police officer say, he say's he lives here but keep the cars coming. And for some reason the media is down playing that the intitial caller publicly said that she never told the officer or anyone that it was two black men with back packs. But for some reason the officer chose to use those words reportedly in his official police report. If this officer would have used his training in racial profiling, then he would have known he was aggrivating the circumstances by continuing to ask and or investigate. And he should as a man understood that was his elder in front of him and his elder should have been talked to and treated as the officer woud have wanted his own dad treated in a mistake. The officer arrested a none threat, and if he is any kind of good veteran seargent he should no that it was a waste of taxpayer's money and police time

    July 31, 2009 at 1:53 am |
  10. Sharon James

    Even though the President is half white, which most of you have forgotten, America still see him as a black man, so therefore he knows what it's like to be in Mr. Gates shoes, what I don't understand is why so many people think that he ( Mr. President), was wrong about what he said, he was stating a fact, would you like to be treated that way in your own home, a home in which you feel safe in and because it's yours, not know one else. One more thing I don't hear know one saying anything about the officer and how he lied on the caller, I guest his fellow officer's still stand behind him even though they know now he lied, no one has yet come forward to answer the lie he told on the caller, and my thing is if you tell one lie you will tell another.

    July 30, 2009 at 6:54 pm |
  11. Erik

    C´mon Gates, stand up and admit you took things too far. Now i have to wait another twenty minuets for the Brave Men in Blue to show up.

    July 30, 2009 at 6:48 pm |
  12. Craig

    Would like to know who is paying the bill for the beer summit?Did they fly Air Force One to get them.

    July 30, 2009 at 6:44 pm |
  13. Lilly

    I agree Kristen. Makes you wonder what Gates is teaching his students, doesn't it?

    July 30, 2009 at 6:41 pm |
  14. Lilly

    I should have used the word "gracious" instead of grateful in the above post.

    July 30, 2009 at 6:34 pm |
  15. Annie Kate

    In the "teachable moment" I wonder if the white policeman feels defensive since both Dr Gates and Obama are black. I think this whole thing has been taken to an extreme; the episode was blown all out of proportion and Obama didn't help by sticking his opinion in before he knew all the facts. If he stays busy doing that and giving mediation to those who have these "racial" misunderstandings then he may not get anything else done. He needs to stay focused on the big picture and let the smaller local picture stay small and local.

    July 30, 2009 at 6:33 pm |
  16. Tony G

    The only way this can be a teachable moment is if everyone holds themselves accountable. It was silly for Professor Gates to be arrested in his home, after showing Identification. As a fellow Police Officer, after establishing that there was no crime, the officer should have dismissed himself. Professor Gates could have flown off the handle, but that could be understood also. He was in his own home. With no threats being made by Gates, disorderly conduct is a charge officers make when you “piss” them off, sometimes I should say with some officers. Shake hands both admit their wrongs and put this baby to bed.

    July 30, 2009 at 6:33 pm |
  17. Darren

    Good on the president for having a beer with them... I think it's a little bit of trying to make up for his poor comment and a little bit of a teachable moment... If he pulls it off, then I think we will learn a thing or two.

    July 30, 2009 at 6:32 pm |
  18. Eileen M.

    The "beer meeting" should be a private conversation, not a media event. Obama's media folks should know better.

    July 30, 2009 at 6:31 pm |
  19. SidNickels in Dallas

    The Police officer was completely out of bounds PERIOD!!! The police are suppose to be trained and hold restraint in these situations. Obviously this clown of an officer didn't know that. He should be arrested for being so stupid.

    July 30, 2009 at 6:31 pm |
  20. Bob Nedoma

    There is a teachable moment for the president, and/or anyone in the position of authority, power or prestige: don't open your mouth until you know all the facts.

    July 30, 2009 at 6:31 pm |
  21. Pat

    Now the press is acting stupidly.Give it a rest. They are just adding fuel to the fire on racial profiling.

    July 30, 2009 at 6:29 pm |
  22. Sharon Hammond

    I agree this story has been blown way out of proportion. Both men were off base. There was no real need for Gates to overreact to the officer's presence, and there was no need for the officer to arrest Gates once it was established that he lived in the home. I think despite all the media hoopla, both men realize that now. I also don't fault the president for answering the question at the news conference honestly. It was stupid to arrest the man after he prove he was in his house lawfully. Perhaps there would be less manic behavior on the part of the press if he used the phrase ,unreasonable thinking, as oppose to stupidly.

    July 30, 2009 at 6:26 pm |
  23. lynn

    After going through all my savings and that of my parents as well to help save my son from the depths of alcohol disease.

    After our health care system thumbed its nose in our faces and would not cover anything for my son–for rehab etc...and I am a nurse.

    I am sickened by our PRESIDENTS-"lets sit down and have a Beer together"solution.

    Yes Obama ==teach us and all the children how when we have problems drinking alcohol together is the way to solve them!

    I am becoming a Republican I swear....does he think before he says/does anything?

    Lynn

    July 30, 2009 at 6:26 pm |
  24. Anna M. Williamson

    The lady that phoned in the 911 phone call should have been invited to the meeting with the President, Gates and the police officer. She is receiving threats because of her good deed. Talking about boys club!

    Anna M Williamson
    Little River, Texas

    July 30, 2009 at 6:20 pm |
  25. Kristen, MD

    I still don't get what the teachable moment is? This wasn't a race issue until Gates tried to make it one for no reason.

    Making a big deal out of this when it wasn't a race issue only desensitizes people to real race issues that go on in this country.

    July 30, 2009 at 6:16 pm |
  26. Patti

    I am writing , in comment to the issue. I feel that it is a teachable issue. We should learn how to not assume, that because you see a person in a nice neighbor, that is african american is breaking and entering. I feel that it is horrible, what happened to Gates. Who happens to be a great man.

    July 30, 2009 at 6:12 pm |
  27. Elaine

    So glad this is over. I'm going out for a beer...anyone want to join me?

    July 30, 2009 at 5:57 pm |
  28. Lilly

    As I stated in another post, Prof. Gates should have been grateful to the police and thanked the officers for responding to the call to "protect" him and his home. He should have said, "I am Prof. Gates, this is my home and here is my identification." End of incident!

    The President should have said, "I don't know all the facts, I would rather not comment." End of story!

    July 30, 2009 at 5:56 pm |
  29. dina

    Sound advice. The overly emotional African American who sees race as the basis to everything "bad" that happens to him and the racist Caucasian are both wrong. They are on the same sinking ship. As the expert said here they allowed their emotions to overrule their judgement and as we all know that ultimately loses any argument.

    July 30, 2009 at 5:48 pm |
  30. Gary Chandler in Canada

    Obama says he was wrong for his stupid, 'stupidly' comment, the Boston cop has aplogized for calling gates a 'jungle monkey', BUT Gates has not and probably won't say sorry for calling Crowley a 'racist' and a 'Rogue'.
    Gates has a conflict of interest. Like Sharpton and Jackson, he makes his living profiling whites as racist.
    Is there NOT one racist black person in America? eh?

    July 30, 2009 at 5:40 pm |
  31. joe m

    a photo-op is not my idea of a teachable moment. that moment could have come when the president came out during the briefing and actually said the words, 'i'm sorry' rather than needing to have 'callibrated' his words. it would have helped everyone understand that yes, race is still an issue in this country, and even an important and powerful man like himself is not exempt from it effects. yes, many americans still carry the scars of its history. but americans are able to overcome this matter, especially when we are willing to move forward, and when necessary say 'i'm sorry'.

    July 30, 2009 at 5:31 pm |
  32. Audree from ypsilanti, Michigan

    I am only 18 years old and politics is a new subject for me. As I become more aware of the possibilities and capabilities of the American people, I developed a very strong insight regarding this issue. Recently I was speaking with my grandmother and she said to me, “I have never seen any domestic issues brought to the White House concerning racial profiling in of all the presidents I have seen”. This comment struck me because it really brought to my attention that it’s a new day. President Obama having a casual beer with two neighboring citizens should be something he should be able to do whenever he feels the urge to. When concerning this issue it considers the fact that we are all neighbors. Here we have two neighbors with a HORRIBLE misunderstanding, and maybe this friendly meeting can help break the ice that is so common today!

    July 30, 2009 at 5:24 pm |
  33. James

    I feel the people that are the real RACIST are the one that want you to believe that race had nothing to do with the encounter with the police officer and the professor. Every thing in America and in Society is predicated on race all over the world. Being a BLACK MAN I deal with racism everyday of my life just because of the color of my skin. The Real Racist try to say it does not Exist. I am racially profiled everyday I have been stop by the police just because I’m black. And if you talk to the police like a man and on his level as a man you will be treaded the same way as the professor with arrest or being detained. You just don’t hear about it unless you walked in my shoe or any other BLACK MANS shoes in America.

    July 30, 2009 at 5:21 pm |
  34. Joy Clayton

    President Obama needs to remember what his other friend (Rev. Wright) did for his presidency & not fall short in his response with Prof Gates's situation. Racial profiling continues; it can happen to anyone @ anytime (even white democratic females). I am a nurse & when caring for clients of any race you must be aware of this issue. You can profile a client in regards to their care & cause disparities to occur. I was pleased that Pres. Obama addressed his response concerning the actions of the policemen of Cambridge. I do hope Pres. Obama plans to contact the 911 caller in the near future. Since President Obama has a white mother, black father; racial profiling can occur from both races towards him. My advice, respond objectively & listen carefully; and critically think on your response! One never knows the agenda that can occur.

    July 30, 2009 at 5:00 pm |
  35. Jill, LA

    I think that the president interjected when he shouldnt have, now he is having to make up for it. When you become president you are no longer aloud to see color you see American. Obama acted stupidly.

    July 30, 2009 at 5:00 pm |
  36. Kenneth Hudson

    The thing that troubles me the most in all of this issue is the way people have been led to believe that the President called the Cambridge Police Stupid. He said, "I think the Cambridge Police acted stupidly by arresting a man in his own home who had proven his identity and it had been verified that it was actually his home."

    All I have heard, especially from Rick Sanchez is that the President called the Cambridge Police Stupid.

    I can understand the commedians using the stupidly remark for laughs, but I'm totally disappointed that CNN Anchors would totally misrepresent what was actually said, especially when you all keep playing those comments over and over again.

    Let's just get it right.......

    July 30, 2009 at 4:56 pm |
  37. Fred Sanford

    Here we go its my fault some idiot in Tulsa and his idiot white friends did something to someone..Funny how its OK for black people to bunch all white people together but if I was a white person (who I might add has been beat up for just being white and being in the wrong neighborhood several times) were to say something that categorized all black people being the same I would be labeled a racist. What a kind of double standard is that? Isn't that the definition of profiling ? judging someone by the color of their skin based on what someone of the same race did ? I just want a HONEST dialog, white people and black people both have race issues. Divisive talk and McCarthyesc finger pointing isn't the answer. When will people of both races realize that its not a one sided problem . I have a unique perspective on this issue being that I grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood . I have black and white friends and I trust them all with my life regardless of color. How many black people can say that? I don't hate black people because of a few A**holes when I was younger beat me up because of my color.. Listen , white or black an Dumba** is a Dumba**.

    July 30, 2009 at 3:29 pm |
  38. Mike in NYC

    @Jeff:

    Many more whites have been assaulted, raped and murdered by blacks than the other way around. Just glance at DOJ stats, or your local crime blotter.

    I doubt if there will be much repentance for this, though. Blacks tend to support their criminals, implicitly if not explicitly, unlike whites.

    July 30, 2009 at 3:25 pm |
  39. c,ca

    I think that this was a clash of male egos – nothing more. Neither one of them would back down.

    This story has been blown WAY out of proportion. IMO they were both wrong. Gates should've shown his ID, and left it at that. The cop should've left the property after verifying that Gates was the owner of the house.

    There are many instances involving questionable use of force against all groups of people Most stories are in the news one day – then gone the next. How about that story about the white woman, in her 70's, that was tasered by a white cop because she wouldn't sign a ticket? I don't recall the President having a 'tea and bingo' summit at the White House to resolve that. Maybe the woman should've gotten a PR agent to milk the story for as long as possible.

    July 30, 2009 at 3:00 pm |
  40. Michael C. McHugh

    In the last 15 years, I have lived in many countries where people who talk back to the police will be beaten up or shot–Do not pass "Go", do not collect $200. In places like those, people are more afraid of the police than the criminals, because they are well known to be corrupt and brutal, especially to minorities and the lower classes.

    That said, we're supposed to be a cut above that in this country, and we should be very leery of any signs of going in THAT direction. I can also see why Obama wants to downplay these "1960s" issues of race and culture, although the Republicans obviously do not.

    July 30, 2009 at 2:58 pm |
  41. lampe

    As long as you all keep hanging onto the past, we will never be able to move past it. you report things about Blacks being pulled over by Whites. But, you never ever report things the other way. Are you really trying to say it never happens, or just that it's not important what happens with Black Officers and White People? I am an 54 year old AA women. I want to tell you a story about what happened to me. Two years ago my husband purchased new phones for our home, while programing them he dialed 911. Our local Police called my home spoke to me asking " Was everything Okay." I said "YES" They asked could they stop and check, I said "Everything was fine, but if you must you must." The officer replied " It's our job." So they came looked around , looked at me and my husband and said "THANK YOU."Tthey also took the time to explain something to me I never really thought about. People everyday tell the Police they are Okay, sometimes only to be hurt again after The Police leave. Now we may not always agree with them, but that is their job. And I am sure if anyone would like to change jobs with them for a day they would be more than happy to take you up on it.

    July 30, 2009 at 2:48 pm |
  42. JEFF ALLEN

    The hidden history of Mary Turner in Valdosta Georgia to The great "Tulsa Massacre" and all the lynchings and murders perpetrated against black people in this country at the hands of White Power structure will never be washed away by this beer drinking ceremony. White America must "Recognize and repent for thier sins against Blacks Since the end of Slavery.

    July 30, 2009 at 2:14 pm |
  43. Cheryl Beverly

    The abuse of power, racial profiling, and all stupid!
    1.) The African American NFL player in Texas detained on March 27, in the hospital emergency parking lot for a traffic ticket by a white cop while trying to get unsuccessfully to his mother's dying bedside and verified by hospital staff in the emergency parking lot.
    2.) The African American ambulance driver in Oklahoma pulled over for a traffic ticket by a white cop and detained by chokehold on May 28, while his emegency patient is screaming for help inside the ambulance.
    3.) Dr. Gates arrested in his own home by a white cop on July 20 for "screaming" in his own home once there was no case for burglary.
    Why are all of these instances of police abuse of power always between white cops and Black men?

    July 30, 2009 at 2:12 pm |
  44. Boris Lebedinsky

    With hundreds of dead soldiers and millions unemployed, the economy, health care and all the foreign policie issues, the President has time to spend drinking beer? Embarrasing! He should follow his true calling and be a talk show host!

    July 30, 2009 at 1:55 pm |
  45. Chuck

    I am afraid that there won't be any teachable moment on my fear that I can be arrested by police even if I did not break the law. By speaking and annoying the police in my house, in my property or anywhere, for example, I can be arrested (the Disorderly Conduct) and the record will be permanently on me as long as I am alive. It doesn't matter if the charges are dropped later. I guess my teachable moment is: "do not anger the police."

    July 30, 2009 at 1:35 pm |
  46. Jim Hoskins

    I am a Canadian retired Police Officer after 36 years experience and my father was a police officer for 33 years. I have been to numerous type calls such as this one and I am amazed that Mr. Gates would have been upset that the police were merely there to protect his property. He appears to have responded in a way which signifies that he has some deep feelings toward authority particularly the police which he has not been able to reconcile.

    Having the President of the United States get involved in a local issue such as this one also tells me that the President went to protect his friend and also signalled that he to has some feelings toward police he has not fully come to grips with.

    Of course the media has put this issue front and center in the USA because of Gates and the President. The credibility factor here is suspect because racial profiling is not new. Sitting down with the President is nothing more than an insult to injury for all those legitimate complaints that go by the wayside.

    The president may mean well but he has set a dangerous precedent in getting involved in a local issue of law enforcement and letting the system address the issue. He has given special attention to an issue on behalf of an old friend and basically interfered with the process of law.

    July 30, 2009 at 1:32 pm |
  47. JC- Los Angeles

    David, with all due respect to you and your therapist friend, when good people do their jobs correctly and then repeatedly have to explain themselves and defend themselves, it's the beginning of the end.

    In today's morally bankrupt, culturally corrupt, racially charged nation, it's as if every decent human being has to explain why they are acting decently.

    This transpires every day in corporate america where deplorable leadership jettisons talent; on Capitol Hill where corruption is accompanied by smiles and policy making; and apparently, on Harvard's manicured lawns.

    The only way our country is going to recover is for right to remain right and wrong to remain wrong.

    We shouldn't need a therapist to figure that out.

    July 30, 2009 at 1:26 pm |
  48. Norma Labno

    07/30/09 Re: "Beer Summit Today"

    I think this article hits all the important points and hits them
    squarely on the head!

    Thank you.

    norma from nevada

    P.S. During this time, if you enjoy beer – why not have a "Sam Adams"
    Boston's own (American made) beer or (not being a beer drinker) if
    that would not be enjoyable – go for your favorite.

    This should put us in a good mood and amenable to hearing some
    helpful news which, hopefully, comes out of this meeting. (My hope –
    "A Meeting of the Minds!")

    July 30, 2009 at 1:22 pm |
  49. Alexis Martin Neely

    Absolutely sound advice. And it is a great opportunity to model conflict resolution of all types. It's time for us to learn how to come together in a new way that brings us all to a higher level. Thanks for sharing this AC.

    Alexis

    July 30, 2009 at 1:09 pm |
  50. Cindy

    There's truly nothing teachable going on at the White House. The pres just stuck his nose where it didn't belong and made himself look stupid in the process. Now he's doing this beer drinking thing trying to make himself look good. How one man or the other truly feels about racism or racial profiling won't be changed by this at all.

    Cindy..Ga.

    July 30, 2009 at 12:42 pm |