By Arun Kumar
Washington, July 31 (IANS): With mugs of beer, President Barack Obama sat down with a black Harvard professor and a white police officer who had arrested him for a "friendly, thoughtful" chat to douse the racial firestorm lit by the incident.
"I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart," said America's first black president after the highly anticipated beer summit Thursday under the canopy of a magnolia tree at the edge of the White House's Rose Garden.
"I am confident that has happened here tonight, and I am hopeful that all of us are able to draw this positive lesson from this episode" he said after meeting the other players in the story - professor Henry Louis Gates Jr, who is also a friend of Obama, and Cambridge, Massachussets, police Sgt. James Crowley.
They were joined at the round table by a previously unannounced guest, Vice President Joe Biden, as Gates and Crowley, both dressed in dark suits, sat down with Obama who had his white dress shirt sleeves rolled up like his deputy Biden.
Video from the meeting showed mugs of beer being delivered to the men, who sat, munching peanuts and pretzels from silver bowls. The president was drinking Bud Light, Biden was drinking Buckler, Gates was drinking Samuel Adams Light and Crowley was drinking Blue Moon.
"We agreed to move forward," Crowley said later when asked if anything was solved. "I think what you had today was two gentlemen agreeing to disagree on a particular issue. I don't think that we spent too much time dwelling on the past. We spent a lot of time discussing the future."
Before the four men gathered at the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs downplayed expectations for the "Beer Summit," saying the president "is not going to announce anything" in terms of initiatives to address racial profiling and would not speak to reporters.
"You won't hear from the president," Gibbs said Thursday afternoon. "You won't hear from the glass of beer."
The arrest this month, in response to reports of a possible break-in at Gates' home, sparked a national debate about race, class and police attitudes towards minorities.
Obama quickly got involved, saying at a news conference that police in Cambridge acted "stupidly."
His comment itself drew criticism, and later he softened his stance, saying, "I could've calibrated those words differently."