Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. says he is ready to move on from his arrest by a white police officer, hoping to use the encounter to improve fairness in the criminal justice system and saying "in the end, this is not about me at all."
After a phone call from President Barack Obama urging calm in the aftermath of his arrest last week, the black professor said he would accept Mr. Obama's invitation to the White House for a beer with him and Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley.
In a statement posted Friday on The Root, a Web site Gates oversees, the scholar said he told the president he would be happy to meet with Crowley, whom Gates had accused of racial profiling.
"I told the president that my principal regret was that all of the attention paid to his deeply supportive remarks during his press conference had distracted attention from his health care initiative," Gates said. "I am pleased that he, too, is eager to use my experience 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."
It was a marked change in tone for Gates, 58, one of the nation's preeminent African-American scholars. In the days following his arrest, Gates gathered up his legal team and said he was contemplating a lawsuit. He even vowed to make a documentary on his arrest to tie into a larger project about racial profiling.
In an e-mail to the Boston Globe late Friday, he said: "It is time for all of us to move on, and to assess what we can learn from this experience."
Gates did not immediately return phone calls and e-mails to The Associated Press on Saturday.
Crowley, 42, also did not return a telephone message seeking comment Saturday.
The outcry began on Monday, when word broke that Gates, 58, had been arrested five days earlier at the two-story home he rents from Harvard. Police were responding to a call about a possible break-in at the home.
Supporters including civil rights leaders Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson called the arrest an outrageous act of racial profiling. Public interest increased when a photograph surfaced of the handcuffed Gates being escorted off his porch amid three officers, two white and one black.
Cambridge police moved to drop the disorderly conduct charge on Tuesday - without apology, but calling the case "regrettable."
That didn't end the national debate: Some said Gates was responsible for his own arrest because of his response to Crowley, while others said Gates was justified to yell at the officer.
President Obama, in response to a question at a nationally televised news conference on Wednesday, said that Cambridge police had "acted stupidly" in arresting Gates at his home. Mr. Obama, who attended Harvard Law School, is a friend of Gates.
It was a measure of the nation's keen sensitivities on matters of race that the fallout from the remarks of America's first black president about the incident mushroomed to such an extent that Mr. Obama felt compelled to make a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room Friday to try to put the matter to rest. The blowup had dominated national attention just as Mr. Obama was trying to build public pressure to get Congress to push through health care overhaul legislation - and as polls showed growing doubts about his performance.
The president did not back down from his contention that police had overreacted by arresting the Harvard professor for disorderly conduct after coming to his home to investigate a possible break-in. He added, though, that he thought Gates, too, had overreacted to the police who questioned him.
"This has been ratcheting up, and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up," President Obama said of the racial controversy. "I want to make clear that in my choice of words, I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department and Sgt. Crowley specifically. And I could've calibrated those words differently."
The president said he had spoken to Crowley and Gates during separate telephone calls and declared that Crowley is "an outstanding police officer and a good man." He invited the officer and the professor to the White House for a beer.
A trio of Massachusetts police unions released a joint statement shortly after Mr. Obama's latest comments, saying Crowley had a friendly and meaningful conversation with the president.
"We appreciate his sincere interest and willingness to reconsider his remarks about the Cambridge Police Department," the unions said in their statement. "It is clear to us from this conversation, that the President respects police officers and the often difficult and dangerous situations we face on a daily basis."
Gates added that he hoped his arrest would lead to a greater understanding about racial profiling in America.
"If my experience leads to the lessening of the occurrence of racial profiling, then I would find that enormously gratifying," Gates said on The Root. "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."
Cambridge residents are sick of the controversy and say it's time to move on, too. Watch the video from CBS Station WBZ below.