By Charles Babington
WASHINGTON — The White House tried Thursday to calm a hubbub over President Barack Obama's comments about a white police officer's arrest of a black scholar near Boston, saying Obama was not calling the officer "stupid."
Spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that Obama felt that when it was clear that Harvard scholar Louis Gates Jr. was not a burglary suspect last week, "at that point, cooler heads on all sides should have prevailed."
At a Wednesday news conference, Obama had said that the Cambridge, Mass., police "acted stupidly" by citing Gates on a resisting arrest charge, which was quickly dropped. He had not faulted the actions of Gates, who he said is a friend.
"Let me be clear, he was not calling the officer stupid," Gibbs told reporters as Obama landed in Cleveland for two health care events Thursday. He said Obama felt that "at a certain point the situation got far out of hand" at Gates' home last week.
A neighbor had reported a possible burglary when Gates and a friend were seen trying to force open his front door, which was jammed. By the time police arrived, Gates was inside and showed proof of his residency. But he did not obey the officer's order to step outside, and after words were exchanged, he was arrested.
Obama answered a question about the Gates incident at his Wednesday news conference, although he noted he did not know all the details. Gibbs said the president did not regret his Wednesday remarks, but wanted to clarify that he was not calling the arresting officer stupid.
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Gibbs said Obama has not spoken with Gates since the incident.