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Since beer summit, America has seen 'two good people'

Gates can joke about the incident now, he said Sunday. Crowley has shown respect toward the man he once arrested.

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President Barack Obama, right, and Vice President Joe Biden, left, have a beer with Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., second from left, and Cambridge, Mass., police Sgt. James Crowley in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington Thursday.

Alex Brandon/AP

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At the time, it seemed a throwaway pleasantry when the president was ankle-deep in anger about his "acted stupidly" comment.

"My sense is you've got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved," President Obama said of Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley in opening a July 24 press conference.

On recent evidence, it would seem that he was exactly right.

On a Cambridge, Mass., front porch on July 17, race brought out indignation and frustration. Beginning with Mr. Obama's "beer summit," however, the nation has gotten perhaps the better measure of the professor and police officer.

For a president looking for "teachable moments," it is an instructive and cautionary tale: Race can sometimes bring both the best and the worst out of "two good people."

The worst is already well known. Gates lost his temper, alleging that police suspected him of breaking into his own home because he was black. Crowley overreacted, some police say, arresting a Harvard professor with a cane on his own property.

The best began the first moment that Gates and Crowley saw each other after the charges of disorderly conduct were dropped. In a post-meeting press conference, Crowley said: "The professor and I encountered each other while we were both on individual tours of the White House, and the professor approached me and introduced his family, I introduced my family, and then we continued on with the tour, but as a group."

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