Obama says his race remarks unfortunate

"I wanted to make clear that in my choice of words, I think, I unfortunately, gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sergeant Crowley specifically. And I could have calibrated those words differently," Obama said in his surprise appearance before the White House press corps yesterday.

Responding to a question on Wednesday on the arrest of a prominent African American professor at Harvard Henry Louis Gates Jr, Obama had said: "The Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home."

In the same response, Obama went on to say that race still remains a factor in the American society.

In the last two days, his remarks had created uproar in the US, with police organisation demanding an apology from the President and arguing that his observations on Cambridge police are uncalled for.

Yesterday morning Obama made a telephone call to Sergeant Jim Crowley, who had temporarily detained Prof Gates.

"I continue to believe, based on what I have heard that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home, he said, adding "Prof Gates probably overreacted as well".

"My sense is, you have 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 and the way they would have liked it to be resolved," he said.

"The fact that it has garnered so much attention, I think, is a testimony to the fact that these are issues that are still very sensitive here in America. And you know, so to the extent that my choice of words didn't illuminate but rather contributed to more media frenzy, I think, that was unfortunate," Obama said.

"What I'd like to do then is make sure that everybody steps back for a moment, recognises that these are two decent people, not extrapolate too much from the facts.  But as I said at the press conference, be mindful of the fact that because of our history, because of the difficulties of the past, you know, African-Americans are sensitive to these issues," he said.

Obama hoped that "as a consequence of this event, this ends up being what's called a teachable moment where all of us, instead of pumping up the volume, spend a little more time listening to each other and try to focus on how we can generally improve relations, between police officers and minority communities, and that instead of flinging accusations, we can all be a little more reflective, in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity."

Obama also called Prof Gates later in the day. He invited both Crowley and Prof Gates for having a beer in the White House.

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