Obama Discusses Police, Race, and His ‘Beer Summit’

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“We know that when there is a conversation about the police and African Americans, and conflict between those two, everybody goes to their respective corners. That is an area that just triggers the deepest stereotypes and assumptions—on both sides,” President Obama tells the New Yorker. Obama said his biggest drop in poll numbers in his early months in office “had nothing to do with the economy. It was ‘the beer summit.’ ” That August, black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., had been arrested and handcuffed at his own door by a white police officer. There was an uproar when Obama seemed to take Gates’s side. Hoping to quiet the storm, the White House arranged a sitdown over beers between the professor and the policeman. “Among white voters, my poll numbers dropped … ten per cent or something,” Obama said. “If you don’t stick your landing in talking about racial issues, particularly when it pertains to the criminal-justice system, then people just shut down. They don’t listen.”

Obama told the magazine, “I thought that it would be fairly innocuous to say, ‘I don’t know all the facts, but if you’ve got an elderly black gentleman—even if he’s being obnoxious to a police officer—handcuffing him probably doesn’t make sense if he’s on his own porch. I thought that would be viewed as a pretty common-sense proposition. It was a pretty visceral reaction … The question for me, over the course of my Presidency, during the course of this election, has always been, How do I strengthen the better angels of our nature? And how do we tamp down our tribal impulses?”

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