By Foon Rhee and Tracy Jan, Globe Staff
After sharing beers on the Rose Garden patio this evening , there was no final resolution to the confrontation between Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Cambridge police Sergeant James Crowley that turned into a national racial issue.
But President Obama, Crowley, and Gates's lawyer, while declining to divulge details of the private talks, said there had been progress through a cordial, frank discussion.
“I am thankful to Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley for joining me at the White House this evening for a friendly, thoughtful conversation," the president said in a statement. "Even before we sat down for the beer, I learned that the two gentlemen spent some time together listening to one another, which is a testament to them. I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart.I am confident that has happened here tonight, and I am hopeful that all of us are able to draw this positive lesson from this episode.”
Crowley said afterwards that all agreed to look forward, not dwell on the incident July 16 in which he arrested Gates while investigating a break-in at the professor's Cambridge home. The disorderly conduct charge was later dropped.
"Two gentlemen agreed to disagree," Crowley told reporters at AFL-CIO headquarters. "This was a positive step in moving forward," not only for Cambridge, but the nation.
He said that he and Gates have different perspectives, and "both perspectives should be addressed" in meaningful future discussions. Crowley said he and Gates will talk by phone to set up another face-to-face meeting.
Asked whether the meeting would be another beer at a bar, Crowley said that would send the wrong message, so perhaps they could have soft drinks instead.
Charles Ogletree, Gates’s friend and attorney, said, “They’ll be getting together to break some bread in a private session and talk about some community outreach efforts to improve relations between police and communities,” said Ogletree, who will be issuing a statement on behalf of Gates later this evening on how the nation should move forward. “There are important lessons to be learned from the July 16 incident.”
“The president should be applauded for his usual role in bringing together people with different points of view and recognizing their commonalities,” Ogletree said. “It was a very healthy discussion. All of the participants left with the sense that they respect each other and they are going to use it as an important step forward on a number of matters.”
At the appointed time for the "beer summit," there was a brief photo opportunity. The three, plus Vice President Joe Biden, sat around a white patio table near the Rose Garden. Biden and Gates sat on one side, with Crowley and Obama opposite. Obama and Biden seemed far more relaxed, with the suit jackets off and their shirtsleeves rolled up, while Gates and Crowley were dressed in suits. A White House staffer served their beers in mugs.
They could be seen talking, but reporters could not hear what they were saying.
According to the press pool report, Obama drank Bud Light, Biden quaffed Buckler (a nonalcoholic beer), Gates had Sam Adams Light, and Crowley Blue Moon. The men munched on peanuts and pretzels served in small silver bowls. Biden wasn't scheduled to attend, but Obama invited him this afternoon.
Gates brought to the White House his 96-year-old father, his older brother, and two grown daughters. Crowley bought his wife, three children, and some police union members. The two families toured the East Wing together before the meeting.
Crowley said he and Gates introduced each other's families to one another. The two men were friendly to each other, and chatted about everything from police work to the Red Sox and the Celtics, Ogletree said. “It was a wonderful, warm gathering before the meeting,” Ogletree said. “Everybody learned from it. They learned a lot about each other’s families.”
The men met Obama in the Oval Office before moving out into the Rose Garden, while family members were given a tour of the West Wing during the beers.
As the White House had warned, there was no organized news conference afterwards with all three participants.
Obama issued the invite after helping turn the confrontation between Crowley and Gates in his home into a national debate on race relations by initially saying that Cambridge police "acted stupidly."
But earlier today, Obama downplayed the much-publicized beer, saying it was just "three guys having a drink at the end of the day."
The event is "an opportunity to listen to each other," the president told reporters. "That's all it is. "This is not a university seminar. It is not a summit. It's an attempt to have some personal interaction when an issue has become so hyped and so symbolic."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that Obama is under no illusion that "one cold beer at one table here is going to change massively the course of human history."
While Obama has said the case could be a "teachable moment" for the country on race relations, he did not plan to use the occasion to announce any new initiatives.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.