On July 16, 2009, Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was arrested at his Cambridge, Massachusetts home by a local police officer responding to a 9-1-1 caller's report of men breaking and entering the residence. The arrest initiated a series of events that unfolded under the spotlight of the international news media.
The arrest occurred just after Gates returned home to Cambridge after a trip to China to research the ancestry of Yo-Yo Ma for Faces of America. Gates found the front door to his home jammed shut and with the help of his driver tried to force it open. A local witness reported their activity to the police as a potential burglary in progress. Accounts regarding the ensuing confrontation differ, but Gates was arrested by the responding officer, Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley, and charged with disorderly conduct. On July 21, the charges against Gates were dropped. The arrest generated a national debate about whether or not it represented an example of racial profiling by police.
On July 22, President Barack Obama commented on the incident, criticizing the arrest and the response by the police. Law enforcement organizations and members objected to Obama's comments and criticized his handling of the issue. In the aftermath, Obama stated that he regretted his comments and hoped that the situation could become a "teachable moment".
On July 24, Obama invited both parties to the White House to discuss the issue over beers, and on July 30, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden joined Crowley and Gates in a private, cordial meeting in a courtyard near the White House Rose Garden; this became known colloquially as the "Beer Summit".
An independent panel with experts from across the nation published a report on June 30, 2010, which states that "Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates each missed opportunities to 'ratchet down' the situation and end it peacefully" and share responsibility for the controversial July 16 arrest. Crowley could have better explained how uncertain and potentially dangerous it is to respond to a serious crime-in-progress call and why this can result in a seemingly rude tone. Gates could have tried to understand Crowley's view of the situation and could have spoken respectfully to Crowley. The report cites research that shows people's feelings about a police encounter depend significantly on whether they feel the officer displays respect and courtesy.