Given President Barack Obama's reluctance to dwell on the issue of race in America, it was a surprise to hear the president's forceful comments on last week's controversial arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Root's editor-in-chief.
At the close of his prime-time press conference on health care Wednesday, the president addressed the touchy issue head on. He criticized the police officer who arrested Gates, saying "any one of us would be pretty angry" about the intrusion into a private home, adding that the Cambridge police department "acted stupidly" in going through with the arrest.
Obama's remarks had the authority of a lawyer who knew the specifics of the applicable law, and it gave him the chance to spotlight an initiative he worked on ardently while in the Illinois state senate, where he wrote a bill to deal with racial profiling by police officers. But his comments also carried special resonance because he is a black man in America.
"Separate and apart from this incident, there is a long history of African Americans and Latinos being stopped disproportionately by the police," he said. "Race remains a factor in society."
Obama seemed to genuinely understand the humiliation Gates felt as a result of his arrest. He urged better training and coordination among law enforcement officials to "eliminate potential bias" in the justice system at large and seemed to shake his head at the fact that such discrimination can persist in “his” America.
Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.