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Obama stirs racial passion

world Updated: Jul 24, 2009 23:21 IST

President Barack Obama plunged his presidency into a charged racial debate and set off a firestorm with police officers nationwide by siding with a prominent black scholar who accuses police of racism.

Saying he was unaware of “all the facts” but that police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, “acted stupidly” in their arrest of
Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates, Obama whipped up emotions on both sides of an issue that threatens to open old wounds.

“The President has alienated public safety officers by his comments,” said David Holway, president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, which represents 15,000 public security officials.

In a letter to Obama, he sought an apology. “You not only used poor judgment in your choice of words, you indicted all members of the Cambridge police department and public safety officers .”

Obama’s comments, made at a news conference on Wednesday marked his biggest foray into the hot-button issue of race since
taking office in January and underline how racial issues remain very much alive despite advances embodied by his election
as the first black US president.

“Unfortunately, the racial divide is still there. It’s still very raw. I think he was trying to let the majority of non-minority Americans have a sense of what it is like to a black or Latino,” said Boston University professor of politics Thomas Whalen.

But many in Massachusetts said he crossed a line by passing judgment on police while acknowledging he did not have all the facts.