WASHINGTON — Sgt. James Crowley, the white Massachusetts police officer whose arrest of a black Harvard professor led to a political firestorm for President Obama, is scheduled to step back into the fray today in Long Beach -- thanking a national police union that defended him when Obama said he acted "stupidly."
Crowley was last seen in public sipping beer with Obama and the professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr., in a White House summit staged to smooth over the controversy from the president's comments at a July 22 news conference and to help return focus to his top priority, overhauling healthcare.
The officer's hastily arranged appearance today before an expected crowd of about 10,000 at the Fraternal Order of Police convention underscores that the episode remains raw, at least for many police advocates who were offended when Obama suggested that Gates had been a victim of racial profiling.
Gates, a noted scholar and Obama's friend, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after trying to pry open a stuck door to get into his Cambridge home. The charges were dropped.
Crowley "is going to thank the FOP for its support," said a conference delegate involved in planning the meeting, which is taking place at the Long Beach Convention Center.
The delegate, who spoke Sunday night on condition of anonymity because Crowley's appearance was still being worked out and was going to be a surprise, said the officer did not intend to criticize Obama.
"He just wants to get past this," the delegate said.
Whether his remarks will be open to the media had not been decided Sunday evening.
Still, Crowley's appearance shows he does not intend to shy away from the incident, nor is he likely to back down from his position that he acted properly in arresting Gates.
The police group was quick to stand up for the officer and express dismay over Obama's remarks. That further complicated the situation for the president, who found himself squeezed by two important constituencies: law enforcement and African Americans.
Some black leaders, after all, had praised the president for his initial comments, noting that this marked the first time that the country's first black president had stepped into a racial issue. Previously, Obama had sought to avoid racially charged topics.
Opinion polls in the wake of Obama's remarks showed that support for the president had slipped among whites.
To smooth things over, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden invited Crowley and Gates to the White House for the "beer summit."
Speaking to reporters afterward, Crowley called the discussion "cordial and productive" and said that he and Gates did not apologize to each other.