WASHINGTON — Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was mildly critical Tuesday of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., whose angry response to a Cambridge, Mass., police officer touched off a national debate involving President Obama.
Powell, interviewed by CNN's Larry King, cited times when he was a victim of racial profiling -- including as national security advisor. Sometimes, he said, you just have to let it slide.
The confrontation between Gates, a noted black scholar, and white police Sgt. James Crowley began when Crowley responded July 16 to the report of a possible break-in. Gates -- who lives at the house -- eventually was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge, which was soon dropped.
But the case could have been resolved amicably, Powell said, if Gates had been more cooperative.
He "might have waited awhile, come outside, talked to the officer, and that might have been the end of it," Powell said. "I think he should have reflected on whether or not this was the time to make that big a deal."
But, he added, Gates had just arrived home from a trip to China and New York, and "all he wanted to do was get to bed."
When asked about the incident at a news conference last week, Obama said the police acted "stupidly." The president subsequently toned down his criticism but not his denunciation of racial profiling generally.
Crowley and Gates are coming to the White House on Thursday to discuss the situation over a beer.
Powell said he has been the target of racial profiling many times, and sometimes he gets angry.
On one such occasion, he said, he tried to meet someone at Reagan National Airport near Washington, "and nobody thought I could be the national security advisor to the president. I was just a black guy."
Asked how he dealt with the situation, Powell said, "You just suck it up. What are you going to do?
"There is no African American in this country who has not been exposed to this kind of situation," he said.
But, he added, "when you are faced with an officer trying to do his job and get to the bottom of something, this is not the time to get in an argument with him. I was taught that as a child.
"You don't argue with a police officer," Powell said.