Crafting the Beer Summit

When the President of the United States and the Governor of Massachusetts jumped to outrageous conclusions, saying the arrest of Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was yet another example of racist police action, MLC pushed back hard.

MLC represents the Cambridge Police patrol and superior officers’ unions. On July 16, 2009, Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley’s response to a house-break “in process” call from a neighbor of Professor Gates made headlines around the world. There are few issues more volatile in the United States than racism and the interactions between people of color and law enforcement, so the story burned like a wildfire.

In that heat, the truth was in jeopardy. So, MLC founder Alan McDonald and colleagues moved quickly. They reviewed the facts of the case, interviewed Sgt. Crowley and other police officers who were at the scene, and found there was no racial motivation to the arrest. Alan then collaborated with his union client to develop a plan to set the record straight. They organized a press conference, where representatives from several local law enforcement and community groups, men and women of many backgrounds, stood together to support Sgt. Crowley and the overall integrity of the Cambridge police department. They demanded apologies from the Governor and the President.

Then the White House called.

The inflammatory, ill-advised comments from President Obama (echoed by Governor Deval Patrick) were turning up the heat on the White House, as it became clear that Sgt. Crowley acted appropriately. To extinguish the raging controversy, President Obama offered to host a meeting with Sgt. Crowley and Professor Gates and talk things through “over a beer.”

Alan negotiated the terms of the encounter, now famously called the “Beer Summit,” and he accompanied Sgt. Crowley to the White House for the meeting. “It all worked out in the end. The President and the Professor were gracious,” Alan said. “Sgt. Crowley and the members of the Cambridge police department are dedicated professionals who value the diversity of the community they serve. This was never a racially motivated incident and we weren’t going to sit back and take that charge from anyone.”