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Hello, Sgt. Crowley, it's the President calling
By Michael Daly in the NY Daily News, Sunday, July 26th 2009
Sgt. James Crowley was having a burger and a Blue Moon beer in Tommy Doyle’s Irish Pub when his cell phone rang.
The Cambridge cop spoke for a moment and hung up looking altogether amazed.
“His jaw dropped,” recalled Peter Woodman, a co-owner of the Kendall Square pub and two others of the same name. “He said, ‘Jesus Christ, you'll never guess who’s going to ring me.’”
Word quickly spread through Friday’s lunchtime crowd that White House press secretary Robert Gibbs had just telephoned Crowley to say President Obama would be calling him.
“‘No way!’...‘No way!’...‘No way!’” patrons exclaimed.
A hush swept across the whole place. The TVs and music went off. The clanging in the kitchen ceased.
Crowley remained at a table by the front window, the cell phone set before him.
“He got a bit nervous for a minute or two then he got his head, Woodman said. “Cool as a cucumber, just sat there sipping his beer.”
The pub stayed absolutely silent.
“You could hear a pin drop,” Woodman said. “Literally 80 to 100 people standing around him. It was surreal.”
A couple came in from the street and asked for a table.
“The whole bar [said,] ‘Shhh! Shhh! Shut up and sit down!’” Woodman said.
After five or maybe six minutes, the phone rang again.
“He braced himself, took a deep breath,” Woodman recalled.
After two, perhaps three rings, Crowley answered.
“Hello, Mr. President.”
Obama addressed him as Sgt. Crowley.
“Call me Jimmy,” Crowley said.
Obama said to call him Barack. They spoke for five minutes or more as the crowd stood transfixed.
Woodman watched a happy change come over the cop whose life had been upended after he responded to a report of a possible burglary. He had arrested Harvard Prof. Henry Gates for disorderly conduct.
Woodman knew Crowley to be the ultimate professional, an officer of the law before all else when on duty.
“He might know you outside work, but when he’s working, he’s Sgt. James Crowley,” Woodman said.
Woodman is friendly with Crowley, but knows to expect no favoritism.
“If there’s something wrong, Jimmy is the first guy going to roast me,” Woodman said.
“If you break the law, you broke the law; if you don’t, you didn’t.”
The world surely has too many racist cops, but by everything Woodman and others say Crowley is not one of them. Woodman saw in the days after the arrest that the accusation cut deep.
“He’s blown away anybody could call his integrity into question,” Woodman said. He won’t admit it, but I think he was genuinely hurt by the whole thing.”
Crowley seemed particularly bothered by the effect on his family. The media was staking out his home and the three kids could not just go out and play.
“You could see over the last few days he was stressed, he was under p ressure,” Woodman said.
The situation intensified after Obama said at a press conference on Wednesday that the Cambridge cops had “acted stupidly.”
The police union held its own press conference on Friday to demand an apology from anyone who suggested the arrest was influenced by race.
Afterwards, Crowley and the cops took Woodman up on an invitation to stop into the pub for lunch away from the media.
Then came the phone calls. Obama told Crowley he regretted his choice of words and praised him as “an outstanding police officer and a good man.”
At one point, “Barack” asked “Jimmy” what he was drinking. Barack said he also is partial to Blue Moon. They talked of getting together with Gates for a beer at the White House.
When the call ended and Crowley set down the phone, the pub erupted in cheers.
Obama would continue to suggest Crowley may have overreacted, but allowed that Gates may have as well. The fact remained that the President had called the cop. Woodman beheld a cop restored.
“A new man,” Woodman said.