A prominent black Harvard scholar arrested last week has triggered escalating national debates over racism.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, was arrested on July 16 in his resident Cambridge, Massachusetts by a white police sergeant James Crowley.

President Barack Obama said on Wednesday police had acted stupidly in arresting professor Gates at his own home at a prime-time White House news conference.

I don't know -- not having been there and not seeing all the facts -- what role race played in that, but I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry, Obama said when asked about the case.

Number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home, he said. And number three — what I think we know separate and apart from this incident — is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately, and that's just a fact, he continued.

In radio interviews Thursday morning, Crowley maintained he had done nothing wrong in arresting Gates. I support the president to a point; I think it's disappointing that he waded into what should be a local issue and something that plays out here.

Gates was charged with disorderly conduct. The charge was dropped Tuesday, and Gates has since demanded an apology from Crowley. He said he was outraged by the arrest. This isn't about me; this is about the vulnerability of black men in America.

While Crowley said he won't apologize. And his union has expressed full and unqualified support for him.

Gov. Deval Patrick, who is black, said he was troubled and upset over the incident.

Cambridge Mayor Denise Simmons, who also is black, has said she spoke with Gates and apologized on behalf of the city, and a statement from the city called the July 16 incident regrettable and unfortunate.