BOSTON - Prosecutors dropped a disorderly-conduct charge yesterday against eminent black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., who was arrested by a white officer at his home near Harvard University after a report of a break-in.

The city of Cambridge issued a statement saying the arrest "was regrettable and unfortunate."

"This incident should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department," the statement said.

Still, Gates insisted on an apology, saying his arrest was motivated by racism.

"There are one million black men in jail in this country, and last Thursday I was one of them," Gates told the Washington Post yesterday. "This is outrageous and that this is how poor black men across the country are treated every day in the criminal justice system. It's one thing to write about it, but altogether another to experience it."

He also said he wanted an apology from the officer, Sgt. James Crowley.

Neither the officer nor Gates immediately responded to AP requests for interviews.

Supporters said Gates - director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research - was immediately considered a suspect because officers were summoned to the house by a woman who said she saw "two black males with backpacks on the porch," one of whom was "wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry," according to a police report.

Gates has said he returned home from a weeklong trip to China, found his door jammed, and asked his driver to help him get it open.

When the officers arrived at the house, which Gates rents from Harvard, he was already inside and on the phone with the real estate company that manages the property. He had come in through the back door and shut off the alarm, he said.

Police said Gates, 58, was arrested after he yelled at an officer, accused him of racial bias, and refused to calm down after the officer demanded that Gates show him identification to prove he lived in the home.

Gates' lawyer, fellow Harvard scholar Charles Ogletree, said Gates showed his driver's license and Harvard ID - both with his photos - and repeatedly asked for the name and badge number of the officer, who refused the information. Gates followed the officer onto the front porch and was arrested.

At the station, Gates was booked and fingerprinted. For a while he was handcuffed to a window. "I had to wait in a jail cell," Gates told the Post.

He was not in the cell long. He was kept for four hours in an interview room, where Ogletree and three other university colleagues met him, and released on $40 bond.

Gates joined Harvard in 1991 and holds one of 20 prestigious "university professors" positions at the school. He also was host of African American Lives, a PBS show about the family histories of prominent American blacks.