The woman who made the 911 call that led to the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. never referred to black suspects when she called authorities for what she thought was a potential break-in.
Police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, released the 911 phone call Monday. In the call, Lucia Whalen reports seeing “two larger men, one looked kind of Hispanic, but I’m not really sure, and the other one entered, and I didn’t see what he looked like at all.” “I just saw it from a distance, and this older woman was worried, thinking somebody’s breaking in someone’s house and barging in,” Whalen says. “She interrupted me, and that’s when I noticed. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have noticed at all, to be honest with you.” Attorney Wendy Murphy, who represents Whalen, also categorically rejected part of the police report that said Whalen talked with Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer, at the scene. “Let me be clear: She never had a conversation with Sgt. Crowley at the scene,” Murphy told CNN by phone. “And she never said to any police officer or to anybody ‘two black men.’ She never used the word ‘black.’ Period.” She added, “I’m not sure what the police explanation will be. Frankly, I don’t care. Her only goal is to make it clear she never described them as black. She never saw their race. … All she reported was behavior, not skin color.” Calls to the Cambridge Police Department about the issue have not been returned. Police Commissioner Robert Haas told reporters at a news conference Monday that the 911 tape and police transmission from that day “speak for themselves, and I would ask that you form your own opinion.” He added that police always ask themselves: “If I had to do it over again, what would I have done differently”
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“This matter is not resolved,” Haas said. “We have a long way to go. We recognize that we are going to take advantage of the situation and we’re going to learn from it. We’re going to move forward.” In the police report, filed by Crowley, he says he spoke with Whalen outside the home before he approached Gates’ house. “She went on to tell me that she observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch of Ware Street,” the report says. “She told me that her suspicions were aroused when she observed one of the men wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry.” Murphy also disputed accounts of her client as a white woman in the traditional sense. “The fact is, she’s olive-skinned and of Portuguese descent. You wouldn’t look at her and say, necessarily, ‘Oh, there’s a white woman.’ You might think she was Hispanic,” Murphy said. Murphy’s comments add yet another layer of intrigue to the July 16 arrest that has prompted heated discussion across the nation on race relations in America, including President Obama weighing in on the issue. Obama last week first said police “acted stupidly” in arresting Gates after he presented identification that showed he lived in the home. But by Friday, the president said that he had spoken with Crowley and that he didn’t mean to malign the Police Department. The president acknowledged that his words “helped to contribute to ratcheting” up the debate and controversy surrounding the arrest. “I could have calibrated those words differently, and I told this to Sgt. Crowley,” Obama said. Obama spoke about two hours after police unions in Massachusetts called on him to apologize. Obama has invited Crowley and Gates to the White House this week for beer. Meanwhile, authorities in Cambridge announced they have created a panel to advise police on racial issues as a result of Gates’ arrest. “I am committed to making sure our city is not defined by that day. Today is the day to move forward,” City Manager Robert Healy told reporters at Monday’s news conference. The committee, led by “nationally recognized experts,” will not investigate the arrest of Gates — one of the nation’s most prolific scholars on African-American affairs — nor will it “make any judgments” on the officers involved, Healy said. The committee “will identify lessons to be taken from the circumstances surrounding the incident” and will advise the Police Department on how “those lessons can be applied” to its policies and practices. “It’s time to move forward and look at lessons learned and go from there,” Healy said. He also weighed in on this week’s upcoming meeting in Washington between Gates, Crowley and Obama: “I hope they enjoy their beer at the White House.” Also at the news conference, Cambridge mayor Denise Simmons, who is African-American, said the arrest was a “turning point for the city.” “While this has been a trying time for Cambridge, we are confident that we can ultimately come out stronger and more unified,” she said. “We see ourselves as America’s classroom.” Speaking to CNN by phone, Murphy said she was trying to clear Whalen’s name after she’s come under attack by bloggers and in chat rooms, accused of racial profiling when she first called police. She said Whalen is “devastated” by such characterizations because she is sensitive about such issues because of her own complexion. Whalen worked down the street and was on her lunch break when she called police. “She just wants to clear her name. She doesn’t want to create more controversy,” Murphy said. “She falls outside the plain lines of race, and I think she wanted people to know that.”