Gates caller says she didn’t cite race
Woman laments media accounts
By John R. Ellement and Matt Collette, Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent | July 27, 2009
The woman whose report of a possible house break-in led to the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. said she never mentioned race during her 911 call and is “personally devastated’’ by media accounts that suggest she placed the call because the men she observed on the porch were black, according to a lawyer acting as her spokeswoman.
The woman, identified in a police report on file in Cambridge District Court as 40-year-old Lucia Whalen, saw the backs of both men and did not know their race when she called 911, said Wendy J. Murphy, a Boston lawyer from New England School of Law. Whalen phoned police, Murphy said, because she was aware of recent break-ins in the area.
In an interview last night, Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert C. Haas said it was ac curate that Whalen did not mention race in her 911 call. He acknowledged that a police report of the incident did include a race reference. The report says Whalen observed “what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the front porch’’ of a Ware Street home on July 16.
That reference is there, said Haas, because the police report is a summary. Its descriptions - like the race of the two men - were collected during the inquiry, not necessarily from the initial 911 call, he said.
The events of July 16 - when Gates was arrested at his home for disorderly conduct by Police Sergeant James Crowley, who responded to the 911 call - remain a matter of discussion, even as both sides seek to put the issue to rest. Tapes made during the incident may illuminate some of what happened.
Hass said yesterday that he expects some version of the tapes to be released in the next few days.
Race has become the central concern in what began as a report of a possible break-in. Whalen, walking from her office nearby, grew suspicious when she saw two men trying to force open the door of the home, according to the report.
The two men turned out to be Gates, who was unable to open his front door, and his driver, who assisted Gates in opening the door and left.
“People are making their own judgments about the case and assuming that she called police because they were black,’’ Murphy said yesterday in a telephone interview. “That sentiment is permeating the stories, and it ties directly to her involvement, even though the truth is she didn’t report seeing black men and she didn’t know the men’s race when she called 911.’’
In an interview at police headquarters last night, Haas said “it was very clear that she wasn’t sure’’ what the men’s race was. He also said that when the dispatcher questioned Whalen for more details, she told police she could only guess about the race of the two men. “She speculated . . . that one might be Hispanic.’’
Haas, who learned about Whalen’s statement from a Globe reporter yesterday, said last night that he could not immediately pin down the point in time when the race of the men became known to the officers.
Gates later suggested that his arrest on disorderly conduct charges was because he is black. Crowley, the officer who made the arrest after the two exchanged words, has maintained that race was not a factor. The disorderly conduct charges were dropped, but not before the incident garnered worldwide attention.
President Obama waded into the conflict last week, saying Cambridge police “acted stupidly’’ in arresting Gates, and noting that black and Hispanic men are still arrested disproportionately. He later initiated an effort at conciliation, with Gates and Crowley planning to meet the president at the White House to talk it out over beers.
Haas yesterday also said he shares Gates’s view that it is time for his department, the city, and the nation to move on from the incident while still searching for the teachable moment.
“July 16 is a painful moment for all of us,’’ the commissioner said. “We need to move on. If we focus back on July 16, we are not going to make any progress.’’
Haas said he won’t be in the White House when Gates, Crowley, and the president gather for their beers - and he is fine with that.
“I haven’t been invited,’’ Haas said. “I think the president has much heavier issues on his mind, not that this isn’t important.’’
Haas called the conciliatory statements Obama made Friday “extremely gracious.’’
Crowley is expected to return to work today, according to the commissioner, who said he stands by the sergeant. He considered Crowley a “stellar officer’’ before July 16 and that assessment, he said, “hasn’t changed.’’
Haas said he wants the city to quickly release transcripts and tapes of the 911 calls and of the officers as they were on the scene at Gates’s house.
“It would help us a lot if the tapes could get released,’’ Haas said, adding that the decision is being made by the city’s lawyers and manager, not his department.
One issue that has slowed down the release, he said, is concern over Whalen’s privacy rights, given that her 911 call would be played by the media nationwide. He said some form of the calls will be released - possibly just transcripts - in the next few days.
But Murphy said her client backs having the 911 tapes released immediately.
“She has no objection,’’ Murphy said.
“The police concern is legitimate because it comes from her initial concern they not release her name. But since that couldn’t be done, her concern about privacy has passed.’’
Whalen has for more than 15 years worked for Harvard in an office about 100 yards from Gates’s home, according to Murphy. “For her to be characterized as the racist spark that fueled the fire is just utterly, 100 percent wrong,’’ Murphy said.
The Globe was unable to reach Whalen yesterday. Murphy said her client did not want to speak to the media.
Obama will meet parties over a beer in 'near future'
President Obama, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Cambridge police Sergeant James Crowley - who last week became entangled in a race-related spat - are set to sit down for a beer in the “near future,’’ White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.’’
And perhaps those drinks will do what countless news reports and press conferences and stakeouts could not do: Bring closure to an encounter between Crowley and Gates at the professor’s home July 16 that turned into a race-tinged firestorm.
Crowley did not return a telephone message left last night, but he is reportedly a fan of Blue Moon, a Belgian-inspired brew manufactured by Coors (that’s what the New York Daily News reported he was drinking during lunch Friday at Tommy Doyle’s Irish Pub in Kendall Square, when he got a call from Obama). Obama hasn’t weighed in on his choice.
Gates was in Los Angeles yesterday filming his new PBS series on immigration and is expected to arrive on Martha’s Vineyard today - unless he ends up at the White House for those beers with Obama and Crowley.
“I look forward to meeting Sgt. Crowley under more pleasant circumstances, and having that beer,’’ Gates told the Globe yesterday in an e-mail, saying a date has not been set. He said he’s partial to Red Stripe and Beck’s. He may not get his pick, as they are foreign beers, which are not stocked at the White House, under a tradition dating to the Johnson administration