Maybe Lucia Whalen should also get a beer?

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Caller in Gates Case Says She Didn’t Mention Race

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. : Lucia Whalen, whose 911 call led to the arrest of the Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his home, made her first public comments Wednesday, saying at no time did she ever mention race to the responding police officer.

Ms. Whalen’s statements contradict the police report filed by Sgt. James Crowley, who said Ms. Whalen told him outside Mr. Gates’s home that she had seen”what appeared to be two black males with backpacks”on the porch of the yellow single-family house.

Ms. Whalen said that the only words she exchanged with Sergeant Crowley in person were,”I was the 911 caller.”She said that he responded,”Stay right there.”

Ms. Whalen, 40, her voice cracking, said she was deeply hurt by the reaction to the incident on July 16. She said she and her family had been the target of threats, which led her to speak out.

“When I was called a racist, I was the target of scorn and ridicule because of things I never said,”she told the reporters gathered in a park here at midday. She added,”The criticism hurt me as a person but also hurt the community of Cambridge.”

On Monday, the Cambridge police released the tape of Ms. Whalen’s 911 call in which she told the dispatcher she had”no idea”if two men : who turned out to be Professor Gates and his driver : were breaking into the house, repeatedly mentioning that they might live there. She said that the two men pushed a door in with their shoulders, and that she was unsure”if they live there and just had a hard time with their key.”

Ms. Whalen did not mention the men’s race until a dispatcher asked her if they were black, white or Hispanic.

“There were two larger men,”she said in the audio released Monday.”One looked kind of Hispanic, but I’m not really sure,”she said, adding that she did not see what the second man”looked like at all.”

Ms. Whalen also told the dispatcher that she called 911 on behalf of an elderly neighbor who saw the men trying to get into the house.

On Wednesday, she said she hoped that with the tapes out,”people can see that I tried to be careful,”adding that she never thought that her words”would be analyzed by an entire nation.”

She said that she had been the target of threats but that, after reflection, she would make the same call again.

“I respect the Cambridge police as well as Professor Gates and I hope my decision to speak out does not add any controversy to what has been a difficult situation,”she said.

The Cambridge police have stood by their report and could not be immediately reached for comment.

The disorderly conduct charge against Professor Gates was dropped, and he and Sergeant Crowley plan to meet with President Obama for a beer at the White House on Thursday.

Ms. Whalen, who works at Harvard Magazine, said she was not asked to join the men at the meeting. Her lawyer, Wendy Murphy, who accompanied her to the news conference, said her client should go if asked.

“The three highly trained guys who acted badly are getting together for a beer tomorrow at the White House, and that’s a good thing,”Ms. Murphy said.”The one person whose actions were exemplary will be at work tomorrow here in Cambridge.”

Of course, if she isn’t there at the White House beer bash   it will be that much easier for the men to blame the whole episode on her I guess.

–Ann Bartow

ETA: NYT account here. I’m not sure Whalen’s actions were “exemplary” but it seems to me she should be included in the conversation about the incident.

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One Response to Maybe Lucia Whalen should also get a beer?

  1. NM says:

    I believe she did act in an exemplary manner. You see something that looks off, you call in and report exactly what you see. Better safe than sorry. Better to report 20 things that turn out to be nothing, than foster a ‘Kitty Genovese’ environment.

    When you read studies of situational responsibility, about group after group of study participants who don’t assist their “peer” who is “zapped” behind a screen or who “falls” off a chair – but for one person who objects, or gets up to help – well, Lucia Whalen is that one person. She’s the one person in every 10 or 100 or 1000 who sees something amiss and takes action, even though she’s not totally sure of what she’s seeing and its not directly “her business.”

    In this situation, she called in and reported exactly what she saw (which we know because her words in the 911 call match precisely what was taking place – two men, luggage, forcing a door, perhaps they live there, perhaps they don’t). She did the right thing. And for her trouble she is vilified 24-7 by scores of loutish Chris Matthews types (and, of course, Chris Matthews) as an ignorant racist troublemaker, and then to top it off she is snubbed by the president of the United States.

    Just a few weeks ago I called 911 because a young black man was lying curled up on a dark patch of sidewalk. I don’t know how many scores of people had noticed him and kept walking – perhaps they figured he was “sleeping it off.” I waited until the responders got there and gently helped him up and into an ambulance. Someone easily could have accused me of being a white woman freaking out because a black man was lying on the sidewalk. But screw that – he might have had a seizure, a stroke, a wound, an OD, who knows. Better to call and make the mistake of overreacting than let some poor kid just lie there without help because you’ve got some racial melodrama playing out in your head.

    The situation in Cambridge was pure testosterone poisoning. Gates got his back up, then the cop got his back up, and neither wanted to back down. Wash, rinse, repeat. Men do this all the time.

    More Lucia Whalens, please, and less men hopped up on their own egos.

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