The 911 caller who reported a possible break-in at the home of black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. did not mention race in the call, according to a statement issued by her attorney and backed up by Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas.
Lucia Whalen placed the 911 call July 16, saying she saw two men on Gates’ front porch who appeared to be trying to force open the front door. The call led to the arrest of Gates by Cambridge police on a disorderly conduct charge, and the resulting national firestorm.
In the statement issued Sunday by attorney Wendy Murphy, Whalen — who has not spoken publicly — said she only saw the backs of the two men and did not know their race when she made the call. Murphy said Whalen, who works nearby, called because she had been aware of recent break-ins in the area and wanted to correct “misinformation” suggesting that she placed the call because the men on the porch were black.
“Contrary to published reports that a ‘white woman’ called 911 and reported seeing ‘two black men’ trying to gain entry into Mr. Gates home, the woman, who has olive colored skin and is of Portuguese descent, told the 911 operator that she observed ‘two men’ at the home,” Murphy’s statement read.
“It was very clear that she wasn’t sure what the men’s race was,” Haas said in an interview with The Boston Globe Sunday night.
Haas said Whalen, after questioning by the dispatcher during the 911 call, speculated that one of the men — who turned out to be Gates and a black car service driver — may have been Hispanic.
The 911 tapes have not yet been made public, but Haas told the Globe that he expected some version of the tapes to be released within the next few days.
The commissioner acknowledged that in the police report the caller is said to have observed “what appeared to be two black males” on the porch, but he said the report was a summary and not necessarily based on the initial call.
Supporters of Gates called his arrest by Sgt. James Crowley an outrageous act of racial profiling.
The disorderly conduct charge was dropped, but interest in the case intensified with President Barack Obama said at a White House news conference that Cambridge police “acted stupidly” in arresting Gates.
Obama later sought to tamp down the uproar. He spoke to Crowley and Gates during separate telephone calls Friday and declared that Crowley was a good man.
The president invited the officer and the professor to the White House for a beer. He conceded his words had been ill-chosen, but he stopped short of a public apology.
Gates said he hoped his arrest would lead to a greater understanding about racial profiling in America.