Video: Dispatcher asks about race in Gates 911 call

updated 7/27/2009 7:15:43 PM ET 2009-07-27T23:15:43

The 911 caller who reported two men possibly breaking into the home of black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. did not describe their race, acknowledged they might just be having a hard time with the door and said she saw two suitcases on the porch.

Cambridge police on Monday released the 911 recording and radio transmissions from the scene in an effort to show they had nothing to hide, but the tapes raised new questions about how and why the situation escalated.

Gates' July 16 arrest on a disorderly conduct charge sparked a national debate about whether the professor was a victim of racial profiling. Gates, returning from a trip to China, and his driver had forced their way through the front door because it was jammed, and the charge was later dropped.

In her 911 call, Lucia Whalen, who works at the Harvard alumni magazine, repeatedly tells the operator she is not sure what is happening.

Caller notices suitcase, not race
Speaking calmly, she tells the operator that she was stopped by an elderly woman who told her she noticed two men trying to get into a house. Whalen initially says she saw two men pushing on the door, but later says one of the men entered the home and she didn't get a good look at him. She says she noticed two suitcases.

"I don't know if they live there and they just had a hard time with their key. But I did notice they used their shoulder to try to barge in and they got in. I don't know if they had a key or not, 'cause I couldn't see from my angle," Whalen says.

She does not mention the race of the men until pressed by a dispatcher to describe them.

"Um, well, there were two larger men," Whalen says. "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, 'Someone's been breaking in someone's house. They've been barging in.'"

The officer who arrested Gates, Sgt. James Crowley, said in his police report that he talked to Whalen soon after he arrived at Gates' home. "She went on to tell me that she observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch," Crowley wrote in his report.

Whalen's attorney, Wendy Murphy, said her client never mentioned the men's race to Crowley and is upset by news reports she believes have unfairly depicted her as a racist.

"She doesn't live in the area. She is by no means the entitled white neighbor. ... That has been the theme in the blogs and the implication in some of the mainstream news media," Murphy said in a phone interview Monday.

Gates loses his temper
In his written report, Crowley said Gates became angry when he told him he was investigating a report of a break-in, then yelled at him and called him a racist.

Video: 911 caller In a radio communication with a dispatcher, also released Monday, Crowley said Gates was not cooperating.

"I'm up with a gentleman, says he resides here, but was uncooperative, but keep the cars coming," Crowley said.

Another voice can be heard in the background of the transmission, but it is unintelligible and unclear if it is Gates.

Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas acknowledged that the police report contains a reference to race, but said the report is merely a summary of events.

Gates did not immediately return an e-mail message, and his spokesman did not return e-mail and telephone messages.

Crowley could not be reached for comment. A message left at the police station was not returned, and no one answered the phone at his Natick home.

Professor's supporters outraged

The professor's supporters called his arrest an outrageous act of racial profiling. Crowley's supporters say Gates was arrested because he was belligerent and that race was not a factor.

Interest in the case intensified when President Barack Obama said at a White House news conference last week that Cambridge police "acted stupidly" in arresting Gates. He later tried to quell the uproar about his comments and invited both Gates and Crowley to the White House for a beer, a meeting that could happen this week, according to the White House.

David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said he did not think the latest revelations related to the 911 call would change many opinions on the case.

"My guess is that that adds nothing to the conviction of black Americans that the cops like to lie a lot. It's just another example of something they already thoroughly believe, and that if it affects the views of those who generally trust the police, it would affect it in a very small way at most."


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