The big, breaking news of the day on the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. case is that the person who called the police to report a possible break-in, Lucia Whalen, denies that in the phone call she identified the race of the two alleged perpetrators, which supposedly contradicts the police report:
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.
Actually, this news is not big, although it is breaking. The Police Commissioner is correct. The police report does not say that the race of the alleged perpetrators was identified in the 911 call. It says that Whalen identified their race when she met the police outside the house. So this breaking news story is based on a misreading of the police report.
But what is more interesting is that in the statement released by Whalen’s attorney, Whalen emphasized that Whalen has “olive colored” skin:
“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.
Is this what we have come to? Measuring skin tone as an indicator of intent? So if Whalen were black, no racial profiling; if white, racial profiling; but olive colored people?
Whalen’s reaction is not surprising. Whalen has been pilloried by the blogosphere as being a white racist neighbor (actually passer-by) who only called the police because she didn’t feel that two black men on the porch of a nice house could be up to anything but no good. So it is natural, but unfortunate, that Whalen falls into the trap of playing the skin-tone game.
But the skin-tone game is a dead end. Whalen will find that out soon enough.
UPDATE: The 911 Tapes has been released. It is clear that Whalen was not acting out of racial animous, but called the police after being stopped by an elderly woman who was afraid there was a break in in progress: Gates 911 Tape Released. In light of her clearly reasonable and race-neutral call to 911, it is hard to understand why Whalen felt the need to issue a statement mentioning her “olive colored” skin.