Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Is Vindication for Lucia Whalen also Vindication for Obama?

July 29th, 2009 by Ajuan Mance

…or A Tale of Two Sources.


President Barack Obama as a college freshman.


By now, anyone in the blogosphere who is interested in the circumstances surrounding Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s arrest is probably familiar with two official sources on the matter. One is the police report, released early last week, and the other is the transcript of Lucia Whalen’s 911 call to the Cambridge Police.

The 911 transcript makes clear that at the time that she called, Lucia Whalen was unsure of 1)whether or not a crime was being committed and 2)what the ethnicity of the two possible burglars actually was. I am among many bloggers who are now revisiting the case and as well as the role and motivation of the caller.

The Lucia Whalen who made the 911 call seemed the reluctant witness, pressed into involvement by her sympathy for a concerned elderly neighbor on Gates’s block. This Whalen is quite different from the one described in the police report, which says that she was waiting in front of the house in question, cell phone in hand, and that she reported seeing two Black men with backpacks, one of whom had used his shoulder to force entry.

Rob Kuznia of the Hispanic Business Report explains:

The release of the 911 transcript in last week’s explosively controversial arrest of an African American Harvard professor has raised questions about the police officer’s official report documenting his arrest of Henry Louis Gates outside Gate’s own home.

In his police report, Sgt. James Crowley wrote that the 911 caller told him she’d seen “what appeared to be two black males with backpacks” trying to pry open the locked front door of the home. But in the 911 transcript the caller, Lucia Whalen — who was calling on behalf of an elderly woman — didn’t mention race until asked about it by the dispatcher, and then only said that one of the men might be Hispanic.

On Monday, Whalen’s attorney, Wendy Murphy, publicly stated that her client never told Crowley that the men were black.

“She never used the word black and never said the word backpacks to anyone,” Murphy said, according to the New York Times.

What’s more, a newly released recording of the communication between Crowley and the police dispatcher was similarly devoid of any reports of two black men. When Crowley asked about the race of the suspects, the dispatcher replied, “Unknown on the race,” but said, “one may be Hispanic,” according to The Times.

If, as Whalen’s attorney alleges, the police report literally puts words into the 911 caller’s mouth, then Sargeant Crowley may find his actions under a microscope. A beer with the President might be the last smooth patch in the road that he experiences for a very long time. Those of us who have relied on that report for an understanding of the events surrounding Gates’s arrest are now having to reconsider and retract our assertions about the callers role in this bizarre incident.

One person whose initial, off-the-cuff evaluation of this debacle might be vindicated right along with Lucia Whalen is President Obama. Many have criticized him for saying that the arresting officer(s) acted “stupidly.” If Crowley’s police report misrepresents of her client’s words on that day, as Whalen’s lawyer suggests, then President Obama was right.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in Academia, African Americans, Current Events, Harvard University, Henry Louis Gates, Higher Education, race

2 Responses

  1. Teachforever

    I am not amazed at this story. It is just like the media to give the police officer a pass on his misstatement about the 911 caller. We have a long way to go.

  2. Ajuan Mance

    I am curious to see whether or not mainstream media outlets make significant note of the discrepancy between the way that Officer Crowley’s report portrays the caller and the way the 911 transcript portrays the caller.

    I have a feeling that this story may continue to be dramatically underreported.

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