By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

What did she say and when did she say it?

Both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald today lead with the news that Lucia Whalen, the woman who told Cambridge Police on July 16 that two men were trying to enter what turned out to be Henry Louis Gates’ home, never mentioned race.

Yet I come away from the stories as perplexed as ever. It appears Whalen may have said one thing in her 911 call, and another when she spoke with Sgt. James Crowley outside Gates’ home. It doesn’t help that we’re hearing not from Whalen but from her spokeswoman, well-known Boston lawyer Wendy Murphy.

Here’s the relevant section from Crowley’s arrest report:

At approximately 12:44 PM, I was operating my cruiser on Harvard Street near Ware Street. At that time, I overheard an ECC [Emergency Communications and 911 Center] broadcast for a possible break in progress at [redacted] Ware Street. Due to my proximity, I responded.

When I arrived at [redacted] Ware Street I radioed ECC and asked that they have the caller meet me at the front door to this residence. I was told that the caller was already outside. As I was getting this information, I climbed the porch stairs toward the front door. As I reached the door, a female voice called out to me. I turned and looked in the direction of the voice and observed a white female, later identified as Lucia Whalen. Whalen, who was standing on the sidewalk in front of the residence, held a wireless telephone in her hand and told me it was she who called. She went on to tell me that she observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch of [redacted] Ware Street.

The Globe story, by John Ellement and Matt Collette, focuses on the 911 call. Cambridge Police Chief Robert Haas confirms that Whalen did not mention race in her call, and speculates that a reference to “two black males” ended up in Crowley’s report as part of information collected during the investigation.

But Crowley’s report is much more specific than that. He claims directly that Whalen told him at the scene that the men she saw were black. Crowley tells Herald reporter Jessica Van Sack, “Obviously, I stand behind everything that’s in the police report. It wouldn’t be in there if it wasn’t true.”

I’m not sure how important any of this is. It’s been pretty clear from the beginning that the police were merely responding to a call, and that the caller may or may not have been motivated by race. From that perspective, we know as much (or as little) as we did before Wendy Murphy was heard from.

The two questions that should have been put to Murphy (and if they were, that should have been made clear) are: (1) What did Whalen tell Crowley when they met at the scene? (2) Why can’t we talk with your client?

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  1. Bill H.

    I see nothing wrong with Lucia Whalen telling Sgt. Crowley that she saw two black males trying to enter the house. And I likewise don't think it qualifies as racism if she mentioned the same thing in her initial 911 call. It stands to reason that the first police officer to arrive is about to conduct a search for these guys, and he's entitled to as much information about their appearance as possible. I think that, if the men had been white, that also would have shown up in Sgt. Crowley's report. It's an identifying trait, as is manner of dress, etc.

  2. cavard

    Oh God. Whalen got Wendy Murphy to represent her? Murphy can do better than that.

  3. NewsHound

    This is beginning to look like it will need more than one beer each. I think Ms. Whalen, at this point, should also be included at the White House as a guest for a beer.This is a lively, but increasingly sad story.Without the arrest there wouldn't be a publicly known story. I think the arrest, at the moment made, was optional, and if that is the case, it should not have happened.The president I think is smart to be offering beer instead of coffee.

  4. bob gardner

    What Lucy Whalen did or said is beside the point, which is, that the police have no business arresting someone in their home because they don't like that person's attitude. I know that there is someone who comments on this site who is a retired police officer. I would ask that person, whoever it is, how often it happened that someone would "play the race card" to him.

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Bob: I agree that what Whalen said isn't all that important. But since she, through Wendy Murphy, went to some lengths to set the record straight, I think it's worth pointing out that she, uh, didn't set the record straight.

  6. Bill Baar

    So Ms Whalen didn't recognize her neigbor?You don't leave a key with your neigbor in Cambridge when you go on a long trip?

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Bill: Good lord. We've known for a week that she wasn't a neighbor. She works in the area.

  8. Bill Baar

    Whalen has for more than 15 years worked for Harvard in an office about 100 yards from Gates’s home….That's a neigbor in my book….

  9. cavard

    Dan, Wendy Murphy is a good person to go to when it comes to analyzing domestic and sexual violence cases. Representing Lucy Whalen just seems, strange and out of her realm. Somehow she just doesn't seem suited to be in this situation and I'm not surprised she didn't set the record straight. How could someone so direct struggle like that?

  10. O-FISH-L

    Bob, I'm not sure if there are others here but I am a retired local police officer who has been defending Sergeant Crowley vigorously. Not sure in what context you're asking about the race card, but in general, in the past 15 years or so, it was rare on both sides (police profiling and civilian blacks claiming discrimination.)I'm almost inclined and perhaps overly optimistic to say the 50+ year-old age group is the tail end of it, again both for white cops and black civilians. For instance, until the early 1990's, most departments were made up of Korean war era vets nearing retirement and Vietnam vets about ten years away from it. Now the Vietnam guys are almost all gone, replaced with a Crowley-esque group of folks who were raised and educated for the most part in political correctness, where racism is taboo, and overt racism, or even latent patterns of it will get you fired. That's by no means a labeling of the Korean/Vietnam era guys as racists, just a statement of fact that things weren't as integrated and colorblind in their childhood as they are for the new centurions.As for the civilian black populace, my experience again, is that the younger ones getting into trouble would either concede that "you got me" or argue "I'm innocent," but rarely "You're doing this because I'm black." Yet, when the parent(s), usually just the mother, would come into bail the son out, it would be "You're only doing this because my kid is black."I think what critics of Sergeant Crowley are having a problem with here, and I understand their views while disagreeing, is the fact that Crowley made a legal arrest based on powers bestowed in the police by the legislature. Perhaps (and I'm serious) the critics should petition the legislature to eliminate arrest powers on first offense Disorderly or Disturbing the Peace, or, like marijuana, require a written citation before arrest. We can argue discretion all day long, but there's no doubt in my mind Crowley is on legal terra-firma as far as the arrest based on current law. I'm not advocating the change, but I've been outnumbered before.

  11. Michael Pahre

    I think both of the media in this case (Globe and Herald) screwed up in their news coverage today.The Globe seems to have accurately states Whalen's contention that she did not mention the two men's race on the 911 call — while not clarifying whether or not Whalen contends that she told the arriving officer in person of the race of the possible perpetrators. By not clarifying when Whalen told police (on 911 or in person), the Globe subtly but definitely confuses the issue.The Herald may have inaccurately summarized Whalen's contention by saying "Woman who called Cambridge Police says she never referred to intruders as black" [italics added] and "[she] claims she never said 'black' men were breaking into his house" [italics added]. The way the Herald's story was written implies directly that Whalen would contend that the police report had an outright false statement in it — which is a bombshell — but Whalen's attorney never seems to have drawn that conclusion. More likely: the Herald misstated Whalen's attorney's statements about the 911 call as also applying to the in person discussions.The drip, drip, drip of information keeps coming out and the media don't seem to be helping us understand the events. Are the weekend reporters/editors at these two papers really as sloppy as they appear to me?

  12. mike_b1

    O-Fish wrote: In general, in the past 15 years or so, it was rare on both sides (police profiling and civilian blacks claiming discrimination.)This mischaracterizes the situation. As the Boston Globe so dramatically detailed (, based on actual data from the various Mass. police forces, if you are a minority in Boston, you run a significantly higher chance of being ticketed than does a white stopped for the same infraction (the State Police were the exception — if they stop you, it doesn't matter your sex, age or color, you're getting a ticket). And, the report says, "Whites and women enjoyed an even larger advantage, on average, in suburbs and small towns." (Well done, O-Fish, well done!)Do we really think there is any difference when it comes to other "crimes?"

  13. O-FISH-L

    Mr. B1, I believe Bob was asking about my own personal on-the-job experiences. I can't speak for the other 16,999 or so members of the Mass. Police Association, just telling you what I observed. In fact, if anything, blacks were given more than a fair shake by white officers, due to the fear of any type of Gates-like backlash.While the statistics you cite are indefensible if they indicate racial profiling, there are a number of discretionary factors that go into an officer's decision to issue a fine, written warning or a verbal one on a traffic stop. High among those factors are the violator's criminal and motor vehicle history. Since it's a fact that people of color commit a disproportionate amount of most crimes, it might be reasonable to infer that an officer who sees a criminal history on his laptop would be more likely to levy the fine than give the benefit of the doubt. Just a thought.

  14. mike_b1

    O-Fish write: Since it's a fact that people of color commit a disproportionate amount of most crimes… Care to back that up with a non-Rush Limbaugh authored study? And remember that "commit" and "are arrested for" and "are convicted for" are three very different terms. As the Mass Police data show, there's no distinction in driving violations, only in who gets ticketed for it. But I'm sure you were honest.*Guffaw!*

  15. O-FISH-L

    Mr. B1,Here's a recent one, that shows that in NYC anyway, blacks are COMMITTING a disproportionate amount of crime. Nothing to get too defensive over, facts are facts."In the first three months of 2009, 52 percent of all people stopped for questioning by the police in New York City were black, though blacks are just 24 percent of the population. But according to the victims of and witnesses to crime, blacks commit about 68 percent of all violent crime in the city. Blacks commit 82 percent of all shootings and 72 percent of all robberies, whereas whites, who make up 35 percent of the city's population, commit about 5 percent of all violent crimes, 1 percent of shootings, and about 4 percent of robberies. These figures are not police-generated; they come from the overwhelmingly minority victims of crime in their reports to the police."–Heather MacDonaldNational Review On-line

  16. O'Reilly

    Dan wt al.,Whalen says "two gentlemen with suitcases" (paraphrased) in her 911 call. There's no mention of race or backpacks. Those identifying elements must have come later.Notice the question the 911 call attendant asks. He wants Whalen to profile the suspects. Instead of asking her to describe the two gentlemen, he asks is they are black, white or Hispanic like those is the only three choices. Are 911 attendants not trained to ask an open ended question: Please describe all the characteristics of these two gentlemen you saw. Dispatch acts likes it's Whalen problem and exhibits frustration with her that she doesn't have it all figured out. In the union press conference last Friday we also learned that Crowley was in a hurry to get back to the station. I have to wonder what effect other work pressures on Crowley factored into his decision to arrest Gates rather than leave the premises B&E investigation over.

  17. NewsHound

    Professor Gates asked Officer Crowley for his name and badge number. That is to be provided under Massachusetts statute. There is strong enough evidence that the professor was riled because of an abrasive attitude by the officer.The officer did comply to identify himself in the house, but deliberately so in a tone that he knew could not be heard which would accelerate the professor's anger.The officer then applied passive-aggressive behavior to only rile the professor further, luring him to the front porch promising, in his own words, identification once there and once there, remained silent only to rile him more. Unfortunately, the professor by this time was so angry he apparently couldn't think as clearly, and the officer gloated in the opportunity to apply his revenge for what he thought was a poor reception. Much of what occurred prior to arriving on the porch was irrelevant with the exception to get his question answered by complying. He kept asking and there was no answer. Finally he stepped to the porch and Officer Crowley thanked him for accommodating his request, and arrested him. Officer Crowley could have and should have left without an arrest and it would have appropriately ended. The arrest was cruel, the officer was angry, and the whole thing became a national event that won't go away. Officer Crowley now walks around cocky as ever and the famous Professor Gates is most likely embarrassed and forever this event will overshadow his lifetime of accomplishments. And, if that is how it turns out, which is most likely – it is sad, indeed.Professor Gates was shrewdly exploited by Officer Crowley.A big score for a cop, a poor score for humanity.

  18. mike_b1

    For heaven's sakes, Heather MacDonald is a lawyer, not a statistician. Punt!

  19. lkcape

    Hmmm… Mr B_1's underlying thought is that all lawyers are liars.It really matters not WHAT profession Ms. MacDonald is in, it matters only that her assertions are correct.Mr. B_1's chin is taking a real beating from his reflexive knee jerks on any point that makes his arguments look more silly than they already are.I would venture that if you look at the larger cities in our country, that statistics confirm the pattern being proposed.

  20. mike_b1

    No, it kind of does matter. And a lot. Unless, of course, you enjoyed having your brain surgery performed by a professional mime.

  21. lkcape

    What counts in brain surgery is that it is successful. And while the odds are dramatically improved with a brain surgeon wielding the knife, success is not dependent upon that.But we are not talking matters physical here. We are talking about extrapolating concepts from a set of facts. The facts are independent of the presenter, and their accuracy can be determined independently.Now if it is as you contend, then every statistic that you have offered is highly suspect unless YOU, yourself, are a statistician.You can't have things both ways, kiddo.Answer carefully! What's left of your credibility is at stake.

  22. mike_b1

    Well, lkcape, if you really think all that (and I believe you do) then I suggest you offer your self-styled analyst services to the highest bidder. Because Wall Street pays tens of millions of dollars for that kind of expertise. Analysis is not easy. And one big reason why it's not easy is because few people know how to design a survey. So by extension, any conclusion drawn from a poorly designed survey is inherently wrong. If you went to college, you would know that.

  23. lkcape

    And so is an argument based on false assumptions.At least my diplomas were not rolls of toilet paper. Wal-Mart?:D

  24. mike_b1

    Your entire argument is based on the false assumption that Gates mouthed off and thus deserved to be arrested. There is no law that supports your point of view.Are you going to call me a negro now?

  25. lkcape

    Hmmm… That photo of Mr. Gates was just him calling for another bag of popcorn?You calling Sgt Crowley and all of the police at the scene liars?Come on…tell us how you really feel!And what do you call yourself? Sophisticated? Cool? Hyperventilating? Sober?Reflective?

  26. mike_b1

    Still waiting for you to cite the law that was broken.And I know you Republicanazis don't believe in the First Amendment (only the Second), but unfortunately for you, it still is a law.

  27. lkcape

    If I didn't believe in the First Amendment, yo' typin' finga might be wrapped with a whole roll of toilet paper."This way to the [d]ummies…."

  28. mike_b1

    Still waiting …

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