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?