An older woman approached Whalen, worried that she'd just witnessed two men breaking into a home. That's when Whalen, a first-generation Portuguese-American, called 911 from her cell phone -- alerting police to 17 Ware St. -- the home, as it turns out, of renowned Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Whalen's call -- now clearly the well-intentioned act of a passerby -- ignited a firestorm over race and police relations, a national debate that went all the way to the White House. It was a call she says she never expected to be "analyzed by an entire nation."
Gates was arrested by Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley for disorderly conduct, a charge that was later dropped. Exactly what happened inside Gates' home may never be known, but it seems clear that the key players in this saga brought their own personal history with race to the moment. That was true of Gates and Crowley, as well as the nation's first African-American president.
All three will meet for a beer today at the White House to help chill the furor over Gates' arrest and, in Obama's words, try to turn the events of the past two weeks into a "teachable moment."
It's a bit ironic, said Whalen's attorney Wendy Murphy, that the three people who "reacted badly" will sit down together while the "one person who did not overreact" will be at work Thursday. "Maybe it's a guy thing," Murphy said, adding of Whalen: "She doesn't like beer anyway."
3 amigos get suds; she gets scorn
She will not get a beer with the boys. Lucia Whalen has not been invited to the White House.
The three amigos — Henry Louis Gates Jr., James Crowley and Barack Obama — will throw back some cold ones on the South Lawn on Thursday as the whole world watches this “teachable moment” on race in America.
And they deserve a drink. They have been through so much! How they have suffered!
In reality, only Whalen, the woman who called 911 on July 16 to report a possible break-in at the Cambridge, Mass., home of Gates, acted responsibly from beginning to end in this whole affair.
And she doesn’t even get a free drink out of it.
Instead, she has been reviled. She has been scorned. She was pilloried in the mainstream media and abused in the blogosphere. “Whites like Lucia have bigotry programmed into them,” one Cambridge blogger wrote. “Her description of the two black males is just so, so bigoted. Not only that, it could have led to people getting shot unnecessarily.”
Facts? Truth? We don’t need no stinkin’ facts! And the truth is too slow! In this age of instant communication, we must publish conclusions first — no matter how hurtful or how dangerous — and then let the truth catch up.
In fact, Whalen did not describe “two black males” breaking into a house. She volunteered no racial description at all when she called. (When she was then asked by a police dispatcher to describe the two men, Whalen said “one looked kind of Hispanic, but I’m not really sure.”) Whalen didn’t even say the two men were trying to break into the house.
Here, from the actual 911 tape, is what she said: “I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know if they live there and they just had a hard time with their key, but I did notice they had to use their shoulders to try to barge in.”
It was a proper call. It was the call of a good and responsible citizen. And the police showed up, which is what they are supposed to do.
After that, guys began behaving badly.
You can make a pretty good case that Gates, Crowley and Obama all acted hastily and regrettably. Gates, returning home with a head cold after a 20-hour flight from China, reacted angrily to being confronted in his own house by a police officer. Crowley overreacted by arresting Gates on a bogus disorderly conduct charge. And Obama, who had the most time to think about his actions and is, after all, the president of the United States, admitted he lacked all the facts but, nonetheless, publicly accused the Cambridge police of acting “stupidly.”
So who is the one person who acted properly in all of this? Lucia Whalen.
Her reward? “People called me racist and said I caused all the turmoil that flowed, and some even said threatening things that made me fear for my safety,” Whalen said Wednesday.
Comment: The President acted unwisely to involve himself in this! Whalen was herself a target of racism and continues to be scorned!