Woman Who Reported Gates's Encounter with Police Shares Story

The woman who reported a possible break-in at the home of black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. says she tried to be careful and honest with her words, never thinking they would be analyzed by an entire nation. Video by AP
By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 29, 2009; 2:16 PM

The woman whose 911 call brought the Cambridge police to the home of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. said the last two weeks have been an emotional ordeal in which she feared for her safety after being vilified as a racist.

In her first public statement since the incident, Lucia Whalen said she had been hurt by commentators who thought that she called police when she saw Gates and his driver trying to force open his jammed front door because they were black.

The media reports, based on the Cambridge police report filed after the incident, read that Whalen said she saw "two black men with backpacks" trying to enter a home on the block where she works.

In fact, Whalen said that her only face-to-face interaction with the responding officer, Sgt. James Crowley, was brief.

"The exchange was: I said I was the 911 caller. He pointed to me and said 'Stay right there,'" said Whalen, whose voice broke as she told her side of the story. "Nothing more than that."

Crowley later arrested Gates for disorderly conduct, but Whalen said she did not stick around to see Gates come out of the house and would not comment on the interaction she witnessed between Crowley and Gates. She also declined to comment on the apparently inaccurate information in the police report, saying she respects both Gates and the Cambridge police.

"The criticism at first was so painful for me and difficult that I was frankly afraid to say anything," Whalen said. "People called me racist, and said I caused all the turmoil that followed, and some even said threatening things that made me fear for my safety. I did not want to add to the controversy."

A recording of the emergency call tape released Monday revealed that Whalen was on her way to pick up lunch when she was stopped by an elderly woman who suspected two men were breaking into a home on the street. In the call, Whalen did not reference the race of either man until prompted twice by the dispatcher, and then responded that she was unsure, suggesting that one might be Hispanic. She also said in the call that she was not sure whether the men were breaking in or not.

Gates and Crowley will gather for a beer and chat with President Obama at a picnic table outside the Oval Office as the sun sets Thursday. The president has called the incident a "teachable moment," but the trio is no expected to discuss the details in their meeting.

Off the agenda: Gates's and Crowley's dueling accounts of the professor's arrest outside of his home on July 16, and the accusation that Crowley allegedly racially profiled Gates.

On the agenda: A tour of the White House with their extended families. Gates will be accompanied by his fiance, two daughters, father and brother. Crowley will travel with his three children and wife.

And, of course, both men will bring their lawyers.

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