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.
Both Gates and Crowley stopped responding to questions from reporters after the meeting with the President was set. Reached Wednesday, Gates said, "I don't think the White House wants me making any statements" and calls to Crowley and his lawyer, Alan McDonald, have not been returned.
Each has said in recent days that they are trying to put the incident behind them, which resulted in Gates being arrested on the charge of disorderly conduct. The charge was later dropped.
In repsonse to a question during a presidential news conference last week, Obama said police had "acted stupidly" in arresting Gates, a comment that elevated the controversy into a national issue. Attempting to calm the furor, Obama first called Crowley to explain that he regretted his choice of words and thought Crowley was an "outstanding officer." Crowley, who took the President's call on his cellphone while sitting in an Irish pub, suggested they all meet for a beer. Obama liked the idea and called Gates to suggested it. Gates agreed on the spot.
"The President has happily agreed to provide the forum but after the public debate over the past week, these two men will gain a greater understanding of each other and prospectively agree that there is value in addressing future ways to improve the relationship between police and the communities they serve," Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, who is serving as Gates's lawyer said in an e-mail. The debate will be pushed aside at the White House, and taken up again before summer's end at a city-wide forum in Cambridge on how police and minority communities relate to one another.
Whalen said she is not upset about not being invited to the meeting. Now that the recordings are out, she said, "so many people have responded with words of support. I hope now that the truth of the tapes will help heal the Cambridge community as much as it has helped to restore my reputation and integrity."
Does she want to be at the White House meeting tomorrow?
"She doesn't like beer," added her lawyer, Wendy Murphy, who said that both Obama, Gates and Crowley overreacted. "The one person whose actions have been exemplary will be at work tomorrow in Cambridge. Maybe it's a guy thing."