American Morning

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July 27th, 2009
09:58 AM ET

Henry Louis Gates' 911 caller "didn't act on race, she acted on behavior."

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="The 911 caller's attorney, says Lucia Whalen is devastated she is being characterized as a racist."]

As the president tries to cool temperatures between the Cambridge police department and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, the woman who called the police and said there might be a robbery at the professor's home is now speaking out. Her name is Lucia Whalen and her lawyer says she never mentioned race when she called 911. So what exactly did she see and what did she tell police?

Lucia Whalen's attorney, Wendy Murphy spoke with CNN’s Alina Cho Monday.

Alina Cho: Lucia Whalen is said to be a 40-year-old woman of Portuguese descent and said to be personally devastated about this. What did she tell you about what she said in that 911 call?

Wendy Murphy: The thing that we're really emphasizing this morning is what she didn't say. There's no question she never reported seeing quote, unquote “two black men.” And the reason we're clarifying that is number one, it's been widely reported but number two, to falsely characterize Ms. Whalen as a racist, and she is really devastated by that characterization, she never said they were black, indeed, she couldn't tell their race at all.

Cho: But who in your estimation is classifying her as a racist?

Murphy: Well, if you read almost any mainstream news, you'll see some implication that this incident would never have happened, indeed the police never would have been called if the men had been white. That's an implication that the woman who called 911 was acting because she saw quote “two black men." But also if you look at many of the online reporting sites and some of the columnists, they're basically saying had she not been racist and acted in a racist manner in calling 911, had she not been a white woman fearful of the black men in the neighborhood, she wouldn't have thought they were committing a crime and so she is the racist spark that started this mess, and the absolute opposite is true. She didn't see their race, she didn't report their race, she didn't act on race. She acted on behavior. She works nearby, she doesn't live in the area, she was concerned because she knew there were recent break-ins in the area.

Cho: That is initially why she made the call, right, because she was aware of other recent robberies in the area, right?

Murphy: That's exactly right.

Cho: And am I correct in saying that she says she never saw two black men but what she saw were the backs of two men with backpacks. Can you confirm that?

Murphy: No, no, she did not report seeing two men with backpacks.

Cho: What did she say on that call?

Murphy: She said she saw two men who appeared to be breaking into a home and when asked for further description she indicated that she also saw two bags, that's it. That’s it. That's the description she gave. When pressed a bit further, well, can you describe the men? She said I don't want to speculate. I don't want to speculate but if you make me it looks like one of the men might be Hispanic. That's how she described the scene, nothing about black men. And she is absolutely devastated. By the way, she's not even a white woman.

Cho: This is now part of the national conversation. President Obama said last week on Wednesday that he believed that the Cambridge police ‘acted stupidly.’ Two days later he said, well, I could have calibrated those words differently. I'm curious to know what your client thinks about President Obama wading into these waters.

Murphy: However she feels about that, she's not telling me. And I don't think she wants to voice her opinion.

Cho: How do you feel about it?

Murphy: What I want folks to know on behalf of my client is that she believes both sides are respectable and she wants to tamp things down. She doesn't want her clarification of the record to make things worse. She cares about the racism allegation as a person. She does not want to spark any more fights and controversies about the race issue. She's a good person, she was a good citizen and I think we're beginning to see that she was not the racist spark that fueled the fire.

Filed under: Controversy
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Not Impressed

    The only reason why I looked this up on the web site was because I was not able to view in on TV, I was only able to catch a clip, but I was sure that this woman had said something to provoke all this ciaos. If what her attorney says is true, nothing he'd mention deemed this woman as a racist. Couldn't this be classified as a form of harassment or deformation of character? Wouldn't the release of the tape confirm what was or wasn't said? So, why not put an end to it? Just something else to talk about? Isn't there more important things to report anyway?

    July 29, 2009 at 1:44 pm |
  2. linda hawkins

    CNN by ommission is lying ! I have heard the orinal 911 call. She tells that there are suitcases on the porch. So clearly Sgt. Crowley had to know that possibly the owner was just returning home. CNN is no longer credible in my mind – CNN just bends the truth to fit an agenda. I used to think I could more or less trust CNN – not anymore.

    July 28, 2009 at 9:13 am |
  3. Celeste

    CNN is obviously taking side vs. stating the facts!!!

    This AM I've watched 2 stories on this issue. The first story John asked his guest why the police report was inaccurate. However, John allowed the guest to ignore and not answer the question, but instead attack Obama.

    The second report, never stated that 911 caller was upset and defending herself against what Crowley reported and what the MEDIA reported.

    The 911 caller was lied on by Officer Crowley's in his falsified report stating the caller said the men were "black" "with back packs".

    July 28, 2009 at 8:33 am |
  4. Jeff S.

    The 911 call puts Sgt. Crowley's dubious credibility into question. I never believed him from the get-go, and now there's evidence that disputes the details in his report. It's high time that Sgt. Crowley apologize. I think it is important to talk about this, because race relations is something that will continue to exist as long as there are race differences. Awareness is important to dispel ignorance.

    July 28, 2009 at 8:24 am |
  5. Celeste


    July 28, 2009 at 8:24 am |
  6. Celeste

    Now that we know the police report was falsified, are there any punishments to the police for that! Crowley lied on the report. There was no mention of "black men" or "back packs" as stated in Crowley's report.

    Since Crowley lied about the phone call, who could not have all the suspicion in the world that the details on the actual arrest are accurate.

    Falsifying a police report is a serious offense against all citizens! Falsifying a police report should get him fired. Crowley is the one who broke the law.

    July 28, 2009 at 8:22 am |
  7. Celeste

    Now that we know the police report was falsified, are there any punishments to the police for that! Crowley lied on the report about what the caller said on RACE on this report.

    Since Crowley lied about the phone call, who could not have all the suspicion in the world that the details on the actual arrest are accurate.

    Falsifying a police report is a serious offense against all citizens! Falsifying a police report should get him fired. Crowley is the one who broke the law.

    July 28, 2009 at 8:16 am |
  8. Michael Harvey

    Race does matter in our society. Although it may not have played a part in the report of the alleged break in.

    Ms. Whalen was a nosy neighbor, which is something I hope my neighbors are when I am away from home.

    July 28, 2009 at 3:57 am |
  9. Annie

    It makes me angry to see this as national news at all. Just that distinctions of race are in the headlines at all adds significance to racial barriers. Whether or not it is intentional, by covering news like this rather than say the violence on the streets of Tehran, journalists are only continuing age old stereotypes. I found a good discussion of the matter here:

    July 27, 2009 at 8:53 pm |
  10. Mattie Jones

    The tape has been released. No mention of a backpack or black, that I heard. Sad, Sad, Sad.

    July 27, 2009 at 7:00 pm |
  11. Seeking the Truth

    Alina Cho
    c/o American Morning

    I have a question. Why don't we see white Americans being beaten with batons by white policemen. Why does it seem to always be blacks and Latinos being beaten or handcuffed by white policemen?

    Prof. Gates is another Rodney King situation. A famous NY philosopher once said, this appears to deja vu all over again. 100 years ago, Prof. Gates might have been lynched. I am surprised that Alina Cho and CNN are not more sensitive

    More recently, think police/prosecutor and Jena 6. Is CNN blind or part of the problem? Would you answer this question?

    I was stopped, while driving on I95, with my two kids and my wife, who is very fair. The policeman approached me with his hand on his gun. His reason for stopping me was that a male matching my description had just committed a crime. This is the reason that most policeman use to stop black males or in DWB situations.
    The woman who reported the possible break-in at Prof. gates' house said that she didn't say that the two men were black. Sgt. Gates said the report was that two black men were breaking into the house. The ole, "You fit the description of the person breaking into this house."

    The question CNN should be asking is, "Why didn't the policeman, with his experience, just walk away? Why didn't he just defuse the situation? I have seen white policemen walk away in hot verbal situations. Sgt.
    Crowley teaches profiling is a very experienced policeman. He should have been more in control and just walked away. Prof. Gates could have also handled the situation better. In the case of Vernon Forrest, we just saw that people don't always handle extreme confrontation well...

    My experience with white policeman has been mixed. My PSAL laison was a white Italian. He always spent time talking with us kids. He presented a very positive image. I have very fond memories of Det. Vinnie...

    When you have been profiled, you never know when the next time is one too many times!!! I would like to see Alina Cho interview African-Americans who have been profiled, black cops who have been shot by white policemen, African-Americans who have been followed around a store by store employees. A store where I shop stills tries to entrap me with the open purse in the shopping-cart trick after almost 30 years.

    July 27, 2009 at 1:50 pm |
  12. David Bolton

    I think we can all learn to submit respectfully to law officers. I am sure we would not have heard about this entire thing if the professor would have had respect for the officer. Submit to questioning and politely ask the officer to review the pictures in his house. No challenging the officer. First, the officers mind set is one that a house burglary is in progress. Ask yourself if you were an officer and how you would feel. Sincerely,David

    July 27, 2009 at 1:44 pm |
  13. Chiku

    Well, if she did not say there were 'two black man with backpacks' that means that Sgt. Crowley made it up. It will make him look like he really is a racist. The only to solve this is to release the 911 tapes.

    July 27, 2009 at 1:25 pm |
  14. Petty Stuff

    OMG! Please let it go, the three will have their beers and all forgotten until someone else if offened, People – there are more important things in the world right now.

    July 27, 2009 at 12:18 pm |