The woman who made the 911 call that lead to the arrest of a black Harvard professor and re-ignited the debate about race relations said Wednesday she hid as the public at first called her a racist but the release of the audio tapes has now set her free.
"I reacted out of fear," the caller, Lucia Whalen, said at a noon press conference in Cambridge, Mass., where the incident occurred July 16. "Now that the tapes are out, you know I am not a racist."
Tapes of the call released Monday revealed that Mrs. Whalen did not mention race when telling a police dispatcher that two men appeared to be breaking into the home of professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. When pressed by a dispatcher about the suspects' race, she said at least one might be Hispanic.
"I never thought what I witnessed and said would be analyzed by an entire nation," said Mrs. Whalen, at times on the verge of tears.
What remains unclear is whether Mrs. Whalen described the men as black to arresting officer Sgt. James Crowley, as stated in the Cambridge Police Department incident report.
The men exchanged words during the midday incident. And Sgt. Crowley, who is white, arrested Mr. Gates for disorderly conduct. The charge were dropped but the debate continued largely after President Obama said July 22 that police "acted stupidly." Two days later, he said his comments only added to the unrest, and he invited the men and their families to join him at the White House. The meeting is set for Thursday.
Mrs. Whalen thanked her husband and other family members for their support and expressed hope that her words will add to the healing process.
"As people around the country thought and said the worst things about me, I was grateful for their love and support. ... I hope the truth of the tapes will help heal Cambridge as much as they have restored my reputation and integrity," she said.
She also said she respects Mr. Gates and Sgt. Crowley and described Cambridge, home to Harvard University and across the Charles River from Boston, as a "wonderful place."
Mrs. Whalen, who works at Harvard Magazine and has been associated with the community for about 15 years, was walking by the Gates home when a concerned neighbor stopped her about the incident. She then called police on her cell phone.