Charging an individual with racism is potent politics, and when the President of the United States refuses to admit he has made a mistake, being at the wrong place at the wrong time can be a life changer. President Obama’s response to Chicago journalist Lynn Sweet not only was a torpedo aimed at Sergeant James Crowley but also the then anonymous 911 caller who thought she was doing someone else a favor, Professor Henry Louis Gates, a favor. She was hit with some flying pieces of metal as well that evening. Mr. Obama’s response to the Gates arrest question was more than likely to result in collateral damage:
“I don’t know all the facts. What’s been reported, though, is that the guy forgot his keys, jimmied his way to get into the house; there was a report called in to the police station that there might be a burglary taking place.
So far, so good, right? I mean, if I was trying to jigger into — well, I guess this is my house now, so — it probably wouldn’t happen.
But let’s say my old house in Chicago. Here, I’d get shot.
But so far, so good. They’re — they’re — they’re reporting. The police are doing what they should. There’s a call. They go investigate. What happens?
My understanding is, at that point, Professor Gates is already in his house. The police officer comes in. I’m sure there’s some exchange of words. But my understanding is — is that Professor Gates then shows his ID to show that this is his house, and at that point he gets arrested for disorderly conduct, charges which are later dropped.
Now, I’ve — I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, Number One, any of us would be pretty angry; Number Two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.
And Number Three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcing disproportionately. That’s just a fact… .
When I was in the state Legislature in Illinois, we worked on a racial profiling bill because there was indisputable evidence that blacks and Hispanics were being stopped disproportionately. And that is a sign, an example of how, you know, race remains a factor in the society.
That doesn’t lessen the incredible progress that has been made. I am standing here as testimony to the progress that’s been made. And yet the fact of the matter is, is that, you know, this still haunts us.
And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently, and oftentime for no cause, casts suspicion even when there is good cause. And that’s why I think the more that we’re working with local law enforcement to improve policing techniques so that we’re eliminating potential bias, the safer everybody’s going to be.”
It is peculiar that the President of the United States inserted himself into such a local issue. Moreover, though, while Mr. Obama explicitly said the the Cambridge police “acted stupidly,” the 911 caller, now identified as Lucia Whalen was being attacked as a racist herself for simply calling the police after suspecting a burglary in prosgress. Audio (courtesy of Real Clear Politics)of the 911 call shows that Ms. Whalen, however, never brought up the race of the individuals she thought were breaking into Professor Gates’s house (later found out to be Gates himself). The Associated Press reported:
Whalen was vilified as a racist on blogs after a police report said she described the possible burglars as “two black males with backpacks.”
Tapes of the call released earlier this week revealed that Whalen did not mention race. When pressed by a dispatcher on whether the men were white, black or Hispanic, she said one of them might have been Hispanic.
“Now that the tapes are out, I hope people can see that I tried to be careful and honest with my words,” Whalen said. “It never occurred to me that the way I reported what I saw be analyzed by an entire nation.”
“The criticism at first was so painful I was frankly afraid to say anything. People called me racist. Some even said threatening things that made me fear for my safety,” said Whalen, whose husband, Paul, put his hand on her shoulder in comfort her as she spoke. “I knew the truth, but I didn’t speak up right away because I did not want to add to the controversy.”
“I am proud to have been raised by two loving parents who instilled in me values including love one another, be kind to strangers and do not judge people based on race, ethnicity or any other feature than their character,” she said.
“I was called racist and I was a target of scorn and ridicule because of the things I never said,” she said. “The criticism hurt me as a person, but it also hurt the community of Cambridge.”
Indeed the 911 tapes certainly vindicated Ms. Whalen, but Mr. Obama’s move to nationalize such a local issue turned her life needlessly upside down. Blogs and Al Sharpton’s niece , Brittany, were calling for Ms. Whalen’s head thanks to the president’s Mr. Magoo - like reaction to an issue that should have remained in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
*This version corrects Ms.Whalen’s relationship to Professor Gates