- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 30, 2009

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) | The woman who dialed 911 to report a possible break-in at the home of black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. said Wednesday that she was pained to be wrongly labeled a racist based on words she never said and that she hoped the recently released recording of the call would put the controversy to rest.

With a trembling voice, Lucia Whalen, 40, said she was out walking to lunch in Mr. Gates’ Cambridge neighborhood near Harvard University when an elderly woman without a cell phone stopped her because she was concerned there was a possible burglary in progress.

Mrs. 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 Mrs. 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,” Mrs. Whalen said. “It never occurred to me that the way I reported what I saw be analyzed by an entire nation.”

Cambridge police Commissioner Robert Haas acknowledged that the police report contains a reference to race but said the report is merely a summary of events. The arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, has said his information on the race of the suspects came during a brief encounter with Mrs. Whalen outside Mr. Gates’ house. She contradicted that Wednesday, saying she made no such description.

Mr. Gates’ arrest for disorderly conduct in his own home by a white police officer sparked a national debate over racial profiling and police conduct. The controversy intensified when President Obama said police “acted stupidly” when they arrested his friend.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Thursday he was racially profiled years ago after being asked about such profiling in light of the Gates situation.

The nation’s first black attorney general, Mr. Holder told ABC News that, as a college student, he was stopped by an officer while driving and told to open his trunk for a search.

Mr. Holder declined to discuss the Gates controversy, but he said when he was stopped, he felt humiliated and angry. He said police relations with minorities have improved but could be better.

Mr. Gates has said he was outraged and has demanded an apology from Sgt. Crowley, who said he followed protocol and responded to Mr. Gates’ “tumultuous behavior” appropriately.

Mrs. Whalen, a Harvard alumni magazine employee, said she lived in fear during the immediate aftermath of the arrest when she was dogged for comment and maligned based on the information attributed to her in the police report.

“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 Mrs. Whalen, whose husband, Paul, put his hand on her shoulder to 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.”

She said she felt more comfortable speaking publicly after the tapes were released. She refused to answer questions about the police report or what she saw that day.

Mr. Obama has said he chose his words badly when he reacted to his friend’s arrest, and he has invited Sgt. Crowley and Mr. Gates to meet with him at the White House for a beer Thursday evening.

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