How many 911 calls begin with: “there’s a strange black man breaking into my neighbor’s house”? I am not surprised that the 911 operator would ask for a physical description later in the call. I don’t think Lucia Whalen was deliberately casing her neighborhood and targeting African Americans for suspicious behavior. That would be a clear case of racial profiling. But I am not ready to assume Ms. Whalen acted in a color-blind fashion either.
If you review the 911 call transcript, when asked whether the perpetrators were white, black, or Hispanic, Ms. Whalen said “there were two larger men, one looked kind of Hispanic, but I’m not really sure. And the other one entered and I didn’t see what he looked like at all.” Professor Gates is multi-racial and his lighter skin could be confused with being Hispanic when viewed from behind at a distance. Ms. Whalen also acknowledges that she wasn’t sure whether this was a break-in or the owner trying to get into his own house: “I noticed two suitcases so I’m not sure if these are two individuals who actually work there, I mean who live there”.
So here’s my question. If you saw someone in broad daylight with two suitcases on the front porch trying to enter your neighbor’s house, what would you do? Since most burglaries do not occur during the daylight hours through the front door, this situation would appear to me to fit the profile (pardon the pun) of someone returning from a trip and accidentally locking himself out of his house. I would be more inclined to help him rather than call 911.
Had Ms. Whalen seen two white people trying to enter the house instead of one who looked Hispanic, might she have been inclined to help them rather than call 911?