911 transcript does not clear neighbor in Gates racial profiling case

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?

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2 Responses to “911 transcript does not clear neighbor in Gates racial profiling case”

  1. Annabeth Amerine says:

    The incident did not begin for Ms. Whalen with her seeing two people with suitcases trying to enter a house in broad daylight. It began, while she was on her way to lunch, when “an elderly woman stopped her on Ware Street earlier this month and explained that someone appeared to be breaking into a nearby home…” Other reports have noted that this elderly woman specifically asked Ms. Whalen if she had a phone to call the police. I find it entirely possible, especially given her calm and completely rational delivery of information to the police, that she was making the call just to reassure an agitated elderly neighborhood resident, and that had she observed this herself she wouldn’t have thought anything but, “Poor guy lost his keys…”


  2. Clifford Tong says:

    Your point is well taken, which is why it is important to look at the 911 call transcript, which is factual, rather than the police and eyewitness reports, which are subjective. The 911 call transcript confirms that Ms. Whalen did witness the event, albeit at a distance.

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