What is clear is that the caller, Lucia Whalen...did not know the race of two men she saw trying to push in the front door of Gates's house.... Crowley did not know the race of the suspects when he answered the call.What we wonder, and Althouse, fails to wonder, is why then does the police report very clearly state:
Whalen, who was standing on the sidewalk in front of the residence, held a wireless telephone in her hand and told me it was she who had called. She went on to tell me that she observed what appeared to be two black men with back packs on the porch of [17 ] Ware Street.Our question is this: If that is not what Whalen said, despite the police report to the contrary, what does that indicate about the incident?
If it was what Whalen said, why does the media keep harping on the "fact" that "Whalen did not know the race of the two men she saw trying to push open the front door of Gates' house"?
Perhaps we are over reading into this, but we don't see the relevance of whether or not Crowley knew "the race of the suspects when he answered the call."
He answered a call about a possible break in. It was legitimate.
What is in question, is the degree to which Gates -- who perhaps felt himself a victim of differential treatment because he was Black (and we are not sure that the police report itself establishes otherwise) -- over reacted. And why Officer Crowley persisted in making an issue of what was clearly an agitated, perhaps over-reactive Harvard race scholar, after what really mattered -- the "break in" -- was quickly solved.
A look at the Washington Post article itself, that Althouse so comfortably cites, without, clearly, having read, adds a new layer. It starts with:
The role of race in the controversial arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. became more difficult to untangle Monday with the release of the tape of the emergency call that brought Cambridge, Mass., police to his door.
How is this the case, one might wonder? Krissah Thompson of the Post continues:
The tape revealed that the woman who reported seeing two men trying to break into a house did not know their race. When pressed twice by the dispatcher to identify the men by race, Lucia Whalen said: "Um, well, 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."It seemed, from Althouse, that it was very likely that the caller did not identify the suspects, but thought they "may have been "African American" and so gave the officer additional information upon entering the scene. Now it seems harder to fathom how a caller who could not even hazard an accurate guess as to race when pressed, suddenly had changed her tune.
Of course, perhaps the caller was able to gather more information after placing the call. Which leads us back to the original query. How does the case become "more difficult" to untangle simply because the caller (and thus Sergeant Crowley) did not initially know the race of the two men involved?
Crowley was responding to a legitimate possible breaking and entering call. He was to learn of the race quickly upon arrival, and all that is in question follows the acquisition of that knowledge. Thus, it's irrelevant as to whether upon first being called, he know of the suspects' race or not.
What it does raise is the question of blatant inconsistency in the police report (or possibly, but less logically, on the part of the caller) -- which would be quite relevant if the caller was unable to further observe the potential suspects after she placed the call.
The Post is further relevant on this point -- and it raises questions that Althouse clearly missed, that go to the very heart of the point that the column centered around. (Hint for bloggers: If you want to build an audience, decide what your point of view is years in advance, jot down a few provocative, knee jerk, polarizing sentences, and add a few quick links that seem to support it; this clearly seems to be the winning model online -- reason No. 57 why the "left" is mistaken that online blogging can, without systemic changes, adequately replace the role that traditional media -- our independent press, and fourth estate -- so critically serves. On the other hand, if you want to actually say something of value, or that is not misleading, at least read the sources you link to.)
Courtesy of Ms. Thompson, of the Post:
Whalen.... had been vilified in online comments and blogs as a racist "white woman" who saw "two black men" trying to enter a home and assumed they were breaking and entering...[then] issued a statement knocking down a line in the police report filed after the incident. It describes Whalen telling Crowley, who responded to her call, that she saw "two black men with backpacks." The lawyer, Wendy J. Murphy, told CNN on Monday that Whalen did not identify the men by race at any point. Cambridge police officials, who released the tape of the 911 call, have said they stand by the report.The 911 call clearly backs up Whalen. Lopsidedly. On the other hand, Whalen may have observed the suspects further. But there would be no reason for Whalen to falsely change the record with respect to after the call; it was what prompted her to make the call in the first place that matters (one would think), in terms of any otherwise rather irrelevant criticism directed at her. And on the call, she indicated that the suspects had already entered the house, and there is nothing, apparently, to indicate that he came out of the house prior to the officer's rather timely arrival, thus nothing that would have given her much further information as to his race. It thus seems unlikely that she subsequently stated "what appeared to be two black men."
Note also that the 911 call indicates that the witness clearly saw two suitcases -- not back packs -- something that seems much more likely for a 58 year old professor coming back from his travels; and also that it is pretty clear that there was doubt as to whether or not it was a break in from the start:
Caller:...I noticed two suitcases So I’m not sure if these are two individuals who actually work there, I mean who live there.
Dispatcher: You think they might’ve been breaking...
Caller: I don’t know, ‘cause I have no idea, I just noticed...
Dispatcher: And what did the suitcases have to do with anything?
Caller: I don’t know. I’m just saying that’s what I saw. I just [inaudible]
Caller: ... I don’t know if they live there and they just had a hard time with their key
Caller: I just saw it from a distance...this older woman was worried, thinking someone’s breaking in someone’s house...she interrupted me, and that’s when I had noticed. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have noticed... So I was just calling ‘cause she was a concerned neighbor, I guess.
From the police report: "She went on to tell me that she observed what appeared to be two black men with backpacks on the porch."
As noted earlier, we think the police report itself is dispositive. Gates' allegedly obnoxious behavior, in his own home, after apparently being suspected of breaking and entering into his own home, is rather specious grounds for arrest; something motivated the officer -- whether he was peeved that the resident was giving him grief, or something else -- to unnecessarily continue to be abrupt and unfriendly and unapologetic (perhaps mirroring Gates), and arrest Gates even after the easily rectifiable case of mistaken identity was quickly resolved and the matter was over.
However, from the 911 call alone, we see that at least three separate things likely contradict what was alleged in the one sentence of the police report that we have some outside objective information on:
1) It is very likely that the caller did not tell the officer that the two men "appeared" to be Black.
2) It is extremely unlikely that this witness suddenly (and rather illogically) decided to change her testimony from what was almost assuredly two suitcases, to "two back packs" -- which conjures up quite a different impression from suitcases (particularly in combination with the caller's expressed doubts in the 911 call).
3) It is likely that the caller did not tell the officer that she observed two men "on the porch," as she had been very clear to the 911 dispatcher that she had not seen them outside: "Caller: Umm, I don’t know what’s happening. I just have an elder woman, uh, standing here and she had noticed two gentlemen trying to get in a house at that number, 17 Ware St., and they kind of had to barge in. And they broke the screen door and they finally got in and when I had looked, I went further, closer to the house a little bit, after the gentlemen were already in the house."
Criminology Professor Lorie Fridell puts it best, in conclusion to the Post article:
"Racially biased policing exists -- but sometimes it is perceived where it doesn't exist," she said. "It is very hard to identify when a particular incident is in fact a manifestation of racially biased policing because the answer is inside the officer's head."Still, it is interesting that the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto can know what is inside of this particular officer's head, in this otherwise fairly inexplicable incident.