David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
CAMBRIDGE – She was just trying to get lunch.
The house (Charles Krupa/AP)
Since then, Whalen has been called a racist and has become a target of scorn by those who suggested she would have never made the call had two white men been seen struggling to open what had been a broken front door. The 40-year-old daughter of Portuguese immigrants said she has even been threatened.
In her first public comments, Whalen today contradicted a police report by the arresting officer, saying she had never told Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley that the men were black. She said she barely talked to Crowley.
“The only words I exchanged were [that] I was the 911 caller, and he pointed to me and said, ‘Stay right there,’” she said during a press conference at Danehy Park in Cambridge. “Nothing more than that.”
Her comments came as the veteran white police officer and the prominent black professor of African-American studies prepared to meet President Obama, who ratcheted up the controversy during a press conference last week by saying Cambridge police "acted stupidly." The president later expressed regret for his words and invited Gates and Crowley to the White House to meet him at 6 p.m. Thursday for a beer, hoping to turn the case into a "teachable moment."
In his police report about arresting Gates for disorderly conduct on July 16, Crowley wrote that Whalen had told him on the sidewalk outside the house that she "observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch" of Gates's house.
Crowley did not return calls to clarify the discrepancy in their accounts.
Cambridge Police spokesman Frank Pasquarello declined to comment on the accuracy of Crowley’s report. “As far as the comments between the two, I don’t know what was said,” he said in a telephone interview. “I wasn’t involved in their conversation.”
But he praised Whalen for making the call. “She did the right thing,” he said. “I applaud her. She did what we tell people to do: Call when you see something suspicious. She did her civic duty.”
In a recording of the 911 call released by Cambridge Police on Monday, Whalen made it clear that she did not get a good look at Gates or the other man, a black taxi driver who helped Gates open his door after the professor had just returned from filming a documentary in China. “Well there were two larger men, one looked kind of Hispanic, but I’m not really sure,” Whalen told the dispatcher. “And the other one entered and I didn’t see what he looked like at all.”
In her comments today, Whalen described the emotional toll of the controversy.
“The criticism at first was painful for me and difficult; I was frankly afraid to say anything,” she said. “People called me racist and said I caused all the turmoil that followed, and some even said threatening things that made me fear for my safety. I knew the truth, but I didn’t speak up right away because I did not want to add to the controversy.”
With her hands shaking and her voice trembling, she said she decided to speak publicly only after the media managed to reach her mother.
Whalen, who works for Harvard’s alumni magazine, said she was not raised to “judge people based on race, ethnicity, or any other feature other than their character.”
“When I was called racist and I was a target of scorn and ridicule because of the things I never said, the criticism hurt me as a person,” she said.
She added she felt vindicated by the release of the 911 recording.
“Now that the tapes are out, I hope people can see that I tried to be careful and honest with my words,” she said. “It never occurred to me that the way I reported what I saw [would] be analyzed by an entire nation.”
Neither Gates nor his attorney, Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree, returned calls. The charge of disorderly conduct, brought by Crowley after Gates repeatedly accused him of racism, has been dropped.
In a press conference today, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president would likely hold what’s being dubbed “the beer summit” between Gates and Crowley at a picnic table behind the White House. He added the president will drink Bud Light and his guests will be offered their preferred beverages.
“As I understand it -- I have not heard this, I've read this, so I'll just repeat what I've read, that Professor Gates said he liked Red Stripe, and I believe Sergeant Crowley mentioned to the president that he liked Blue Moon,” Gibbs told reporters. “So we'll have the gamut covered tomorrow afternoon.”
White House officials declined to respond to questions whether Whalen should be invited as well.
Whalen’s attorney Wendy Murphy said she didn’t expect an invitation and called it “funny” that Whalen wasn’t asked to come. “While the three men will have a beer at the White House, ‘The one person whose actions have been exemplary will be at work tomorrow in Cambridge, " Murphy said. "Maybe it's a guy thing. She doesn't like beer, anyway."
After unwittingly entering a media frenzy, Whalen said she has no regrets about making the call.
“I’ve had much reflection on that, and yes, I would make the call -- I would absolutely do that again,” she said “If you’re a concerned citizen, you should do the right thing.”
David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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