911 Tape in Gates Arrest Raises New Questions

From the Boston Globe:

The 911 recording showed the mundane beginnings of a media frenzy. The caller who alerted police to two men entering Gates’s house on July 16 told a dispatcher that she had seen two suitcases on the porch and said she wasn’t sure if it was a break-in.

“I don’t know what’s happening. … I don’t know if they live there and they just had a hard time with their key, but I did notice they had to use their shoulders to try to barge in,” the caller said.

The recording appeared to reflect a relatively routine call, with officers and even the 911 caller mostly calm.

The recordings were released after a noon news conference held by City Manager Robert Healy, Mayor E. Denise Simmons, and Police Commissioner Robert Haas.

Asked what the tapes showed, Haas said, “I think the tapes speak for themselves and I would ask you to form your own opinion.”

One thing the tapes didn’t show: any clear background sound that indicated Gates was shouting during the incident. Another voice can be heard in the background of at least three transmissions, but what the person is saying is difficult to discern.

Another discrepancy between reality and previous accounts: The woman who was passing by when Gates was trying to get into his home and called 911 did not say anything about the racial identity of either Gates or the cab driver who was helping him open the jammed door — and she did not speak with Officer Crowley on the scene:

The woman who made the 911 call that led to the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. never referred to black suspects when she called authorities for what she thought was a potential break-in.

Police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, released the 911 phone call Monday. In the call, Lucia Whalen reports seeing “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.”

“I just saw it from a distance, and this older woman was worried, thinking somebody’s breaking in someone’s house and they’ve been barging in,” Whalen says. “She interrupted me, and that’s when I noticed. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it at all, to be honest with you. So I was just calling because she was a concerned neighbor, I guess.”

Attorney Wendy Murphy, who represents Whalen, also categorically rejected part of the police report that said Whalen talked with Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer, at the scene.

“Let me be clear: She never had a conversation with Sgt. Crowley at the scene,” Murphy told CNN by phone. “And she never said to any police officer or to anybody ‘two black men.’ She never used the word ‘black.’ Period.”

She added, “I’m not sure what the police explanation will be. Frankly, I don’t care. Her only goal is to make it clear she never described them as black. She never saw their race. … All she reported was behavior, not skin color.”

And another interesting detail about Whalen:

Murphy also disputed accounts of her client as a white woman in the traditional sense. “The fact is, she’s olive-skinned and of Portuguese descent. You wouldn’t look at her and say, necessarily, ‘Oh, there’s a white woman.’ You might think she was Hispanic,” Murphy said.

So why did the police report imply that the 911 caller did refer to Gates and the cab driver as “two black men”?

In an interview last night, Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert C. Haas said it was ac curate that Whalen did not mention race in her 911 call. He acknowledged that a police report of the incident did include a race reference. The report says Whalen observed “what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the front porch’’ of a Ware Street home on July 16.

That reference is there, said Haas, because the police report is a summary. Its descriptions – like the race of the two men – were collected during the inquiry, not necessarily from the initial 911 call, he said.

There’s no lack of commentary on the continuing saga of “Gates-gate,” but I particularly like Robin Wells’s piece at Huffington Post:

We’ve embarked on a national attempt to find something redeeming in the Gates-Crowley affair – to find the “teachable moment.” Obama’s gracious and politically astute offer to bring the two men together is an example of what Obama does best – creating an uplifting moment of reconciliation, a feel-good moment in which each party can have their say in front of the cameras. But like a family psychodrama, I suspect that most of us know that it won’t stop there, and nothing will really have been resolved. Like a marriage counselor who has seen this particular couple’s arguments many times before, we know on a gut level that some hard truths are going to have to be addressed before the fractious couple that is white and black America can start to move on.

Yet, it’s important to be clear that I’m not applying any kind of moral equivalence to the actions of Professor Gates and Officer Crowley. On the facts as we know them, I believe that the treatment of Professor Gates was unjust and unprofessional. Yes, he was belligerent to a police officer. But that is no crime, and nowhere has Officer Crowley shown that there was any chance of a crime being committed, confirmed by the Cambridge Police Department’s quick decision to drop the charges against Professor Gates. Police officers are trained to be professionals, and a professional would have recognized that an obstreperous sexagenarian who walks with a cane standing in his own house and faced with a phalanx of armed police officers is no threat. And if Office Crowley had paid attention to his diversity training, he would have been prepared for the outrage accompanying perceived acts of racial profiling. The hard truth is that Officer Crowley’s defense that he was just doing his job just doesn’t wash. Having verified the facts, he had every opportunity to apologize to Professor Gates for the misunderstanding and leave. The hard truth that America needs to hear is that incidents of racial profiling and unfair treatment by the police and judiciary are oppressive facts of life for African American men even today.

However, the weary marriage counselor knows that finding a bogey-man and leaving it there isn’t going to get this couple out of their troubles. Rather, it’s likely to dig them in deeper into their self-justification.

The hard truth that Professor Gates needs to hear is that he is the one who handed over his power to Officer Crowley. Letting his agitation get the better of him, Gates lost the ability to shape the outcome of the encounter and set up his own victimization by a poorly trained police officer.

Cross-posted at Liberty Street.

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Author: KATHY KATTENBURG

  • alglenne

    Let's go outside of the box for a moment. Could it just be possible that both the CPD and Sgt Crowley knew who Skip Gates was long before the arrest incident. Afterall, Racial Profiling is part of Gates' academic domain. That these two men should live and work in the same area for several years and be aware and nvolved in such a socially hateful and devisive activity and not know of each other, seems strange to me.

    Now, if it could be discovered that Sgt Crowley knew anything about Skip Gates prior to the event, that would throw a completely different light on the subject. Are there any journalist out there prepared to investigate?

  • politicalventilationcom

    “A Second Look At Hate Crimes Legislation”…
    The latest incident, involving Prof. Gates, is but one of many such stories that happen across America. Similar stories include the Al Sharpton / Tawana Brawley, the Duke University Lacrosse rape case and countless others across this nation. Some stories reach the level of the national news and many more do not, and are endured quietly, without recourse on a daily basis.In order to move beyond “race” in the 21st century, respect and fairness in the application of law must be the order of the day. I have struggled with the very concept of “hate crimes” because laws already exist that cover what “hate crimes” legislation does without the added “what you did is worse because of what you were thinking”. But maybe the thinking here was correct from the start. You may recall that the common theme in the fore mentioned stories was a false accusation of racism. This type of action seems to be a perfect candidate for a “hate crimes” designation. What could be more motivated by “hate” than a false accusation or racism. The 911 and police radio dispatch tapes released today clearly show that race was not an issue. The caller didn't know the race of the people in question. She only expressed concern that a neighbor's house was in jeopardy. Prof. Gates threw the first and only “race card”. Falsely I might add. According to the press conference today the city of Cambridge will hire experts and form committees to study the situation, caused by Prof. Gates' false allegations of racism, and make recommendations, a process expected to take many months and cost tax payers no telling how much money, all because Prof. Gates decided to cry wolf, when no wolf was present. If it had not been discovered early that these accusations of racism were false, it most probably would have negatively the officers involved for the rest of their lives. The officers could have lost their jobs and livelihood, city provided healthcare canceled and being shunned in society. This is a lot of damage to do to someone for no legitimate reason, and charges for a false accuser of racism should fall under “hate crimes” legislation. Seems fair.

  • alglenne

    Just a minute, Sgt Crowley came looking for two black men – didn't he say that himself somewhere. Skip Gates, for the sergeant, was one of them, so where was the other he alluded. The Sgt and another officer walzed into Skip Gates' home uninvited. That was an abuse of their authority. Further, arresting the man on his porch because he dared to ask for the Sgt's ID was obscene and note the porch was still 'in his house'. As yet the Sgt has not produced any evidence of Skip Gates' tumultuous or disorderly behaviour.

  • EEllis

    al you have so many things wrong in your statement it's hard to know where to start.

    Nowhere did it say he went looking for two black men it said two black men were seen entering the building we don't at this time know how that information was received. It could of been a statement by someone at the location or it could be that Crowley found out after the fact and put it in the report when he wrote it later.

    Heres a shock when you go to a b&e call and there are signs of a b&e there is probable cause to enter and investigate. There was no abuse of their authority. It's one of the most ignorant things I've ever heard. If he didn't he wouldn't of been doing his job.

    He wasn't arrested for asking for Crowley's ID (not that police are not required to give ID or badge #'s by anything more than their dept. policy if that. Quit watching so much damn TV. He's a Sgt. with Crowley on his name tag. He wasn't hiding his identity. That 'request' is a powerplay thing, a threat idiots use to try and threaten the cop that you'll try and get him later) You can go outside your porch and yell and when the cops show up and ask you to lower your voice and you don't you to will go to jail no matter what you are screaming about. Free speech is not an excuse to disturb your neighbors.

    The porch is not 'in the house' for any number of laws. It is in the public view for one thing which can affect how you can dress, what actions you can take, and what is legally permissible and/or actionable. Cops can walk by your house and smell pot and 'know' your smoking out but can't do a thing if you don't let them in. Smoke on your porch and you get a quick trip to jail. So your statment means nothing and shows just how little you know about this.

    There were plenty of evidence including statements from other cops and witnesses. These statements were not just to the police but also to reporters. And lets face it this is a minor charge. They are not going to depose the whole neighborhood over it.

  • alglenne

    EEllis, your commentary does not make sense. I suspect you haven't read the police report nor the 911 transcript. Two black burglers with back packs came from the police. The police did not have a warrant to enter Skip Gates' house neither were they invited in and Gates' porch is not a public place.

    My original contention needs to be addressed though. Did or could Sgt Crowley have known who Skip Gates was before the incident occurred? I suspect that possibility exists. Crowley's arrogant attitude and the claim that he is an expert on racial proriling leads me to believe that there is a man using his situation to show how profiling can be used successfully.

  • EEllis

    Sorry Al, it seems clear to me. “The two black men” could of been put in the report because Crowley made contact with someone who wasn't mentioned and they described “two black men” or because the cop found out that indeed Gates and the driver were “two black men” and put that description in his report. At no time does it say he was “looking” for two black men as you claim.

    Crowley did not need a warrant and the claim that he did is laughable. A police office responding to a B&E (breaking and entering) call who sees damage to a door consistent with a brake in (that's confirmed by statements from Gates and his lawyer), and an individual inside a resident can enter to investigate without a warrant. It is called probable cause. If Gates asked them to leave then once they established he was the resident then they must leave but saying that they couldn't enter is ignorance that's hard to believe.

    The “porch” is not the same as the house either. Really where do you get this crap? It is in public, public view, etc. It's like saying once you are in your yard cops can not arrest you. You may want it to be like that but it isn't and these protests just make you look ignorant of the law.

    As far as your “original contention”, you sir are a jackass. The likely hood of Crowley knowing Gates is very small. Crowley is an instructor or trainer in how not to racially profile. There is no such thing as “how profiling can be used successfully”.

  • DLS

    There is a great deal of discrepancy between what happened and what our society is like and what activists have been saying. Obama's “stupidity” remark and related comments was not only itself stupidity, but encouragement of the Usual Suspects among the activists, who hyped this into something that even liberals have begun to question.

    “Profiling” by the police (looking at whites as well as minority-group members on the basis of their historical and perceived association with criminal activity) is directed at younger people. Not only did this local event (which should have remained local and personal, only, not seized by the media and politicians and activist dreck) not constitute “profiling” based on what happened (which if anything involved improper behavior by Gates and exploitation by him as well as others for political purposes, if not financial motives as well), but Gates is not young to early middle age, the kind of person who would be “profiled” — obviously.

    Inconvenient facts, and subject to being attacked themselves dishonestly, as “arrogance,” say, but facts.

  • anahs74

    This is a very long comment – however I don’t have much time to sit and vent about these things, so when I do – I REALLY DO:
    This is simply ridiculous. After the original 911 call; police report; the account from Prof. Gates; whiteness statements and the last statement made by Whalen, it seems to be clear that this was a bad arrest. The Sgt. made a mistake. He let his emotions get the best of him. This doesn't mean that he is a bad person. However, I do suspect that he is a bit nervous right now. He knows he messed up – this thing has blown up bigger than he could have ever imagined and he is trying to keep his cool. His attitude reflects this. I have no problem with him for being human. I have a problem with people jumping on the citizens whose rights were violated in this whole event, the Professor and Mrs. Whalen (911) caller. The police report gave FALSE statements about both of them and yet we still defend the Sgt. WHY?

    Sgt. Crowley ((DID))
    1. Establish that Prof. Gates was a resident of the home before the arrest.
    2. Request that the Prof. exit the home (on to the porch).
    3. Request that dispatch continue to send officers as if there were a ((situation)) at hand.
    4. Cuff the professor for a period of time in which things had cooled down, before transporting him to the station.

    Sgt. Crowley ((COULD HAVE))
    1. Established Prof. Gates as the resident.
    2. Exited the home and removed himself from the tense situation as his training should have directed
    3. Explained to dispatch that he and the 2nd officer on the scene would handle the situation with the ((HOMEOWNER))
    4. Taken the cuffs off once the Professor had calmed down, and allowed him to go back into his home

    Prof. Gates. ((DID))
    1. Make a scene of some sort.
    2. Get under Crowley's skin.

    Prof. Gates ((COULD HAVE))
    1. Played it calm even if he was pissed off.
    2. Waited for Crowley to leave and call someone to vent.

    Now some facts
    1. The 911 caller never said they were black with backpacks; she said they could be residents and that they had suitcases.
    2. The 911 caller witnessed the whole event and never gave any account of the Prof. being over aggressive toward the police.
    3. Once it was established that he was the homeowner – no threats made – no physical contact made – the Sgt. could not have arrested the Prof. lawfully in his home.
    4. Crowds will gather to watch in any neighborhood when police cars show up, especially when they are six plus deep

    Opinion.
    1. The Prof. was pissed at the nerve of someone to call the police on him for trying to get in his own home with a bunch of suitcases in the middle of the day
    2. The Sgt. was pissed at the nerve of the Prof. to think that he was racist considering all of his training and all he had done for black people to help fight against profiling.
    3. The Prof. threw out his I'm important & I can get you in trouble card.
    4. The Sgt threw out his I can get you arrested card.
    5. The Sgt decided that he would arrest the Prof.
    6. The Sgt. made the call to send more officers ((to back up his story))
    7. The dispatch tapes do not capture the Prof. causing a scene.
    8, The Sgt. tricked the Prof. into exiting his home onto the porch so that he could accuse him of causing a scene in PUBLIC ((more witnesses))
    9. The original 911 caller ((who was on the scene from start to finish)) was never asked for a statement because her statement would not have matched with the report that the Sgt. was about to submit.
    10. Her version may have given some support to the Prof. if she had been asked considering she was the only non-police whiteness that knew exactly what was going on.
    11. The Sgt. altered some accounts on the police report to make the facts a bit more favorable for HIMSELF
    12. Police superiors realized this was a mess right away, dropped the charges and sent the Prof. home
    13. The boys and girls in blue are backing the Sgt. up to take off the heat.
    14. If the police report is partially fabricated – the entire report is in question.
    15. The 911 caller (Whalen) is terrified to speak up and tell the truth about what happened because she doesn't want to make enemies with the police. ((She was brave just in admitting that she DID not tell the police that they were “Black” with “Backpacks”))
    16. The whole incident has caused Prof. Gates character to be put in question
    16. Crowley's written report blaming the 911 caller for the “Black” comment was cruel and caused Mrs. Whalen's character to be questioned.
    I feel bad for them all. Especially the Sgt. because he has to live with himself & the truth.

  • alglenne

    How about positing without supporting evidence that Sgt Crowley knew who Skp Gates was before he arrived on the scene of the reported crime! ! ! Have a read of the police report, para 2, then explain why a uniformed policeman should be using an unmarked police cruiser. Was Sgt Crowley really in uniform and if he was, where was his ID and, why should Skip Gates wish to know who he was? Wouldn't his uniform have made that obvious. Why would a uniformed policeman be driving around in an unmarked police vehicle?

    Then there is the question of race and rank; again, read the police report, para 3, Sgt Crowley introduces 'two black men with back packs'. Where did he get that idea from, surely, not from Mrs Whalen; the 911 transcript proves that Mrs Whalen made no mention of 'black men'. So why did Sgt Crowley introduce 'black men' into the the scene (race profiling?) or could he have known that Skip Gates lived at the scene. He expected black men to be there, or at least one black man, is that a possibility?

    A language analysis of Sgt Crowley's report may indicate a race/rank issue. If you attribute sameness of behaviour to all blacks then you are likely to have them all using the same language vernacular and that is the give away. Did Skip Gates really use the language attributed to him by Sgt Crowley?

    Can two men in the same field of business [race and diversity] living and working in the same area for years know little or nothing of each other? it is surprising that Sgt Crowley's role as a [racial profiling-diversity] police teacher did no make him aware of the work of Skip Gates; possibly use some of Gates' work in the classroom??

  • samiramaati

    Crowley also accused Skip Gates of yelling and acting belligerent, which he used to justify an arrest for disorderly conduct. Many people have used this accusation to justify Gates' arrest. Gates response is that the accusation that he yelled at Crowley is a joke because at the time of his arrest he had a severe bronchial infection that left him hoarse, so he couldn't possibly have yelled even if he wanted to.

    I agree with Al on the language analysis issue too. It looks to me like Crowley added a number of vernaculars used by African Americans to his already falsified report because he believed it would make it seem more credible if a Black guy is accused of saying “Black things”.