Wednesday, July 17, 2024

072709i-Herald-frontThe Boston Herald leads today’s paper with a “Gates case shocker” that the woman who called in the burglary report leading to the arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. “claims she never said ‘black’ men were breaking in.”

“This woman is 100 percent clear on what she said,” said attorney Wendy J. Murphy, who is representing 911 caller Lucia Whalen. “She never said she saw two black men. She said, ‘It never crossed my mind that there were two black men.’ ” The claim also stuns Charles Ogletree, a Harvard colleague and a sort of spokesman for Gates in the scandal, who says in the Herald, “It’s just breathtaking to hear that.”

But the Herald doesn’t note why it may be breathtaking: According to The Boston Globe’s more subdued story today, while it’s confirmed by police Whalen didn’t call 911 about black men breaking into a house, the arresting officer’s official report says Whalen “observed what appeared to be two black males.” It’s so far unclear how that detail emerged, but the officer’s report said the detail came from his conversation with Whalen on the scene, not from the 911 call.

While there may have been attention placed on whether Whalen reported black burglars, it’s important to remember a key fact:

Gates and his taxi driver, who were exerting themselves to open a jammed front door, are black.

So if Whalen had been able to see and say the suspicious characters were black, it would have been accurate, not racist, and she would have been responding reasonably — as she was anyway — to a spate of recent daylight breakins in the area.

Whalen is not the issue here.

The issue is the arrest of a man on his own property after his rights to be there had been established, merely because he was overreacting to being confronted by police. The police then overreacted by arresting him, which is far worse in many and obvious ways.

That’s why President Barack Obama was on firm and fair ground saying July 22 that Cambridge police acted “stupidly” in making the arrest, even not having all the facts at the time. The facts are still emerging, after all, and Obama had enough then to make the right call; by the time he spoke, it was known Gates had identified himself as the rightful resident of the house (July 16) and that the charges against him had been dismissed (July 21), knocking out claims that the arrest was made correctly and justifiably and creating the conditions for a larger, more volatile controversy.

That controversy lies with the actions of the police, not the 911 caller, and it always has.

The Herald may say (and does) that “the controversy has centered upon the premise that the debacle was set into motion by a report of ‘two black men,’” but that doesn’t make it true.