The Cambridge Police Department has released the 911 call that led to the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. The caller didn't say the men were black, and she said they could have just been having trouble with their keys.
Lucia Whalen, the Harvard Magazine fundraiser who called in the report of a break-in at Gates' house after she saw two men forcing the door open, makes it very clear that she wasn't sure a crime was being committed—she apparently had been urged to call the police by another neighbor she passed on the street, and didn't seem to want to be involved at all. From the call:
Whalen: I noticed two suitcases, so I'm not sure if these were individuals who work there—I mean, live there.
911: You think they might have been breaking in?
Whalen: I don't know, because I have no idea... I don't know if they live there and they just had a hard time with their key, but I did notice that they kind of used their shoulder to barge in.
911: Were they white, black, or hispanic?
Whalen: 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.
So the possibility—even likelihood—that Gates was just trying to get into his own home was present at the very inception of this whole kerfuffle, and somehow he still wound up getting hauled off to jail. We're sure that the absence of a racial description in the call will be played as race-blindness on Crowley's part—if he didn't even know the suspects were black going in, how could he be stereotyping?—but we'd remind observers that his police report made reference to "what appeared to be two black males" entering Gates' home. Crowley sources that information to Whalen, whom he met standing outside the residence when he arrived. But if Whalen refused to answer that question to the 911 dispatcher, we wonder how she came to change her mind only minutes later, when Crowley arrived. Or did Crowley try to put a thumb on the scale when he wrote the report by IDing the suspects as black, so that his initial suspicion of Gates would seem more justified?
One thing is clear: We owe Whalen an apology. Relying on Crowley's report, we called her a racist for dialing 911 just because she saw two black men struggling to open a front door. It's obvious from the call that she didn't know that they were black, that she was calling out of an excess of caution, and that she expected that if it was their home, then a police officer would simply check their ID and be on his way. Which is what should have happened.