June 27, 2009 -- The Cambridge Police Department today released the 911 tape and radio dispatches in the arrest of Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., in which the police are heard saying that the "gentlemen says he resides here" and is uncooperative, and advises to keep the backup cars coming.
In the 911 call, a woman -- identified as Lucia Whalen -- reports seeing two men break the screen door of Gates' front entrance to enter the house. The woman admits she saw suitcases, and says several times that the men may be the house residents.
"I don't know if they live there, and they just had a hard time with their keys," she's heard saying. " But I did notice that they kind of used their shoulders trying to barge in and they got in."
When asked about the race of the men, the caller said she thought one looked "kind of Hispanic," but didn't see what the other man looked like.
In his police report, Sgt. James Crowley wrote that Whalen, who met him in front of Gates' house when he arrived at the scene, told him she saw what appeared to be two black men with backpacks on the porch of the house. But Whalen's attorney told The Associated Press that her client never mentioned the men's race to the sergeant.
In the radio dispatches, a police officer identifies Gates as the man inside the house, saying he is uncooperative. Except for vague noises in the background, the conversation between Gates and the officers is mostly unclear.
Since Gates cannot be heard on the police tapes, the tapes do not settle the differing accounts between Gates and the arresting officer. Gates claims Crowley ignored his requests for his name, while Crowley claims that Gates was loud, accused him of arresting Gates because he "was a black man in America," and even made a reference to Crowley's mother. Gates was charged with disorderly conduct, although the charges were later dropped.
The Cambridge Police Department said today it is convening a committee to see what future lessons the episode can teach. One of the committee's tasks would be to assess "how issues of race and perceptions can impact daily encounters," said Cambridge City Manager Robert Healy at a news conference Monday.
Saying that Cambridge sees itself as "America's classroom," Mayor E. Denise Simmons told reporters that: "it is my hope these events will serve as a catalyst ... that we will come away with a better understanding of how we can interact as a community. And how we can avoid situations like this from occurring."
Gates, former host of the PBS show "African-American Lives," was arrested June 16 for disorderly conduct by Crowley and his team. Crowley said he was simply responding to reports that two men were breaking into Gates' house. Gates said he and his driver were trying to open a broken lock on his door.
"It's time to move forward, lessons learned and go from there. I hope they enjoy their beer at the White House," Healy said, referring to the invitation Gates and Crowley received for drinks at the White House with President Obama.
In what may be a first for the White House, President Obama is hoping to foster a dialogue this week between Gates and Crowley -- over beer.
The proposal for drinks was suggested after Obama jumped into the race debate last week and pronounced that the Cambridge Police Department acted "stupidly" in arresting Gates, causing a storm of furor from police organizations.
Obama later clarified his remarks, saying that cooler heads should have prevailed on both sides and turned it into what he called a "teachable moment" for the country.
But the White House's beer diplomacy may be a challenging task, as the two men are standing steadfastly by their argument that the other is not telling the truth.
Gates suggested to the New York Times' Maureen Dowd that he expects an apology from Crowley in their meeting with the president.
"It's clearly not going to be like Judge Joe Brown, OK? 'You tell your side, you tell your side.' We have to agree to disagree. But I would be surprised if somebody didn't say, 'I'm sorry you were arrested,'" Gates told Dowd.
Gates denied he told Crowley, as the police report states, that "I'll speak with your mama outside."
Gates added that Crowley must have gotten that line from watching the '70s TV show "Good Times."
"Does it sound logical that I would talk about the mother of a big white guy with a gun?" he asked Dowd. "I'm 5 feet 7 inches and 150 pounds. I don't walk on ice, much less... with some cop in my kitchen. I don't want another hip replacement."
For his part, the sergeant sticks by his claim that he was just doing his job and that Gates was being "provocative."
"I was radioing in his name to our dispatcher so they could record it," Crowley told Boston's WHDH television station. "As I did that, he was continuing his rant about that I was doing this because he was a black man in America, that I was a racist, and to the point that as I was reading his name off my identification card, I couldn't hear myself say it; he was yelling that loud."
Obama initially sided with Gates, telling ABC News that it doesn't make sense to him that the situation escalated to the point that Gates was arrested. He said later it was likely that both men overreacted, but stuck by his claim that Gates should not have been arrested.
The White House is now hoping that it can steer the conversation to be more about racial profiling and race relations than what somebody said.
"I think the president sees this as an opportunity to get dialogue going on an issue that has... been historically troubling and one he has worked on," White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation."
Aiming to put a positive spin on the conversation the president on Friday admitted he helped ratchet up, the White House is now hoping to turn the debate into a dialogue.
"There's a real... discussion to be had about how we improve police-community relations and what he [Obama] was concerned about was that his poor choice of words helped pushed the debate in the wrong direction, and he wanted to get it back on track," Axelrod said on CNN's "State of the Union."
As for what beer they'll drink, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs noted today that the president hoisted a Budweiser at the All-Star Game in St. Louis earlier this month, while Sgt. Crowley told the president he was more partial to Blue Moon. Gates told the Boston Globe he likes Red Stripe and Beck's, but the White House doesn't stock foreign beer.
President Obama and Racial Profiling
And what's the president's personal experience with racial profiling?
Asked at the July 23, 2007, CNN/YouTube debate if he was authentically black enough, Obama responded: "You know, when I'm catching a cab in Manhattan -- in the past, I think I've given my credentials."
In his 2006 book, "The Audacity of Hope," the president wrote: "Although, largely through luck and circumstance, I now occupy a position that insulates me from most of the bumps and bruises that the average black man must endure, I can recite the usual litany of petty slights ... security guards tailing me as I shop in department stores, white couples who toss me their car keys as I stand outside a restaurant waiting for the valet, police cars pulling me over for no apparent reason."