A police officer property answered a call about a possible break-in, the suspected intruder, handled the incident poorly and the president of the United States got involved in something he should have left alone.
So far the only person who looks free of questionable actions in the Cambridge, Mass., hassle with Henry Louis Gates Jr., Sgt. James Crowley and President Obama is the woman who dialed 911 to report a possible break-in at the Gates home. Her name is Lucia Whalen, 40. She was walking to lunch in Gates’ Cambridge neighborhood near Harvard University when an elderly woman without a cell phone stopped her because she thought there was a possible burglary in progress.
Whalen was unfairly charged as a racist on blogs after a police report said she described the possible burglars as “two black males with backpacks.” Whalen did not initially mention race, tapes prove, though she indicated — when questioned by a police dispatcher — that one of the men might have been Hispanic.
Officer Crowley reached the scene, performed as he should but eventually engaged in a verbal exchange with Gates, a black Harvard scholar. The latter had returned from a trip and had to jimmy his door to gain entrance to his home, triggering the misunderstanding. Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct in his own home by the white officer, leading to a national furor, badly overplayed about racial profiling and police conduct.
During a news conference, Obama was asked about the matter and leaped before he looked, indicating stupidity on the part of the police officer. Truth is, actions in this case are likely to be debated for years: The officer for handling the matter as he did, the professor for overreacting and the president for using a reference to stupidity in his assessment of something he should stayed out of.
We have seen incredible overkill in media coverage of late in matters such as the death of entertainer Michael Jackson, and we have to shudder at the way marginal issues are needlessly repeated and distorted. The Crowley-Gates-Obama matter is still another example of the papparazzi mentality that engulfs so many in the “media” these days.
The sooner this overhyped event is brushed into the background the better. We can only hope we’ve learned a lesson about perspective, but the evidence in this age of electronic instancy and the immediacy of presumed guilt is that we probably haven’t.