Monday, July 27, 2009

Ms. Whalen vindicated

The woman whose report of a possible house break-in led to the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. said she never mentioned race during her 911 call and is “personally devastated’’ by media accounts that suggest she placed the call because the men she observed on the porch were black, according to a lawyer acting as her spokeswoman.

This is backed up by the 911 recording, and the Commissioner of the Cambridge Police Department. I had earlier said:

However, the local blogosphere has quickly grasped at their own beliefs and scant rumors in the press to invent the rest ... what disturbs me the most is the instant assumption that the woman who first called the police did so because she is a racist. It's closer to a conservative caricature of progressives than anything else. David Kravitz, a normally cool-headed blogger at BMG, makes this assumption on zero proof. While I don't always agree with David, I was taken aback that simply phoning the police because a man of a different skin color is breaking into a house makes you a racist...It's well known how deleterious an accusation of racism can today. Usually, there is some proof offered, but today all we to go on is an unconfirmed claim by a substandard tabloid paper about a woman being vigilant -- perhaps over-vigilant but again we don't know -- about her neighborhood.

...for right now, if some of these claims are echoed ("this all started with Whalen", according to a Globe commentator), the greatest victim of this episode will not be Henry Louis Gates or the Cambridge Police Department, but Ms. Whalen -- the party with the fewest resources to defend itself in all of this.

NB: In his promotion comments (the bit in italics) at a post at BMG, David does walk back his earlier comments, and is to be commended for it.

Given that Ms. Whalen is alone in this mess as not having a university, union, or government agency to back her up, it is to the commentariat to acknowledge when they were wrong, and apologize if rhetorical flights led to slanderous remarks. I am not hopeful, but willing to wait to see if that indeed happens. It's about integrity, folks.

Update: The Phoenix catches up: "And I gotta say: while I think my point about what Whalen's words do/don't say about her mindset was correct in the abstract, I feel pretty shitty having made it. Because after listening to Whalen's call to police, I'm pretty sure she happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and has gotten a raw deal from the press--myself included--as a result...Not only does Whalen not want to talk about race, she's calling on someone else's behalf...Ms. Whalen, please accept my sincere apology for speculating about your motives before I had sufficient information. "

I'd hope that some of the more off-the-handle folks around Boston will be less in a hurry to impugn someone's reputation based on the latest rumors passed on by the Herald next time.

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