The Latest Gates Pseudo-Controversy

by Heather Mac Donald

The race industry’s exertions in keeping alive its indictment of Sgt. James Crowley grow ever more ludicrous. Today’s entry is a full New York Times story hyperventilating over a trivial discrepancy between the 911 call reporting a possible break-in at Gates’s house and Crowley’s police report. The 911 caller, Lucia Whalen, told the dispatcher that she was “not really sure” whether the men on the porch were black, white, or Hispanic, in response to the dispatcher’s query. “One looked kind of Hispanic, but I’m not really sure,” she said. Crowley’s report, written nearly an hour after the incident, recounts that Whalen told him at the scene that she had seen “what appeared to be two black males with backpacks” on the porch. Whalen’s lawyer now says that “she didn’t speak to Sergeant Crowley at the scene except to say, ‘I’m the one who called,’ . . . She never used the word black and never said the word backpacks to anyone.” (Backpacks are now apparently included in the list of politically protected items that one must never mention in polite company.)

The proper response to this latest pseudo-controversy is: So what? Whether or not Whalen mentioned the race of the suspects is irrelevant. Crowley questioned Gates based on location, not race; he had been told of a possible burglary at Gates’s home, and here were two men in the house, exactly as described. Should Crowley not have questioned Gates simply because he did not receive a racial description? The Times’s reasoning, as is often the case, is mysterious. Or was it racist to mistakenly put down that the original call mentioned race? Since Crowley had just gone through a heated confrontation, his slip of memory is understandable; but more important, it is irrelevant to whether he was acting in a racist manner in investigating the call.

Whalen’s rush to deny that she ever mentioned the possible suspects’ race echoes the still-lingering controversy over whether newspapers should report the race of criminal suspects. The issue would never come up, of course, if it were not true that crime victims (of all races) disproportionately identify their assailants as black. No news outlet would shrink from mentioning that a suspect was white, except in an effort to maintain consistency in self-censorship. If one accepts the left-wing world-view about blacks being wrongly identified with higher rates of criminal behavior, however, there is at least a facially plausible argument for a paper not mentioning the race of a suspect who has already been arrested. But if a suspect is still at large, it is irresponsible for a media outlet not to mention the suspect’s race. The public — and the police — deserve every bit of information that is available about a crime in order to stay safe and help apprehend the perpetrator.

In the present case, despite Whalen’s denial that she ever mentioned race, it would have been entirely appropriate for her to do so. Dispatchers, as happened here, routinely ask crime witnesses or victims for a suspect’s race because such information is helpful in investigating the call. But if race is off-limits, why identify a suspect’s gender? Men are disproportionately represented among the criminal population; identifying suspects as male arguably contributes to the public perception that criminals are more likely to be male than female. If Cambridge residents want to omit a suspect’s race from their 911 calls, that is certainly their right (though residents of other neighborhoods to which a criminal suspect has traveled might appreciate a little more assistance to the police). But don’t blame the police for including it in their reports.

The Times, meanwhile, continues to practice reverse class profiling. It still identifies Gates’s driver as a “taxi driver,” despite Gates’s own description of him as his “regular driver” from his “regular car service.” The emerging new code for politically correct reporting seems to be: Never identify a victim of racial profiling as a backpack carrier or a limo user.

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