A San Francisco pastor and former city supervisor has announced that Sunday will mark a national day of reflection and discussion about a controversial incident earlier this month involving a black Harvard University professor and a white Cambridge police officer.
The Rev. Amos Brown, pastor of the Third Baptist Church in the city, said the arrest of Henry Louis Gates reflects a larger reality of what happens to minorities every day in the U.S.
Gates was arrested July 16 at his house in Cambridge, Mass. for disorderly conduct after a police officer responded to a report of a possible break-in. The charges were later dropped.
Gates and the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, are meeting over beers with President Obama Thursday at the White House. Obama, who initially condemned the cops for acting "stupidly," has since said both parties appear to have overreacted and acknowledged that he should have chosen his words more carefully.
Rev. Brown, who is also president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the incident "reflects a certain bias, and certain historical attitude toward African-Americans" and that "we don't want the president to feel like he's out there alone on this issue."
Brown said various congregations will discuss the incident in cities throughout the country, including Oakland, New York City, Dallas, Columbus, Ohio, and Atlanta.
Pastors will reflect on lessons that can be learned, and then allow congregations to tell their own stories about encounters with police officers, Brown said.
Brown has been the pastor of the Third Baptist Church, located on McAllister Street, since 1976. He also served as a San Francisco supervisor from 1996 to 2001.
The woman who dialed 911 to report the possible break-in in the first place spoke out Wednesday, complaining bitterly that she faced threats and ridicule for doing what she thought was right.
Lucia Whalen said she hoped to clear the air -- and her name -- after facing scorn and being painted as a racist. Whalen is the Massachusetts woman who called police after seeing Gates and his driver forcing open the door to Gates' Cambridge home to report a possible burglary in progress.
"It never occurred to me that the way I reported what I saw would be analyzed by an entire nation," she said.
Whalen said tapes of her 911 call, in which she only speculated on Gates and his driver's race when prompted by a dispatcher, show she was not engaging in racial profiling. At the home, Gates accused police of profiling him, and police said he was uncooperative.
Whalen said the days since Gates' July 16 arrest have been painful for her. She said she has feared for her own safety as she was thrust into the racial debate.
"When I was called racist and I was a target of scorn and ridicule because of things I never said, the criticism hurt me," she said.
Whalen's lawyer, Wendy Murphy, said the meeting over beers was nice, but wondered why her client seemed to be the forgotten party.
“The highly trained guys who reacted badly are getting together tomorrow for a beer at the White House, and that is a good thing,” Murphy said.
Bay City News contributed to this report.