Students Voice Concerns Over Racial Profiling
Approximately 100 students packed into room 145 of the Student Union Wednesday evening for a Black Student Union meeting called to air concerns over an October incident that some described as racial profiling.
Student leaders, administrators and a Buffalo councilman attended the event, which quickly became an open forum for students to voice concerns about unfair treatment of minorities by University Police officers.
The incident that sparked the meeting was the Oct. 13 arrests of three black students, one a resident advisor in Clement Hall, on South Campus after a Goodyear Hall resident reported being robbed by a group of six blacks. The robbery charges were dropped after the victim recanted his identification of the suspects.
During the meeting, students were shocked to learn that only four of UB's 42 public safety officers are minorities, and many were concerned about cultural education policies within the police department.
"Hopefully [the University Police] are trained in a way that they understand college students are different than downtown Buffalo or the city of New York or even the suburbs," said John Grela, director of University Police.
Grela reminded students that University Police are certified New York state police officers and have all the authority and power that come with the position. According to Grela, all officers are required to undergo diversity training, and post-arrest surveys indicate that upward of 90 percent of those arrestees say the police acted professionally and appropriately.
Many audience members were skeptical of the survey results.
In one of the evening's more dramatic moments, a student stood and captured the crowd's attention by moving toward the speakers' desk. "Let's survey this meeting," he said. "How many people in this room have been displeased by the way you were treated by a member of the University Police?"
The majority of attendees raised their hands, and the room erupted in shouts and applause. One student later said that such a response indicated a problem on campus.
Donna Rice, associate vice president for Student Affairs, told the assembled students that diversity is no longer a simply black-and-white issue. The administration considers diversity in a very broad perspective, focusing on other minority issues including homosexuality, gender and ethnicity, she said.
"Somehow people tend to think that the only time you open up your mouth about diversity, you're only talking about a black person," said Rice. "We have 104 different countries represented on campus."
When one student used the term racial profiling, Grela and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Clifford Wilson unanimously answered, "There was no racial profiling."
Grela explained the RA was placed under arrest because he was positively identified by the victim at the time of the incident. The charges against the RA and other students were later dismissed because the victim recanted his statement.
Antoine Thompson, a Buffalo city councilman who has taken an active role in the legal counsel for the students arrested Oct. 13, spoke emotionally about the need for minority students to organize and the BSU to work with students to document all cases of discrimination.
"If we don't have the history of instances of racial profiling, then they will say that this is an isolated incident," he said.
Thompson spoke about how his college experience was similar and said that he has also had to deal with discrimination.
"I've been a victim of racial profiling numerous times, as recently as last year, when I wasn't wearing my suit," Thompson said. "I've been there. I've experienced it. I feel your pain."
Thompson commented specifically on the Oct. 13 incident on South Campus, framing it as an example of racial profiling.
"... And it's really a tragedy that these seven different young men looked totally different," Thompson said. I spoke with the judge, my political party endorsed him, and told him, 'This must be insane.'"
Thompson encouraged students to know the policies and proper code of conduct for university officials to better combat instances of discrimination, and underscored the importance of being united in a common cause.
"Strength really does come in numbers ... and we all have a common struggle," he added.
Some of the assembly expressed concern about the manner in which University Police officers conduct themselves.
"You're going to find in society some people will act accordingly, some people will not," said Rice. "Some will take advantage of their power, that's just reality. But if you want to keep yourself out of trouble, you don't become a part of the problem."
Students asked if they were required to show identification to anyone who asked and pointed out that many of the students arrested were not read their Miranda rights.
Grela told students they have the same rights on campus as they do anywhere else in the country, but also have a responsibility to acknowledge the rules and regulations of the university. He called on students to familiarize themselves with those regulations and emphasized that everything the police officers did on Oct. 13 was procedurally correct.
"If someone asks you for ID, you have every right to ask them to identify themselves," said Wilson. "But once he or she indicates that they are a member of the university, then you are required to show them ID." He added that any uniformed police officer is a readily identifiable member of the university.
Grela said the Miranda warning must be issued when police officers ask accusatory questions, which would incriminate the suspect, not necessarily when officers make an arrest.
When Student Association Vice President Joshua Korman said he assumed, like others in the room, that Miranda rights must be read at the time of arrest, Grela answered, "That's because you watch too much TV."
The administrators welcomed feedback and provided contact information. Both Grela and Wilson took down names of individuals who had questions on specific situations affecting them in the past, and said they would try to find more information.
Students were also directed to outlets on campus where they can voice complaints, specifically the ombudsman office, the Office of Student Affairs, and Public Safety, where wronged individuals can initiate formal complaint procedures.
"I think the event was successful in that the forum allowed students to ask administrators questions they may not normally address," said BSU President Nikole Booker. "There were many minorities present, but the information passed on was imperative for any student to know."