MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – School officials at the University of Minnesota are working with black student and facility organizations after they wrote a letter to the school’s president about the racial descriptions given in crime alerts.
The letter, sent on Dec. 6, 2013, was issued by members of the African American and African Studies, Black Faculty and Staff Association, Black Graduate and Professional Student Association, Black Men’s Forum, Black Student Union and Huntley House for African American Males.
It was directed to University President Eric Kaler and Pamela Wheelock, the vice president of University Services.
Students and staff mailed the letter more than a month after the campus went on lockdown because of an attempted robbery at Anderson Hall on Nov. 11, 2013. University of Minnesota Police wrongfully identified a student as the suspect.
On Tuesday, school officials reported there have been 25 robberies in and around the University, an increase of 27 percent over the last few years.
The organizations wrote that while campus safety is crucial, the profiling can be devastating for black male students.
“[We] unanimously agree that campus safety should be of the UMPD’s utmost importance; however, efforts to reduce crime should never be at the expense of our Black men, or any specific group of people likely to be targeted. In addition to causing Black men to feel unsafe and distrusted, racial profiling is proven to inflict negative psychological effects on its victims.”
At Wednesday’s forum, Ian Taylor Jr., president of the Black Men’s Forum, said members of his organization feel threatened when the use of a racial description is given in the crime alerts.
“The repeated black, black, black suspect,” Taylor said. “And what that does it really discomforts the mental and physical comfort for students on campus because they feel like suspicions begin to increase.”
The letter then gave 12 recommendations to UMPD Chief Gregory Hestness on how to improve their response.
The recommendations include requiring officers to attend diversity training, and attach a link on crime alerts to the U’s no-tolerance policy on racial profiling.
On Jan. 27, 2014, a formal letter was issued by Wheelock.
“I am concerned that members of your organizations and others in the University community believe there to be an increase in racial profiling,” Wheelock said. “As I stated earlier profiling will not be tolerated on campus. If there is a concern or complaint about University police practices, both Chief Hestness and I are committed to investigating the matter promptly and thoroughly.”
She did disagree with the organizations when it comes to excluding racial descriptions in the alerts.
“I firmly believe that a well-informed community is an asset to public safety…I believe that sharing more information in our Crime Alerts, not less, is most beneficial in terms of public safety, especially when that information is available.
The information we share can include a complete description of suspects, unique identifying characteristics such as an accent or a distinctive piece of clothing, or the description of vehicles involved.
We have reviewed what other Big Ten Universities and local colleges and universities include, and our practice of including the race of a suspect when it is available from a victim’s description is consistent with their practices.”
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