Colleges and Universities Have a Racial Profiling Problem

By Carl Takei

We have seen it again and again: A Black or brown person is sitting in a Starbucks, barbequing in a public park, touring a college they hope to attend, or sitting down in the college they already attend. Then someone calls the cops on them for looking like they “don’t belong” or are “out of place.”

These calls target former White House staffers and longtime university employees just as aggressively as they target any other person of color. And when the police arrive, they often enforce the caller’s biases, leaving people of color traumatized by the experience of being detained, interrogated, or even arrested solely for occupying space while Black or brown. As Lolade Siyonbola, a Yale graduate student, recently said in response to having the police called on her for taking a nap, “We’re constantly having to prove that we’re allowed to be where we are, that we have permission — that we have freedom papers.”

Police keep acting as the instruments of biased 911 callers for two reasons: first, the bias-driven assumptions and cultural overreliance on police intervention of the people who call the police, and second, the failure of law enforcement agencies to adopt policies and training that help them avoid being used to weaponize the biases of those who call them.

Programs that vaguely advise people to act on poorly articulated feelings that someone is out of place — most notably the “See Something, Say Something” programs that have proliferated since 9/11 — often result in race-based “suspicious person” calls and put an official stamp of approval on these biases. But even without such ill-advised programs, the BBQ Beckies and racist ranters of the country will keep calling the cops on people of color for simply living their lives.

That’s why police need to adopt better policies and training to address these calls when they come in. But there has been little formal guidance on how to do this. To fill that void, the ACLU has launched a campaign to adopt our model policy for screening and responding to bias-based calls in the places that have both been a hotbed of weaponized bias and which have the least excuse for inaction: predominantly white college and university campuses that operate their own police and security forces.

Predominantly white colleges and universities tend to identify themselves as inclusive communities that seek to attract Black and brown students. But if they refuse to adopt policies that protect their own Black and brown students from weaponized bias, they aren’t just being hypocritical. Instead, they are making it crystal clear which students won’t be able to live as full members of the college community and which students will constantly have their place in this community questioned or threatened by campus authorities.

In addition, college and university police departments are a good place to begin reforms that can spread across the larger society. First, the campus policies can be simpler and easier because campus dispatchers and police departments tend to be smaller organizations with more narrowly defined missions and also have less complex dispatch systems. More importantly, the power to change police policies is concentrated in the office of the college or university president, which makes quick adoption of the policy easier. Second, widespread adoption of these policies in campus police departments can pave the way for adoption of similar policies in city and county law enforcement agencies by modeling the successful operation of these policies in practice.

The ACLU’s new model policy for campus police departments represents our judgment about the best practices for properly screening and responding to bias-based calls for service. The ACLU’s attorneys are already pushing for similar policies as we represent individuals targeted by bias-based calls to campus police at Colorado State University and Smith College.

But schools should review their policies and practices before they make headlines or hear from the ACLU. That’s why we are making this model policy publicly available along with an advocacy toolkit and other resources for student activists. Our goal is to empower students of color to push their college and university administrators for change — and to ensure that these institutions practice what they preach on diversity and equity.

Black and brown people should be able to trust the police to protect them when needed while leaving them free to live their daily lives. We hope this campaign will be a first step toward making that the reality in campuses and communities across the country.

Carl Takei is the Senior Staff Attorney with ACLU’s Trone Center for Justice and Equality

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Jeff M

    Then someone calls the cops on them for looking like they “don’t belong” or are “out of place.”

    When we subtract from the number of reports for these types of incidents, those that are inflated by the victims seeking attention and those that get their identity, power and money from perpetuating the ongoing myths of severe racism, there is not very many of these incidents.

    We know this story-telling is rampant as proved by the behavior of people during and after the latest national election season.  There is irrational and manufactured outrage in the air and on the air-waves.  It is a lot of tabloid fake news, and emotive squawking to get attention as a victim, and related virtue signaling by others to get attention… all to serve an industry that benefits politically and monetarily from it.

    If we compare the remaining numbers of real incidents with similar incidents for people not-of-color, we would still probably see some disparity but it would be small and when controlled for the crime rates of the different groups, it would likely demonstrate a reverse racism… people ignoring their suspicions for fear of being labeled a racist.  We experienced this in some recent terrorist acts, like ones in Florida and San Bernardino, where the neighbors noted the suspicious behavior of the killers but failed to report it over fear of being branded racist by the media and their narrative pushers.

    And note that the article is talking about incidents on college campuses. Right… now there are some facts you can believe… not.

      1. Jeff M

        And this…

        Levin said real hate crimes slightly declined last year in Colorado — where the academy is based — but increased by 5 percent nationally. He said he predicts the FBI’s latest report — due next week — will show an excess of 6,000 hate crimes throughout the U.S. and will have the first back-to-back annual increase since 2004 (The FBI’s last official count in 2015 was 5,850 hate crimes nationally.).

        The FBI’s data, however, only consists of hate crimes that were reported to authorities. In June, a special report on hate crimes from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that more than half of the 250,000 hate crimes that took place each year between 2004 and 2015 went unreported to law enforcement for a variety of reasons.

        Hoaxes, while troubling, make up a “sliver” of hate crime cases, Levin told Fox News.

        “We do routinely see a very small number of hate crime hoaxes but we also see hoaxes with respect to arson and auto theft and even reports of sexual assault, yet we don’t say the overwhelming number of reports of those crimes are hoaxes, either,” said Levin.

        When they do occur, “colleges are among more common places where they happen,” Levin said. 

        In the case of false reports, Levin noted that hoaxes are often meant to attract or divert attention or can be a political statement.

        “There are a variety of recurring motives that we see in these types of reports. They include everything from insurance fraud to the diversion of attention away from some other personal misconduct,” he said.

        “Sometimes we see people who do this because they want sympathy and publicity as well as to make a pointed political statement.”

  2. John Hobbs

    “We know this story-telling is rampant as proved by the behavior of people during and after the latest national election season.  There is irrational and manufactured outrage in the air and on the air-waves.  It is a lot of tabloid fake news, and emotive squawking to get attention as a victim, and related virtue signaling by others to get attention… all to serve an industry that benefits politically and monetarily from it.”

    My actual response rhymes with “full spit.”

    Imagine what I’m signalling right now.


    1. Jeff M

      Typical.  Nothing useful or intelligent to contribute as a counter.  Only baby tantrums from having to eat your whirled peas.

      Funny though, I like it when you post because it always confirms my strongly held views about people of a certain tribe.  Thank you for that.


  3. Matt Williams

    Jeff and Ken, I see an irony in your comments.  What I hear you both saying, each in your own way, is that the arguments and incidents being made by the ACLU are over the top and exaggerated.  The irony comes from the fact that each of your responses suffers (in my personal opinion) from an equal amount of over-the-top exaggeration.  What that leaves is a very barren dialogue space in the middle.

    The issues being described in the article, and its embedded links, are real, and they illuminate the fact that we (as a society … and as a local community … and as a university) can do better.  Whether I agree with the specifics of the steps the ACLU has proposed to help avoid reoccurence of these events, I am very pleased that they are being proactive in proposing those steps.  The reality is that we can do better.


    1. John Hobbs

      ” What I hear you both saying, each in your own way, is that the arguments and incidents being made by the ACLU are over the top and exaggerated.”

      The overseers never thought that they beat the slaves too hard and beat them more for complaining.

    2. Jeff M

      What happens when your identity, your livelihood and the success of your political tribe has been made dependent on a narrative of the wolf, but the wolf mostly is eradicated?

      Either you find another identity, another means of livelihood and change your politics… or you double down crying wolf.

      The media makes it safe to chose crying wolf because the media is in the same boat… dependent on the narrative for a big part of its livelihood.  Note how thankful CNN and Fox News are that they have this Kavanaugh “sex scandal” to make into a news cycle.  It is tabloid trash.  There is little thoughtful analysis and reporting about it.  But it like a wood-chipper where you can throw out almost any claim of some sexual misbehavior… does not have to be true… does not have to be credible… does not have to be serious… and the wood-chipper will destroy the character and career of the accused.

      The good news here is that Democrats are probably destroying their political appeal to independents and moderates as they keep doing their dirty tricks using this tabloid media wood-chipper.

      And getting back to the article, yes… the ACLU and certain groups on college campuses are out of control and prone to making up stuff to get their way.   There are still acts of racism today mostly because there is ignorance.  There will always be ignorance, so there will always be racism.  However, there is also fake racism.  And fake racism is not based on ignorance, but greed and malice.  I will save most of my outrage for the greed and malice.

      1. John Hobbs

        This article is about scared or racist white folks who make swat calls against people who are no threat and not engaged in any crime.

        No idea wtf you’re ranting about with this tribe narrative of the wolf nonsense or how you think someone profits from being the object of Fox News scurrilous misrepresentations.  You have wailed like an orphaned pup since Obama was elected and continue with the bs oppressed white man narrative. I can only assume it is cover for your true fealty to the unprincipled and amoral pursuit of wealth and power.



        1. Jeff M

          the unprincipled and amoral pursuit of wealth and power.

          You must be talking about your politicians here John.  Certainly not me.  I’m just part of the working class.  Those private producers that generate everything that allows you retired government workers to have a good life… including the owning of that marvelous machine you use to type your rants.

          But let’s stick to the topic at hand…

          The campuses are a mess of intolerance and raging violent snowflakes that have taken their cue from the Democrat party that the left political and ideological end justifies any means… including fabricated claims of sexual misconduct.

  4. Ken A

    I agree with Matt “that we can do better” I have never called 911 and if I saw someone (of any race) that “may not belong there” I would go up and talk to them making every effort not to “leaving people of color traumatized” (or people of no color traumatized).  Just like more white people are shot by cops every years more white people “who belong” are questioned by cops and campus security in America every year than people of color (sad, but cops and 911 callers will never be perfect).  In college I knew a white kid with dreadlocks who looked like a homeless guy and he was questioned by campus police (and others) more often the clean cut white guys wearing college sweatshirts (just like a clean cut white kid in a college sweatshirt will be asked what he is doing if he shows up backstage at a reggae concert or my cousin is questioned every time he shows up at the Kumon Math and Reading Center in SF where his kid is the only non Asian kid he has ever seen there)…

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