NEWS

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March 5, 2010

Arrest uproar prompts forum, answers from admins

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Administrators outlined preliminary steps yesterday to remedy percieved racial profiling within the University police department (UCPD) after issues were raised at a contentious Tuesday open forum. They will also consider revising Library behavior policy and protocol in how staff ask for ID.

Over 200 people attended the forum, which was convened to address a powerful student response to last Wednesday’s arrest of fourth-year Mauriece Dawson in the A-level. Many at the meeting said the arrest part of a larger culture of racial profiling on the part of UCPD.

A Regenstein clerk called the UCPD last Wednesday night to report an “unruly” group of students, including Dawson, although witnesses said they were not unusually loud for the popular study area. When told to leave the building by a UCPD officer, Dawson repeatedly asked why he had to leave; the officer placed him in a choke hold, pinned him to the floor, and placed him under arrest. Witnesses said Dawson, who is black, was never asked for identification. He was charged with criminal trespass and resisting arrest.

Since the arrest, students’ parents have contacted administrators, including President Robert Zimmer, to express distress at Dawson’s arrest, which witnesses claim was unwarranted and inappropriately violent.

In an e-mail response to the parents of one student, Dean of Students Susan Art said, “We too are very upset about this situation, and I am in complete agreement with you that this is a heart wrenching situation...I hope this situation can ultimately move our campus in a positive direction, though it is hard to see right now if this can happen.” Art did not return requests for comment.

At the forum, UCPD Chief Marlon Lynch and Associate Director of the Library Jim Vaughan told the crowd that investigations into police and library staff conduct are underway, but could not say when they would conclude. As of Thursday night, one-third of witnesses and all UCPD officers had been interviewed for UCPD’s investigation.

The arresting officer, whom witnesses have identified as Sergeant Eric Grays, has been taken off patrol, according to Vice President for Campus Life Kim Goff-Crews. Vaughan said union rules prevented him from reassigning or firing the clerk, whom witnesses identified as Lynn Franco.

Many of the comments at the forum centered on a perception of racial profiling by the UCPD. Lynch said he took those concerns seriously, and the community could hold him responsible for changing UCPD culture. “It’s my responsibilty,” he said. “But I’m also going to ask and put some responsibilty on those in this room to assist me with that, to provide the input neccessary to make it effective.”

Goff-Crews also sought student partnership on policy changes at the forum, although none in the audience offered any suggestions themselves. Yesterday she provided a summary of topics covered at the forum for students who did not attend.

That summary, posted on the Office of Campus and Student Life Web site, included several responses to student comments, including the appointment of UCPD Lieutenant JoCathy Roberts as “a liaison between students of color and the police” through the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Goff-Crews also wrote that there would be a review of what constitutes acceptable behavior in the Library, and how to deal with disruptions, a process she said will involve students. Forum attendees had suggested there was a strong disparity between the response to Dawson and his friends, who were laughing loudly, and when “white frat boys” drank beer and ate pizza in the A-level.

She and Lynch said that students would be informed of the investigations’ results.

Goff-Crews said at the forum that the University cannot drop any charges against Dawson once they had been filed in court, although a press officer at the State’s attorney’s office could not confirm charges had been brought and police officers said the investigation is ongoing and could not comment. Dawson could not comment on the status of his charges.

“The charges were made by the police, so they’re responsible for shepherding them through the system. We don’t think, legally, the University can pull them back,” Goff-Crews said at the forum, adding later in the meeting, “We’ll do what we can” to support the student.

At the forum, which was sponsored by the Office of Campus and Student Life, and Student Government (SG), administrators had few specific answers to attendees’ questions.

“We heard the same things over and over in that room tonight,” said fourth-year Brittany Little, a former member of the Organization of Black Students’ executive board.

She and others interviewed said the forum did have a positive outcome, in that many took the opportunity to mention times when they felt they were treated inappropriately or racially profiled by the UCPD.

“I feel like the discourse went well, because students who have been keeping silent for a very long time were able to bring their problems around experiences with UCPD,” Dawson said.

Concerns over Dawson’s case and other potential cases of racial profiling dominated proceedings. Around 50 attendees raised their hands when Dawson asked how many felt that they, or someone they knew, had been racially profiled by UCPD officers. More than half were black. “This is not an isolated incident,” Dawson said.

Divinity Ph.D. student Reverend Paul R. Ford (M.A. ‘05) interrupted one administrator to say the UCPD has engaged in racial profiling since at least 2003, when he said the University accosted a black SSA graduate student when he met a white, female friend on campus at 3 a.m.; the first thing Ford said officers did was ask the woman if she was okay, suggesting they viewed the student as a threat.

Wanting to “cut the crap,” Ford received applause when he yelled: “I am sick and tired of black students being racially profiled at the University of Chicago by their own police department.” The occasionally restless crowd applauded when some speakers expressed frustration or indignation.

Many at the forum were confused about ID policy, and Lynch pointed to the fine print on the back of the card: “Must be shown on demand.”

When investigating a call, Lynch said an officer should attempt to identify the person about whom the call was made, to hear his or her side of the story, and then make an arrest if the person is not forthcoming. “Can you ask questions to an officer? Sure, of course you can,” Lynch said, but allowed for exceptions. He said a police officer is expected to ask questions of the student before making an arrest. Witnesses have said that did not occur in Dawson’s case.

Goff-Crews said the ID policy needs clarification and that students should help administrators understand “how do we talk to staff and train staff...so that you feel comfortable” in showing identification.

Second-year Margaret Marion, who witnessed Dawson’s arrest and filed a misconduct report with UCPD, said the meeting left her feeling disheartened. “I don’t feel hopeful at all. I think this is going to blow over, and the only way this isn’t going to blow over is if enough of us speak up,” she said.

Director of the University Community Service Center and longtime Woodlawn resident Wallace Goode said the UCPD has a history of racial profiling.

“What occurred has been part of the UCPD’s M.O. ever since I can remember, and students often hear the story of when I was by harassed by the UCPD when I was a sophomore in high school—that’s 1968.”

Goode said he saw “frustration, concrete examples of unfair treatment, a desire to be a part of the solution, and doubt that the University will successfully address the situation” at the forum, but he had hope that the situation would finally be addressed, not least of all because he had expected the discourse to be more heated.

“This is a real opportunity for Kim Goff-Crews, Marlon Lynch, and a committed student community to turn this around,” he said.