Students react to race in crime alerts

Canela López, Staff Reporter

At night, Tulane junior Alex Williams fears for her male friends of color. Her worry is not caused by off-campus crime but by the possibility of her friends being racially profiled and stopped by the Tulane University Police Department.

Although TUPD has a zero-tolerance policy toward racial profiling and discriminatory practices, some students have pointed out certain practices used by the department that exacerbate negative attitudes toward people of color in the community.

“The increase in security and the way that they reacted to crime is reflective of a pattern that I’ve seen, just in my time here, of explicit and implicit efforts of the university to keep people of color from Tulane’s community, off of our campus,” said junior Zoë Krulak-Palmer, white co-convener for Students Organizing Against Racism at Tulane University.

Out of the 23 crime alerts sent out so far in 2015, 28 of the suspects were described as black males, three as Hispanic males and two as white males.

According to the Safe Campus Act of 1990, better known as the Clery Act, universities are required to disclose information about crimes on and directly outside of campus as well as alert students when a criminal may be at large in the area. Some Tulane students claim that the racial descriptions attached to crime alerts perpetuate an attitude of racism and discrimination on campus.

In the armed robbery of three students at 3:45 p.m. in the Lavin-Bernick Center, the suspect was described as a Hispanic man. TUPD responded immediately, the crime alert went out and the search was underway. The suspect was not Hispanic, however. According to the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office inmate information query, Spadoni is black.

“Tre [Spadoni] was initially reported as a Hispanic man,” Williams said. “It would be [a] much more efficient and much better use of everyone’s time and the university’s resources if we just stopped attaching racial descriptors to things and instead just used physicality.”

TUPD Superintendent Jon Barnwell said that the racial descriptors are a tool for finding suspects quickly, but that TUPD is open to student suggestions about how to change the policy.

“The use of race in the suspect descriptors field has been more of a historical perspective and the dialogue is a continuing dialogue that we’re having with the Student Safety Committee,” Barnwell said. “Based on some of the input we received from the student body, it would be something we’d be willing to look into. We want to make sure just because a person’s of the same ethnicity or race as the person in suspect that they don’t feel like everybody’s looking at them.”

The Student Safety Committee originally suggested TUPD’s implementation of the disclaimer regarding racial descriptions at the bottom of crime reports.

TUPD has been certified through the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies. Barnwell said that individual accounts of racial profiling completely go against TUPD policy and can be reported on the department’s website, where they will be dealt with through the appropriate pathways.

“One of those policies is biased-based profiling, that takes a zero tolerance — as do I personally as the head of TUPD — any discriminatory measure to signal out any particular group,” Barnwell said. “I’m really proud of the fact that we have zero tolerance and a policy that guides that.”

These alleged attitudes of discrimination were brought up during the community Oct. 20 Town Hall meeting with TUPD.

Junior Mykia Kidd, co-convener of color for SOAR, said that although the topic of training was addressed, not enough was said about the specifics of how TUPD officers are taught racial and gender sensitivity.

Barnwell said that officers undergo training to ensure racial, cultural and gender sensitivity through their accreditation program every year to ensure a safe environment for all students.

“We try to look at training opportunities that we’re able to bring into the agency that number one, recognize the minority and the gender sensitivity, but also the cultural sensitivity because a lot of our students come from countries where the police may not be viewed as a safe reporting place to go,” Barnwell said.

Freshman Nick Bator said he has personal experience with the effects of socialized racial fear affecting the way Tulane perceives crime.

“Our discourse is so racialized that we ignore the mostly white criminal phenomenon from within our own campus, in favor of being perpetually terrified of a vague image of black criminality, one that simplifies, dehumanizes and “others” the majority of the city we live in,” Bator said.

Williams said that, in her experience, the belief that the 21st century is a post-racial society, a society devoid of race and racial issues, is a common one held on campus. She said that this belief is detrimental to the Tulane community.

“I think that’s what we as a community really need to realize, that we are not post-racial,” Williams said. “That race is really still a thing that impacts our daily lives and really colors the experiences of people on this campus. You see it every couple of weeks in those crime reports.”

Canela Lopez is a member of Students Organizing Against Racism