Email alerts shed light on racial profiling
People have a habit of mulling over important issues when they become commonplace in everyday life.
This idea is proven true when it comes to universities’ alert systems, which are employed by most universities but often go unnoticed by students. While most students are aware that these systems exist, we have become complacent as we meander through the emails that have become a frequent reminder of the seemingly improbable danger.
Typically, the biggest complaint that can be made about UH’s alert system is that it sometimes is delayed. Students are often not made aware of this activity until hours later.
However, it now seems that the University of Minnesota has found another flaw in its system — the use of racial descriptions when identifying a suspect who participated in any form of criminal activity.
After a student was wrongfully accused of being a suspect during a campus lockdown, members of university groups including African-American and African Studies, Black Faculty and Staff Association and Black Men’s Forum wrote a letter to UM asking it to cease racial descriptions in email blasts.
School officials at UM found nothing offensive in the way suspects are identified, though others believe that the descriptions given in these alerts are an example of racial profiling.
Vice President of University Services at UM Pamela Wheelock addressed the issues brought forward by the letter in a statement, but said she remained steadfast in her views.
“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,” Wheelock said. “The information we share can include a complete description of suspects, unique identifying characteristics such as an accent or distinctive piece of clothing, or the description of vehicles involved.”
UM administrators were not the only ones put under the microscope. The campus police department was also confronted by this issue.
Interestingly enough, the term that offended students are using to describe the alerts released by the UM police department is the same term that is being referenced on the police website.
The UM police department posted a link on its website to a department policy concerning racial profiling. According to Policy 402.2, the definition of racial profiling is “any action initiated by law enforcement that relies on the race, ethnicity or national origin of an individual rather than the behavior of that individual, or information reliant upon the same criteria. That leads to a particular individual who has been identified as being engaged in or having been engaged in criminal activity.”
Judging from this policy, while the police department is using race and ethnicity as a way to narrow down the pool of suspects, there are other kinds of descriptions mentioned in these alerts.
In addition, actions are not initiated because of the race of the suspect; they are taken because of the behaviors of individuals.
Racial profiling is a matter taken seriously, but the UM police department said there will be no change in the way they issue information to the students.
The argument of the day is where the line between being descriptive and racially profiling someone is crossed. When it comes down to it, what some call racial profiling, others call giving a thorough description of an attacker.
Computer science sophomore Ahren Esquenazi agreed to some extent with the students opposing race being used as physical descriptors.
“I think it’s helpful, but I think too much emphasis is placed on the race rather than the individual,” he said. “They should keep it more based on the situation itself, like the time, place and the behavior of the individual.”
While I can see where the disgruntled students are coming from, I feel other things are said in this world that are more offensive to specific ethnicities.
Biotechnology sophomore Armani Authorlee gave a different view on racial profiling. He said he is no stranger to racial profiling but feels that these blasts are not the most oppressive.
“Quite frankly, black males are looked at regardless of if a crime happened or not. We’re looked at no matter what,” Authorlee said.
“Race is race, and if you’re offended, then you’re offended. Some things may offend you, but for the greater good and for people knowing what race a person is and who to look out for is helpful.”
Ultimately, while I have no doubt that racial profiling is a definite issue, I do not feel that the email alerts released to students during times of danger are negatively impacting this issue.
These blasts are narrowing down the suspect field, whether it is by identifying the suspect’s shirt, hair color, approximate height or skin tone.
If students feel they are being negatively profiled, that casts blame on the world we live in.
Noticing someone’s physical characteristics should not be looked at viewed as a negative thing.
I believe that racial profiling is an issue of humanity, not necessarily our campus alert systems.
Senior staff columnist Kelly Schafler is a print journalism junior and may be reached at [email protected]