When race triggers a call to campus police

When race triggers a call to campus police

On a beautiful spring afternoon on a picturesque college campus, two campus police officers responded to a black professor’s “good afternoon” with a request to see his identification.

The professor paused for a moment but decided to comply. He wondered if perhaps his attire – slacks, a button-down shirt and loafers – didn’t signal that he belonged.

As he presented his ID, another group of colleagues – all white – arrived and asked what was happening, so the professor told them. His colleagues asked the officers – in a sarcastic way – if they needed to show identification as well. The officers hurriedly returned the professor’s ID and didn’t respond to his colleagues’ inquiries.

This isn’t fiction. It happened to one of us. We are researchers with a keen interest in how race comes into play during day-to-day interactions with police both in and outside of college campuses.

Outsiders on campus

College campuses are often thought of as safe spaces and commonly regarded as forward-thinking environments. However, as our anecdote and recent events demonstrate, merely being a student or even a faculty member does not always equate to acceptance and inclusion, particularly if the student or professor is a member of a minority group on campus.

Consider, for instance, two recent incidents on college campuses that involved racial profiling by proxy – that is, instances where police are summoned to a situation by a biased caller. One incident took place in Colorado on the campus of Colorado State University during a campus visit and tour. Two prospective students, who were Native Americans males, were accused of acting “odd” due to their quiet disposition and clothing by a parent of another student on the campus tour. Due to her heightened suspicions, she called the police on the two teens. The other incident took place in Connecticut on the campus of Yale University. In this instance, a white student called the police on a black female graduate student who took a nap while writing a paper in their dorm’s common room.

Both cases serve to show how racial micro- and macro-aggressions aren’t limited to neighborhoods. They surface on college and university campuses as well. These recent incidents come not even two years after the hashtag #BlackOnCampus flooded Twitter, exposing the daily occurrences of racism experienced by black students, and leading to protests focused on race relations on over 50 college campuses.

Campuses have often been described as “microcosms of society,” so these incidents send a troubling message that the racist attitudes and behaviors that were part and parcel of American history endure in the present. They also highlight the need to move beyond policies addressing the legal restrictions that historically limited access to spaces and places to certain racial groups. Moving beyond this negative aspect of our nation’s past requires a shift in the current discussion from one that focuses on law enforcement and campus safety towards one in which we candidly discuss shared historical fallacies about the much-maligned “other.” This unpacking necessitates an understanding of how we, as a society, got to where we are today.

The myth of black criminality

From a historical perspective, American society was based on social constructions of race, ethnicity, gender and other identities. As a result, an American narrative that defined being different from the majority as deviant became embedded within the framework of American society, as well as the nation’s legal system. One example of this that appeared after the Civil War was the enactment of the black codes, which greatly restricted blacks’ labor and movement. The different-as-deviant narrative still affects American society to this day. Public policies and governmental actions have often reinforced these notions of “otherness” by marginalizing those who are considered undeserving and uncapable.

Sign reading ‘waiting room for colored only, by order Police Dept.’ Ca. 1940s or 1950s.
Everett Historical/www.shutterstock.com

Human beings have often been described as having an affinity for myths. One myth that continues to permeate society is known as Black Crimmythology – or the myth that conflates blackness or otherness with criminality. Black Crimmythology, as the converging legacy of the social construction of race and the stigma that accompanies it, continues to blemish our society. As such, it has a constraining limiting effect that impacts a person’s meaning, destiny and value – all based upon their physical appearance.

Political constructions are public policies that were created to reinforce the social construction of Black Crimmythology. Public policies – both before and after the Civil War – limited the spaces and places to which blacks and other people of color had access, with criminalizing effects. Implementing Black Crimmythology and the policies that legally reinforced it required the assistance of public servants – that is, law enforcement officers – and the support of white citizens who made up the dominant class.

The incidents at Colorado State University and Yale University highlight how all these things – race or Black Crimmythology, practices of contemporary police officers and “support” from members of the dominant racial group – resulted in a negative interaction or encounter. The police were called to address each caller’s implicit or explicit bias or prejudiced anxieties. These incidents reflect the lasting nature of the old narrative of defining one who is different as deviant, even during what some have described as our post-racial or post-black society.

Toward ‘brave’ spaces

In order to make progress and lessen the potential for negative encounters between members of minority groups and campus police, society must be willing to enter into brave spaces – that is, spaces where people find the courage to risk engaging in uncomfortable and unsettling dialogue around issues of race and racism.

This effort requires more than just acknowledging the pain of others, but actually acting upon it.

One tool that can help in this regard is the Handy Guide for Objective Threat Evaluation developed by Hobart Taylor and utilized by the University of California-Irvine Police Department. This tool asks that prior to calling the police, members of the public should ask themselves a series of questions: Does someone seem suspicious because of something that they are doing? Does someone seem suspicious because of how they are behaving? Or, is it because of their appearance? If it is because of their appearance and not because of their behavior, the assessment advises not to call.

The ConversationThis tool was created to help the public identify when situations and incidents necessitate calling the police. If the callers at Colorado State and Yale would have followed this guide, officers never would have been called in the first place.

Brian N. Williams, Visiting Professor of Public Policy, University of Virginia; Andrea M. Headley, Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, Berkeley, and Megan LePere-Schloop, Assistant Professor, The Ohio State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

From Fatherless to ‘Abba Father’

From Fatherless to ‘Abba Father’

LITTLE FOUNTAINS: The author, John Fountain, at age 3 with his younger sister, Gloria, circa 1964.

I believe in God. Not that cosmic, intangible spirit-in-the-sky that Mama told me as a little boy “always was and always will be.” But the God who embraced me when Daddy disappeared from our lives—from my life at age 4—the night police led him away from our front door, down the stairs in handcuffs.

The God who warmed me when we could see our breath inside our freezing apartment, where the gas was disconnected in the dead of another wind-whipped Chicago winter, and there was no food, little hope and no hot water.

The God who held my hand when I witnessed boys in my ‘hood swallowed by the elements, by death and by hopelessness; who claimed me when I felt like “no-man’s son,” amid the absence of any man to wrap his arms around me and tell me, “everything’s going to be OK,” to speak proudly of me, to call me son.

I believe in God, God the Father, embodied in his Son Jesus Christ. The God who allowed me to feel His presence—whether by the warmth that filled my belly like hot chocolate on a cold afternoon, or that voice, whenever I found myself in the tempest of life’s storms, telling me (even when I was told I was “nothing”) that I was something, that I was His, and that even amid the desertion of the man who gave me his name and DNA and little else, I might find in Him sustenance.

I believe in God, the God who I have come to know as father, as Abba-Daddy.

I always envied boys I saw walking hand-in-hand with their fathers. I thirsted for the conversations fathers and sons have about the birds and the bees, or about nothing at all—simply feeling his breath, heartbeat, presence.

I had been told about my father’s drinking problem and felt more than anyone the void created by his absence: from school assemblies where I received awards, at graduations and church plays and at all of those irredeemable moments that occur in a little boy’s life.

STILL DAD: “It didn’t matter that Daddy was ‘no good.’ What mattered was that he was my dad.”

Still, it mattered not that Daddy was “no good,” as I was told, nor that the physical portrait of him that had once existed in my mind by my teenage years had long faded. What mattered was that he was my dad. And I was his son.

That fact alone drew me to him. It also made paternal rejection my cross to bear.

As a boy, I used to sit on the front porch of our apartment, watching the cars roll by, imagining that eventually one day, one would park and the man getting out would be my daddy. But it never happened.

When I was 18, I could find no tears that Alabama winter’s evening in January 1979, as I stood in a small church finally face to face with my father, lying cold in a casket, his eyes sealed, his heart no longer beating, his breath forever stilled.

Killed in a car accident, John Fountain Sr. died drunk, leaving me hobbled by the sorrow of years of fatherlessness.

By then it had been years since Mama had summoned the police to our apartment, fearing that Daddy might hurt her—hit her—again. Finally, his alcoholism consumed what good there was of him until it swallowed him whole.

I had not been able to cry at his funeral. But sixteen years later, standing over my father’s unmarked grave for a long overdue conversation, my tears flowed. They flowed freely as I began to have that talk that I had always dreamed of having someday with my father.

Much of what I said at the gravesite that day remains a blur, though I do recall telling him who I was, telling him about the man I had become. I told him about how much I wished he had been in my life. But it was only those words that I found most liberating that I clearly remember saying:

“I love you, Dad,” I said, wiping away tears, “and I forgive you.”

With that said, I climbed into my car and drove out of Long Corner Cemetery, away from Evergreen, Alabama, away from death and back toward life. And I realized fully that in his absence, I had found another. Or that He—God, the Father, God, my Father—had found me.

This post is an excerpt from Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood. For more information, visit WestSide Press Books.

I’d Rather Have You

By John W. Fountain

I’d rather have your breath
That’s real.
Have your touch
Just one day.
To feel
Rather see your face
Again and again with my eyes
Than imagine in my mind.
Rather have you here
Than have to seek to find.
Rather know your foibles
And love you in spite.
Never have to imagine with all my might.
I’d rather know your imperfections
Than be left with my own reflections of the man
I can’t see
Can’t remember
Can’t hear
And each September forget which day
Was the day you were born.
Instead I mourn
The man I never knew.
How much I’d give
How much I’d do
Just once to hear you
Just once to see you
Just once to be with you
To walk again hand in hand
To know and touch the man
Who is my father.

 This poem is an excerpt from Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood by John W. Fountain.

Cash giveaway an attempt to buy Black Churchgoers’ votes?

Cash giveaway an attempt to buy Black Churchgoers’ votes?

In this Feb. 4, 2018 file photo businessman Willie Wilson, candidate for the office of Mayor of Chicago, speaks at a news conference in Chicago. Wilson who is again running for mayor says he wasn’t trying to buy anyone’s vote when he handed out close to $200,000 to churchgoers Sunday, July 22, 2018. Wilson says Sunday’s appearance at the New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church was nothing more than “one of the biggest property tax relief assistance” events of the year and the kind of thing he’s done before. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh File)


Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said Monday he didn’t know a candidate for Chicago mayor planned to hand out $200,000 to churchgoers at a service where the governor also spoke, a scene that prompted opponents to accuse the Republican of trying to buy votes for his own re-election.

Rauner, who’s facing a tough fight for a second term this fall, said he learned “after the fact” that Willie Wilson distributed the cash and checks at an African-American church Sunday morning and was “pretty upset” about it.

“I think the idea of handing out cash if you’re a candidate for office is outrageous,” he said. “It should not happen.”

Critics questioned Rauner’s version of events, with Conservative Party governor candidate and state Sen. Sam McCann saying Rauner had reached “a new low.” The director of the Democratic Party of Illinois, state Rep. Christian Mitchell, called it “one of the most highly unethical campaign stunts Rauner has ever conducted.”

Wilson, a Democratic businessman and philanthropist running for mayor, sent a release to news media early Sunday announcing the 2019 mayoral candidate would give away $300,000 to help homeowners pay “staggering” property tax bills. WGN-TV video showed him peeling bills from a thick wad of cash and handing them to people as they filed by him.

The Illinois State Board of Elections said Wilson didn’t break any campaign finance laws because the money came from his non-profit foundation, not his campaign fund. Wilson’s campaign also denied he was trying to buy votes.

Wilson has given out funds for the same purpose in the past, and Rauner said Monday he’s contributed $200,000 to Wilson’s foundation over the past year to help with the effort. The wealthy former private equity investor said it was his understanding that people receiving the funds are vetted, and the money is provided via check to people who might lose their homes because they can’t pay their taxes.

Rauner said he wasn’t sure if his donation was part of what was handed out Sunday, but said he’d ask for his money back if it was.

During his speech at Sunday’s service, Rauner outlined his efforts to reduce property taxes. He said the pastor at New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church invited him to speak, and a campaign aide accompanied him.

Rauner also faced questions about vote buying in Chicago’s African-American community in 2014, when he deposited $1 million of his personal funds in a South Side credit union while TV cameras rolled. Rauner said the money was to encourage economic development through small business loans.