University of Minnesota Raises Bar for Revealing Suspect’s Race in Crime Alerts

Libor Jany, Star Tribune, February 25, 2015

University of Minnesota po­lice will stop send­ing out what they consider vague de­scrip­tions of sus­pects in cam­pus crime alerts af­ter crit­i­cism that auth­ori­ties some­times re­lease ra­cial de­scrip­tions and little oth­er con­crete in­for­ma­tion.

From now on, the cam­pus­wide bul­le­tins trig­gered by se­ri­ous crimes such as rob­ber­y and ag­gra­vat­ed as­sault will only in­clude the sus­pect’s de­scrip­tion “when there is suf­fi­cient de­tail that would help i­den­ti­fy a spe­cif­ic in­di­vid­u­al or group,” U Vice Pres­i­dent Pam­e­la Wheelock said Wednes­day in an e-mail to stu­dents, fac­ul­ty and staff.

The an­nounce­ment came af­ter a se­ries of stu­dent-led pro­tests on the is­sue and marks a sig­nifi­cant step for a u­ni­ver­si­ty deal­ing with ten­sion over the ra­cial cli­mate on cam­pus, an is­sue that has re­ver­ber­ated at col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties across the coun­try in re­cent months.


“For some, know­ing they have all the in­for­ma­tion avail­able about a crime, in­clud­ing the com­plete sus­pect de­scrip­tion, makes them feel bet­ter in­formed and in­creas­es how safe they feel,” Wheelock said in the e-mail. “But oth­ers–par­tic­u­lar­ly black men–have shared that sus­pect de­scrip­tions neg­a­tive­ly im­pact their sense of safe­ty.”

She said critics of the pol­icy also feel the ra­cial de­scrip­tions “re­in­force ste­reo­types of black men as threats and cre­ate a hos­tile cam­pus cli­mate.”

The cam­pus ad­vo­ca­cy group Whose Di­ver­si­ty?, which has been behind sev­er­al re­cent high-pro­file demon­stra­tions at the U, said in a state­ment Wednes­day af­ter­noon that it was pleased with the u­ni­ver­si­ty’s “ac­tive en­gage­ment with the is­sue of racialized crime alerts from the ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

The group said, how­ever, that the U’s an­nounce­ment gave the im­pres­sion that “the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­mains un­con­vinced that ra­cial pro­fil­ing has real and tan­gi­ble con­se­quences.”

A mem­ber of the group cited a study by u­ni­ver­si­ty auth­ori­ties that found that about a third of cam­pus crime alerts pro­vid­ed “a lim­it­ed sus­pect de­scrip­tion.” That means race could still be in­clud­ed in about two-thirds of the crime alerts.

“It’s still put­ting black stu­dents and oth­er stu­dents of color at risk of be­ing ra­cial­ly pro­filed,” said Leah Pru­dent, a seni­or glo­bal stud­ies ma­jor.

In the most re­cent cam­pus dem­on­stra­tion Feb. 9, 16 Whose Di­ver­si­ty? mem­bers–some lug­ging sleep­ing bags–took over U Pres­i­dent Eric Kaler’s se­cond-floor of­fice in Mor­rill Hall, vow­ing to stay un­til their de­mands were met. The sit-in end­ed near­ly eight hours later with the ar­rests 13 peo­ple.

A­mong their de­mands was great­er ra­cial and eth­nic di­ver­si­ty in u­ni­ver­si­ty hir­ing prac­tices and more mon­ey for the school’s eth­nic stud­ies program, which they con­tended Kaler had prom­ised would hap­pen by the end of last year.


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