Asked whether he had ever been discriminated against by the University police, Edwin Foster ’05 replied, “Of course.”
Foster said last year he and several of his fraternity brothers, who are all black, entered the computer cluster in Connecticut Hall and logged on to computers. The group was only in the cluster for a few minutes when a Yale police officer confronted them, he said.
“He came down and started harassing us,” Foster said. “He was asking for our ID.”
Within the black student body at Yale, Foster’s story is hardly unique, nor is it as universal as Foster’s “of course” would suggest. Many black students described widely varying experiences with and perceptions of the Yale Police Department, which maintains it does not unfairly target black students.
“Race is never a determining factor for enforcement action. The standard is probable cause,” Yale police Lt. Michael Patten said. “We hold our officers to acting ethically and lawfully.”
Among the students interviewed, several said they had been asked by police to show their student IDs and several more said they knew of black friends who were asked. The students said police seemed to suspect they were city residents and not Yale students.
Khary Carew ’04 said he was walking across Old Campus last year with a stereo and bicycle when he was questioned by police.
“The question was in the direction of why I was stealing this stuff,” Carew said, “Once they determined that I was a Yale student, they walked off like it wasn’t a big deal.”
Carew said he believes police questioned him about the items because he was black. He also said he has been followed by police on a number of occasions.
“I feel like I have been a victim of racism by the Yale police,” he said.
University Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith, who oversees the Yale police, said police only perform searches if there is probable cause and that no student has reported being inappropriately stopped to her.
“It is not our practice randomly to stop people,” Highsmith said. “The police don’t initiate this kind of random thing, I can’t stress that enough. They respond to complaints.”
Accusations of racial profiling by University police were made in two mass e-mails sent to students this year. One was a copy of a letter mailed by Katherine Lo ’05 to University President Richard Levin. The other came from an unnamed group encouraging students to anonymously report incidents of profiling to them. Neither e-mail mentioned any specific incident or names of students who were harassed.
Sunny Kim ’06, who was involved in sending both e-mails, said members of the group felt outraged about allegations of racial profiling.
Both Highsmith and Patten said they had not received either e-mail until they were provided them by the News.
“We can’t respond to anonymous complaints,” Highsmith said. “If there are concerns people have and they want to have them addressed, we will address them.”
Patten said the Yale police have met with students in the past when there have been complaints or concerns, but that reports of racism are rare.
“The problem is that sometimes if [people] have a negative experience with somebody and they tell 10 of their friends and they tell 10 of their friends, then what happens is that a lot of people know of these experiences and may not have had any firsthand experience,” Patten said. “Conversely, when they have positive experiences with us they tend not to talk about them.”
About half of the students interviewed said they have never had any negative encounters with Yale police.
“I have actually never had any dealings with the Yale Police Department aside from being at parties where they showed up and shut it down,” Jean-Paul Christophe ’04 said.
Asked about police discrimination, Harold Dozier ’04 also had no complaints.
“All of the Yale police officers I’ve known or met have been African American, so I haven’t really experienced any racism,” Dozier said.
Minorities represent 26 percent of Yale’s police force, Patten said. Additionally, Captain Barbara Morton — the YPD’s highest ranking officer after Chief James Perrotti — is black.
Students expressed mixed feelings about the police’s ability to handle racial incidents on campus. Christopher Jordan ’04, a coordinator of Concerned Black Students at Yale, continues to object to the police and administration’s handling of the threatening message left on Lo’s Calhoun College door in March of 2003. However, Jordan said the Yale police have appropriately handled other racial incidents on campus, including the investigation of a racist note left on the door of the Afro-American Cultural Center last year and a threatening e-mail sent to several black students over spring break.
But Rashayla Brown ’04, a recipient of the threatening e-mail, said she does not fully trust the police to carry out investigations of racially-motivated crimes.
“I’m not necessarily sure that they would respond in an appropriate fashion,” Brown said.
Even students who say they were targeted unfairly do not always believe it was the police’s fault. Kenneth Dikas ’05 said he was coming back from a friend’s house at 6 a.m. on Saturday and remembered that he did not bring his keycard. Seeing a group of girls in a Silliman College window he recognized, Dikas said he began waving at the girls to let him in.
“I kept saying, ‘It’s me. It’s Kenny,'” Dikas said.
Evidently not recognizing him, Dikas said the girls began screaming. As Dikas walked away from the window, he said he was stopped by police, who took his name, date of birth, and social security number before letting him into Silliman.
“They were really helpful, really friendly,” Dikas said.
Dikas said he believes the girls called the police on him, thinking he was not a student.
Jordan suspects police are often not personally racist, but are forced to respond to calls by racist members of the Yale community, he said.
“I think that they often are the medium for people’s racism,” Jordan said.
A residential college master and dean once called the police when Jordan was hanging posters in the college, he said.
“The police were very understanding and they were surprised [the master and dean] called them on me,” Jordan said.
Highsmith said it is possible police are sometimes called under false pretenses.
“If the police get a call, they will respond,” she said. “Maybe that’s a Catch-22 for us. We trust the goodwill and honesty of the community whether they deserve it or not.”
Callers may be charged with a crime if it is proven they intentionally misled police, Highsmith said.