After receiving a flurry of concerned e-mails, Police Chief James Perrotti apologized to the Black Student Alliance Thursday for describing the perpetrator of a mugging that occurred on Sept. 18 as a “black male in his late teens or early twenties.” Some of us, however, do not find this mea culpa adequate. As a concerned friend of equality and justice, I am deeply troubled by some of the other ways in which Chief Perrotti describes criminal suspects.
In an e-mail on Oct. 10, he informed students of an armed robbery undertaken by “… two males, described as between 15 and 18 years old, one of whom was wearing a mask.” I feel that this statement is contemporaneously bigoted toward 15-year-olds, 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds, 18-year-olds, men who mistook their wives’ pantyhose for a hat, superheroes and the Phantom of the Opera. This is particularly unfortunate, given that the latter has well-characterized adjustment disorder and will now be subject to paranoid responses from students at night, which will probably make him regress. In addition, this statement is sexist because it typifies the phallocentric idea that only men can be criminals, and that women have to eschew robbery and murder and stay at home and subserviently fluff souffle.
Moreover, I am troubled by Chief Perrotti’s taste for mentioning what suspected criminals are wearing because of such an action’s potential to foment class wars. Fashion, after all, originated as a way for people to fulfill the fundamental Darwinian longing to be better than other people, and calling attention to it is best avoided at all costs. Finally, I can’t help but conclude that the chief’s insistence on specifying where crimes occur is meant to stigmatize the blameless residents of those areas as criminals.
For the record, I am kidding. More importantly, however, I am ashamed that people can start beating the racial insensitivity drum when a good police officer reports an empirical fact about a crime and that, to the best of my knowledge, no one has come to his defense in the face of these absurd charges. On Sept. 18, a black male in his late teens or early twenties committed a crime in our community and, per his job description, Chief Perrotti issued an e-mail alerting us of this fact. The average individual, I suspect, sees nothing wrong with this.
But an editorial by Mena Cammett (“Common sense, not fear, fights crime,” 9/26) takes a different view. She sees this single crime report as fuel for the “vilification of black males” when, in reality, it is a vilification of a single black male who happens to be a criminal. She goes on to advise Chief Perrotti to suppress future factual information about violent criminals because, if he does, fear will decline and the races will live together in harmony. Of course, there is no evidence nor good reason to believe that sanitizing the crime blotter will serve to reduce racism, some of which — unfortunately — may have a component that is hard-wired.
What is certain, however, is that thanks to the work of Cammett et al., we are now all less safe if a serial criminal of any race happens to strike on campus since poor Chief Perrotti has been bullied into sending raceless crime bulletins to the community. Race, while devoid of great meaning in genetic terms, is something that humans are very tuned in to and, as such, is a valuable descriptive tool in certain contexts, like the brief encounters specific to robberies, assaults and rapes. Omitting this information from crime reports at the behest of a histrionic minority is the wrong move, and including it does not constitute racial profiling.
Matthew Gillum is a first-year graduate student in molecular and cellular physiology.