Used alone, race is no descriptor

To the Editor:

I will state this simply because it seems Mena Cammett’s editorial (“Common sense, not fear, fights crime,” 9/26) flew over the head of Matthew Gillum (“E-mails vilify teens, superheroes,” 10/18). I will begin by stating the obvious — I am a black man around 20 years old, as are all African-American male students on this campus. Gillum states that the e-mail in question does not encourage racial profiling. What, then, is the great benefit he sees in including race while not including any further description? Does he not see how this constitutes a general alert against an entire community instead of a single individual?

This is an issue that affects our entire school, so I am not going to respond to Gillum’s demagoguery in kind. No one is arguing for the abolishment of physical descriptions in police reports, and Gillum’s alarmism is a tired and misleading tactic. It was the empty use of race in the absence of further description that was troubling. If Gillum is trying honestly to argue that a general alert for black men in their late teens on a college campus (with no further description offered) does not promote racial profiling, he is deluded. On the basis of personal dignity such an alert would be appalling; on the basis of functional value it would be useless. If race were one of many descriptors that painted a picture of an individual and not an entire community, then the argument for its relevance would be more tenable. That was not the case.

What is most shocking to me is not Gillum’s disagreement with Cammett’s position. Instead, it is his sheer unwillingness (or inability) to grapple with the complexity of the issue. Try as he may to spin it as such, this is not about political correctness or any other buzzword he might employ to simplify and polarize the matter at hand. Racial profiling exists, and snickering does not change that reality.

We are all students who desire a safer place to live and learn. It was in that vein that the meeting with Chief Perrotti was scheduled and in that spirit that the meeting was conducted. BSAY used its time with the chief to brainstorm concrete ways in which our membership could work with the Yale Police Department. We looked at strategies to facilitate dialogue between students and police in the hope of helping to combat crime in a positive and fair way. I am impressed that Gillum can speak so confidently about a meeting he did not attend and an issue he does not seem to fully appreciate. I am going to hazard a guess that he has never, in fact, met Chief Perrotti. I say this because most who have would probably agree that the chief is not someone who is “bullied” — and to assume he was is an insult to the man. He is a committed leader on campus, and I suggest that Gillum ask the man his own opinion on the matter before seeking to become his advocate in print. Perrotti’s apology reflected his sensitivity to the unintended negative ramifications that part of his e-mail may have caused, as well as his understanding of the nearly nonexistent crime-fighting value it offered.

I think anyone in attendance at the meeting would find Gillum’s characterization of “Cammett et al.” as “histrionic” unfair and inaccurate. I am not familiar with Gillum or his politics, but we are all familiar with the school of thought that meets all serious questions of racial tolerance with self-satisfied smugness. For some of us this is not an issue to be taken so lightly.

If Gillum has any further questions about BSAY’s perspective, I would be happy to meet with him. I must warn him, however, that I bear what he might describe as a functionally relevant physical similarity to the man mentioned in the e-mail. It seems if we were to subscribe to Gillum’s approach to security and law enforcement, being a 19-year-old black male is about enough to make me a suspect.



Yohannes Abraham ’07

Oct. 20, 2005

The writer is political action chairman of the Black Student Alliance at Yale.

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