Updated: 1:26 a.m.
Two days after a Yale Police officer forced Tahj Blow ’16, an African-American student, to the ground at gunpoint — sparking allegations of racial profiling — senior University officials announced that the YPD will conduct an internal investigation into the incident.
While recognizing the “personal pain” many may have felt upon reading about Saturday’s events, the announcement — sent on behalf of University President Peter Salovey, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and Yale Police Department Chief Ronnell Higgins — argued that it differed in substance from other incidents that have drawn national attention.
“What happened on Cross Campus on Saturday is not a replay of what happened in Ferguson; Staten Island; Cleveland; or so many other places in our time and over time in the United States,” said the email.
The email, which did not name Blow, went on to note that the officer who had drawn his weapon is himself African-American.
Saturday’s incident drew widespread attention after Charles Blow, a columnist for the New York Times and the father of Tahj Blow, tweeted about it. On Monday, Blow devoted his column in the Times to the incident.
“This is the scenario I have always dreaded: my son at the wrong end of a gun barrel, face down on the concrete,” Blow wrote.
Neither Tahj nor Charles Blow responded to a request for comment on Monday. The YPD also could not be reached for comment.
The administration’s email carefully struck a middle ground. Expressing “great faith” in the YPD, it noted that the student “closely matched the physical description — including items of clothing — of the suspect” who is alleged to have committed a number of robberies in Trumbull College.
But while the email stated that the officer’s decision to stop and detain the student was reasonable, it acknowledged that the act of drawing a weapon during the stop requires careful review. The YPD’s Internal Affairs unit, the email said, will conduct the review and report its findings to Salovey, Holloway and Higgins. An internal investigation is standard procedure when YPD officers draw their weapons, Holloway send in a Monday evening email to the News.
The administrators’ email went on to urge members of the Yale community to utilize the incident as an opportunity for reflection and conversation.
“There are real challenges here where the lines of race, inequality, and policing intersect, and we as teachers, students and citizens must face them,” the email said. “These are not just someone else’s issues, located somewhere else; they are America’s issues, and they are our issues.”
In a Monday evening email to the News, Salovey said the issues raised by Saturday’s incident “simply could not be ignored.”
On Monday evening, Holloway also sent an email to parents and guardians of Yale College students, forwarding the University-wide email and assuring that the administration would keep a close eye on the YPD’s internal investigation.
Holloway — the first African-American dean of Yale College — went on to say that after 15 years of living in New Haven, he remains confident that Yale’s campus is a safe place and that he has full faith and confidence in the YPD.
“This does not mean, however, that we turn a blind eye to larger, structural issues in our society, whether they be operating at the national or local level,” Holloway wrote.
Several parents had reached out to Holloway after reading about the incident, Holloway told the News.
However, students interviewed wondered whether an investigation would have taken place if Blow’s father had not brought national attention to the incident.
Ronald Tricoche ’18 said the only thing that sets Saturday’s events apart from other incidents that occur across the country is Charles Blow’s high profile and Tahj Blow’s status as a Yale student.
“This is a specific incident when a certain kid is going to bring a lot more light to a story,” he said. “The same amount of attention should be brought no matter who this happened to. I think the real thing we must take away from this is no matter who Tahj’s father is, and regardless of who [Tahj] is, you need to pay attention to the fact this is happening.”
Patricia Okonta ’15, who is friends with Tahj Blow, said students have been questioning why the University is addressing racial biases now, even though these issues have been prevalent on campus for a long time.
“Issues of race, bias and policing aren’t new,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that Tahj had to go through this before we had this conversation.”
Amaka Uchegbu contributed reporting.