In a meeting with the Black Student Alliance at Yale Tuesday, University Police Chief James Perrotti apologized for identifying an assailant in a local robbery by his race in a Sept. 19 e-mail to the Yale community.
The e-mail, which Perrotti sent to all Yale students, faculty and staff regarding a mugging that took place on Edgewood Avenue Sept. 18, referred to the suspect as a “black male in his late teens or early twenties.” In the following days, Perrotti said, several students contacted him to express their concern about what they believed was racial profiling in the e-mail.
BSAY officers discussed similar concerns during a meeting later that week and ultimately decided to invite Perrotti to discuss the issue with them, BSAY treasurer Terelle Hairston ’06 said.
“There were some students who were taking issue with the fact that he put in unnecessary descriptors,” Hairston said. “I am glad that there is a dialogue about crime; but you don’t want [to say] something that adds more to fear and less to knowledge.”
Perrotti, who said the concerns were “very, very legitimate,” responded to BSAY’s invitation and apologized to the members at the meeting this week. Such grievances with the department do not go unnoticed, he said.
“I learned a valuable lesson and will not include race in any further alerts,” Perrotti said. “The point of alerts is to let the Yale community know about important situations. To narrow it down to one race does not improve the alert at all.”
Both Hairston and Cammett said they were satisfied with their meeting with Perrotti.
“He was really very candid and genuine,” Cammet said.
Mena Cammett ’09, a member of BSAY, had a letter she sent to Perrotti about the e-mail in her column, “Common sense, not fear, fights crime,” published in the Sept. 26 issue of the News. Cammett said she decided to write the letter after realizing, during a conversation with a friend, that Perrotti’s e-mail had affected the perception regarding black males on campus.
“I feel that your limited description of the robber as ‘a black male in his late teens or early twenties’ was … harmful because it just feeds the hysteria and fear of black strangers that is prevalent at Yale,” she wrote.
Yale Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith said that while descriptions of criminals are often necessary, one should always be careful in order to avoid harmful generalizations.
“The fact is that a large number of incidents have involved teenagers on bicycles in groups,” she said, “People who are aware of the fact are more alert to similar situations. It’s appropriate to take precautions, at the same time you don’t want to automatically assume that everyone is a criminal.”
Although the e-mails apprising the Yale community of crimes on and near campus have continued, Perrotti said he has been careful not to include racial descriptions.