Members of the Yale Police Department are standing by the officer who held African-American student Tahj Blow ’16 at gunpoint on Jan. 24.
The Yale Police Benevolent Association, a union representing roughly 65 patrol officers and detectives in the Yale Police Department, posted a statement in YPD headquarters early last week saying the officer was justified in his decision to draw a gun to Blow, who matched the description of a reported suspect of theft in Trumbull College. YPBA Executive Director Earl Reed said the union was compelled to release a statement because its members felt the general public was too quick to judge the actions of the police officer. Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway said in a Sunday email to the News that there was nothing for him to say about the YPBA statement.
“The last time I held up a gun, I was investigating a burglary and discovered a Yale student being raped and assaulted,” Reed said. “So, it was a good job that I had it.”
He added that the police officer who held a gun at Blow could not see below Blow’s hands and therefore could not determine if the suspect was armed.
The statement from the YPBA, obtained by the News, also condemned the administration’s handling of the case, specifically referencing an email administrators sent to the Yale community in response to the incident. The YPBA’s statement said the email antagonized the police officer in question and drew unnecessary comparisons to the events in Ferguson, Staten Island and Cleveland.
Holloway, along with University President Peter Salovey and YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins, co-authored the email criticized by the YPBA. Holloway reaffirmed the administration’s statements on the matter.
“I absolutely stand by the decision to join in the statement with the president and chief,” he said.
He added that he does not know where the investigation stands.
Reed said he remains concerned with the lack of support from the Yale community and administration. He said the officer involved with the Blow case has experienced a lack of support, and continued negativity toward the police could further damage morale.
“One of the perils of not supporting cops is that you end up with cops that aren’t proactive,” he said. When police officers fear they will be investigated, he explained, they are less likely to protect themselves in dangerous situations or use a gun when it may be necessary. Having a proactive police force, he said, ensures campus safety.
Controversy over the use of guns on campus comes on the heels of other instances of suspected racial profiling across the country.
In May 2014, Ersula Ore, an African-American professor at Arizona State University was stopped by a campus police officer who, according to eyewitnesses, forced her against a police car and then onto the ground. Ore had been stopped for jay-walking and was charged with four counts of misdemeanor after she hit the officer in alleged self-defense. A statement from ASU on June 28 said an investigation showed no sign of misdemeanor from the police officers, yet activists who started a petition against Ore’s charges on MoveOn.org said that the case was “another instance of racial profiling and police brutality.”
Similar incidents of police officers stopping African-American community members have occurred at Vassar College, UCLA and the University of Michigan in 2014.
On Jan. 28, Blow’s father publicly tweeted a statement his son had made on Facebook regarding the incident. Blow said he did not want the coverage of his events to take precedence over the events of others whose stories do not get shared.
“Their stories matter just as much as mine,” the post said.
Blow has not responded to request for comment since the events of Jan. 24.
Kristi Lockhart, associate research scientist and lecturer in Yale’s Psychology Department, said biases against people of color can occur because the media inflates stereotypes. She said one study found that seven out of 10 stories about young black men in the media are related to crime, and that another study showed people of all races, including African Americans themselves, are more likely to envision a gun in the hands of an unarmed African-American man than an unarmed white man.
Acknowledging the presence of racial biases at Yale is something that people of color must come to terms with, Hershel Holiday ’18 said. Holiday said racial profiling becomes problematic when it is manifested within authorities like the police.
The YPBA was founded in 1988.