Hodge: Check your biases before calling police

Jayla Hodge

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.

This week, two prospective CSU students, both Native American, had the police called on them during a campus tour simply for being quiet. Although the boys were not arrested, they were separated from their group and unable to continue the tour.

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This incident is not uncommon. It is a result of society’s unconscious bias against people of color, especially men. CSU students need to acknowledge these biases and take what happened to those boys in the tour seriously – and they need to work on doing better.

The event on CSU’s campus comes on the heels of two black men being arrested a few weeks ago for simply sitting in a Starbucks after they had the police called on them by a store manager for “looking suspicious”. The men did not order anything, as they were waiting for a friend to join them. The video has been viewed over 11 million times, and has created national controversy.

Unconscious biases, also known as implicit bias, are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.

Please stop calling the police on people of color simply because you think they look suspicious or out of place. Especially when they are doing completely normal things.

The fear of those different than us, especially from the white majority, is perpetuated by unfamiliarity and the media portraying people of color as dangerous.

And CSU and the Fort Collins community is no different than other predominantly white communities when it comes to displaying unconscious bias against people of color. The incident this week has brought the issue into our local spotlight as well.

According to a public post from the woman whose sons were reported to the police, it was another mother in the group who called them, saying the boys “made her nervous.” The police arrived and pulled them out the group. After finding nothing wrong, they left, thus leaving the boys separated from the group and unable to continue the tour.

They returned home to New Mexico “embarrassed and disappointed” wrote their mother.

The school addressed the incident in a mass email Wednesday evening writing “the fact these students felt unwelcome on our campus while here as visitors runs counter to our Principles of Community.” 

While this incident is disappointing, its far from surprising. I have experience similar situations and have been subjected to both unconscious and conscious bias, ranging from daily microaggressions to discrimination and racism in the dorms.

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There is a whole Reddit thread created by police officers called ‘please stop making my job so difficult’ that is dedicated to stories of white people calling the police at the mere sight of someone of a different lineage.

According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “Americans demonstrated a systematic bias in their perceptions of the physical formidability imposed by black men.” 

This sort of unconscious bias and irrational fear affects racial minorities across the board, no matter their socioeconomic status.

Darren Martin, former white house staff member under President Obama, had the police called on him while he was moving into his new apartment in New York just last week. The call was made on the grounds of a burglary with a possible weapon, which after 6 police officers showed up and investigated found it to be false. Martin told the Washington Post that it was “a very egregious call that I think was based on profiling.”

The reality is that people of color, particularly men, are more unsafe around white people, not the opposite way around. That’s the history of America.

Calling the police of people of color for looking “suspicious” is not only implicitly racist, but dangerous. According to a study by the Center for Policing Equity, Black people are more than three times as likely as white people to have non-fatal force or the threat of it used against them during encounters with the police.

According to data analysis by Voxracial minorities made up about 37.4 percent of the general population in the US and 46.6 percent of armed and unarmed victims, but they made up 62.7 percent of unarmed people killed by police. This can be seen time and time again in cases like the shootings of 12 year old Tamir Rice and 22 year old Stephon Clark

Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and often incompatible with one’s conscious values. Most people don’t even realize when they are displaying these biases.

So before you call the police because someone with a different race or ethnicity makes you uncomfortable, or simply describing a person of color as “sketchy”; think. You may be upholding cultural racism without even knowing it. Worst, you could be endangering someone’s life.  

Jayla Hodge can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @Jaylahodge.