Stanfield: ACLU should have focused on racist mother, not the police

Arisson Stanfield

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.

The American Civil Liberties Union is once again interested in a Fort Collins issue.

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Last Friday, the ACLU wrote a letter urging Colorado State University to take further action after two Native American students were removed from a campus tour last spring. 

In the letter, ACLU attorney Sarah Hinger claims that CSU is not doing enough to solve the issue of racial bias on campus. Hinger represents Kanewakeron Thomas Gray and Skanahwati Lloyd Gray, two young men who were pulled off their campus tour and questioned by the Colorado State University Police Department in response to a call they received from a mother on the tour who claimed the two young men looked suspicious.

While Hinger no doubt wants CSU to do as much as possible to stop this from happening again, she has made a mistake in focusing on CSUPD as the target of her condemnation.

In the letter addressed to CSU President Tony Frank, Hinger recognizes that the University is making numerous moves to improve on issues of diversity and inclusion. She said that while these initiatives are noble, “negative law enforcement actions undermine these positive efforts.”

Here lies the problem: Hinger has no reason to blame the actions of the CSUPD for the personal racism and biases of individuals.

CSUPD did not profile these two innocent young men, the woman who called the police did. We cannot expect the police to simply bear the brunt of the criticism in this situation when they were simply doing their job.

Instead, we should focus on criticizing the mother who felt so terrified and suspicious of two young men of color minding their own business that she felt the need to call the police in the first place.

These sorts of events are not isolated to CSU. According to Boston Magazine, a Black student and teaching assistant at Smith College had the police called on her this year while she ate her lunch because she looked too suspicious.

At Yale University, a Black graduate student was subjected to police questioning after a white student called the police to report a suspicious person sleeping in a common area of the residence hall, according to CNN. 

These sorts of incidents are too common and always unacceptable, but much like the incident that transpired at CSU, they are categorically different from cases in which the police are the problem.

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Take the Miami New Times story of Earl Sampson, a Black man who was stopped by police officers 419 times and arrested 62 times for allegedly trespassing at a store he worked at.

Sampson’s story demonstrates that it is possible for the police to play an active role in discriminating against minoritized people by selectively over-policing the identities they are most averse too or suspicious of.

That is not what happened at CSU. Here, one woman used her bigotry and small-mindedness to tarnish the collegiate aspirations of two innocent young men. That is not to say there is nothing CSUPD could have done better. They should have played a more active role in reconnecting the young men with their tour group.

“There’s fairly compelling research showing that anti-bias or diversity training either has no effect or backfires.” Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, associate dean of Diversity and Inclusion at UC Berkeley

The mistake Hinger makes is insinuating that bad policing was the main issue in the incident, and then demanding that there be an increase in anti-bias training.

This proposition is especially troubling since anti-bias training has not been shown to be effective.

Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion at UC Berkeley Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton even went so far as to say, “There’s fairly compelling research showing that anti-bias or diversity training either has no effect or backfires.” 

So what should be done in response to this inexcusable incident and to highlight the harm done to those who have been the victims of the prejudicial dispositions of the small-minded and weak-hearted?

We must reach out to those who have been the victims of marginalization and listen to their stories, their lived experiences, and their perspectives. We must stop “other-ing” certain groups of people and calling a select few perpetrators when, in truth, the blame belongs to us all.

Arisson Stanfield can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @OddestOdyssey.