Police sit out forum on racial tensions

Lauren Mogannam

Communication sophomore Marcus Shepard scheduled an open forum on Oct. 8 on racial profiling by University Police. It was canceled. The three officers NUPD sent to the forum backed out just after it was scheduled to begin.

Shepard then rescheduled the same forum for Wednesday, except that the three cops were replaced by assistant professor John Marquez from the African-American Studies Department.

About 30 students gathered in the Black House Wednesday night to discuss police racism, share personal experiences and discuss possible ways to eradicate the problem.

“We can combat it by trying to break beyond group meetings and making it a campus-wide effort,” Marquez said. “Racial profiling is an injustice that a larger community than we perceive is feeling.”

But some of the students who attended the original forum, like Joshua West, were just as concerned about NUPD failing to reschedule the event.

“Why aren’t they here?” the Weinberg sophomore said. “They should have sent at least one officer.”

Police told Shepard to follow up with the department to reschedule, the African-American Student Affairs intern said. But since Oct. 8, Shepard said he has been unable to get in contact with anyone at NUPD despite repeated e-mails – the method Shepard originally used to set up the first forum.

During the first forum, the three black officers started by introducing themselves to the seven students who arrived early, including two reporters for The Daily invited by Shepard.

Once the reporters told the officers they were working on a story, the three said they needed to talk privately with Shepard for about 20 minutes. The officers then left.

Shepard repeatedly told the two reporters that their presence had nothing to do with the cancellation and even said they would be invited to the scheduled event, which he thought would include representatives from NUPD.

“I am upset that they are not coming,” Shepard said. “I feel that this dialogue needs to happen regardless if the police are here or not. The community needs to know what black men go through on a daily or weekly basis at Northwestern.”

Assistant University Police Chief Dan McAleer said he did not know anything about the event that was canceled or any complaints about racial profiling of students.

“The University Police is a very diverse organization,” he said. “We’re a professional police agency. We abide by a number of standards that prohibit discrimination, that prohibit racial profiling.”

Although some said it would have been beneficial to have police officers to speak to, they were discouraged by the fact that the police department originally sent three black officers to the event. It was a mistake to send three black officers to begin with, said Alexander Demas, a Weinberg sophomore. Black students are even less likely to speak with a black officer, he said.

“It seems like they go after us the most,” Demas said. “It would have been preferable to have had a white police officer speak with us.”

Shepard said he came up with the idea for an open forum with Shawna Cooper-Gibson, the former director of African-American Student Affairs, after finishing a documentary about being black at NU and discovering that many black men feel they have been mistreated by police.

“Talking about racial profiling will bring people’s eyes to see that this stuff goes on in modern day and that although we are in this bubble that we call Northwestern, racism, racial profiling and sexism aren’t (immune) to coming into our bubble,” he said. “A lot of people are afraid to talk about the issues, to talk about the bold-faced facts, and a lot of people just sweep stuff under the rug.”

Last night, Marquez moderated a two-hour long discussion about personal experiences with police and what has to be done to keep racial profiling from happening.

“It is good for people to get together talk about it,” Marquez said.

Students said they agreed.

“When we are racially profiled, we bottle up the feelings and joke about it,” Amin Elsaeed, a Weinberg freshman, said. “We need to dig those feelings up and let them out.”

Over the course of the evening, students shared their personal stories and discussed ways to change the situation in the relationship between black male students and the police.

West said he hasn’t been targeted, but said he has many friends who claim they have.

“I think we are unfairly targeted,” he said. “Just because we wear hoodies and comfortable clothing, we automatically become suspects.”

Demas left the group with a question.

“Am I a man first, or a thug?” he said.

[email protected]