Protestors decry U.’s crime reporting

Two months after alleged police misconduct, Co-PAIT seeks to address 'systemic' problems

By
Thursday, November 16, 2006

Over 100 students from Brown and Hope High School gathered yesterday in front of University Hall to call for police accountability and to protest Brown’s response to “allegations of racial profiling” and “negligence,” complaints cited in a press release distributed several days before the rally.

The demonstration was the second this year organized by the Coalition for Police Accountability and Institutional Transparency, a group that formed in September following two incidents of alleged police misconduct involving black students.

Carrying posters reading “Sexual assault doesn’t happen here?” and “Caution: racist administration,” students marched around the Main Green chanting “We want protection, not discrimination.” Members of Co-PAIT and several students from Hope High spoke to the crowd, calling for accurate crime reporting and improved police oversight. Co-PAIT members emphasized the broad reach of the University’s policies, saying all members of the community are “at the hands of an irresponsible administration and police.”

Co-PAIT has been working since its formation earlier this semester to address issues of police brutality, negligence and racial profiling.

Students at the rally focused on inaccurate crime reporting as one of these factors. According to C.J. Hunt ’07, crime reports paint a picture of criminals as “men with black faces, black hoodies and white T-shirts who are from the outside community and who are fleeing to downtown.”

Hunt said crime reports focus on muggings and that hate crimes, rapes and sexual assaults are often silenced or not reported. In an incident a few weeks ago, Hunt said, a black woman called the Department of Public Safety after she was sexually assaulted by two white men. DPS officers told her they would not send an e-mail to the community because the incident was not a “pressing issue,” Hunt said.

Co-PAIT members also voiced concerns about DPS’s 2005 crime summary, which originally reported zero on-campus sexual assaults. Following questions about the validity of the summary, the University revised the statistic, reporting that four incidents of sexual assault had occurred on-campus. In a Nov. 1 Herald article, Margaret Klawunn, associate vice president of campus life and dean for student life, attributed the original inaccurate statistic to an administrative error.

According to the Co-PAIT press release announcing yesterday’s rally, the University has not launched a formal investigation into what caused the discrepancy and may be in violation of the Clery Act, a federal law governing campus crime reporting.

Interim Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 told The Herald the initial report was simply a mistake.

“I think we’re in full compliance with regulations,” he said. “It was a clear administrative error. We corrected it, and we’ve taken steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Michael Chapman, vice president for public affairs and University relations, released a statement Wednesday following the rally.

“The University respects the right of Brown students to express their views on issues of concern to them,” Chapman said. “We are well aware of the issues that have been raised here today, and the University has a number of people in the Department of Public Safety (DPS), our Office of Campus Life, the Office of Institutional Diversity, and others who are working on a proactive basis to address them. In addition, we have encouraged students who have complaints about inappropriate behavior by DPS or any other office on campus to use Brown’s well-established process for receiving those complaints, which will be evaluated in a fair manner.”

Despite the University’s explanation for the inaccurate sexual assault statistic, members of Co-PAIT maintain that crime reports are inaccurate and lead to racial profiling.

“Silencing hate crimes and sexual assaults is a way of hiding the crimes where the criminal isn’t a black male wearing a white T fleeing toward downtown,” Hunt told the crowd. “The reason black people are targeted by the police is the same as the reason why you’re silenced when you say you’ve been raped or hurt.”

Demonstrators yesterday also expressed concerns about a University policy requiring students to present ID when asked by officers to do so.

According to the Co-PAIT press release, “Both Brown and Providence Police officers … conduct random identification checks that disproportionately impact black and Latino students.”

Hunt said these requests to present identification have created a “definition of safety” that focuses on black males as criminals. According to Co-PAIT member Dara Bayer ’08, DPS and Providence Police Department officers often say they are looking for students from Hope High School, which has a high number of minority students, when they ask black and Latino students for identification.

“We are safe because we are keeping out brown and black people,” Hunt said at the rally. “But the focus is on us looking safe, not on us being safe.”

Co-PAIT members say they will not wait for the University to act on issues regarding accurate crime reporting and police brutality. Co-PAIT member Josh Teitelbaum ’08 said the group welcomes support from the University but is not working with the administration “from the inside out.” Teitelbaum added that Co-PAIT sees the Undergraduate Council of Students as “heavily institutionalized.”

Carey told The Herald that members of Co-PAIT declined an invitation to meet with him earlier this semester.

“They clearly have concerns, but it’s difficult to address them without talking face to face,” Carey said.

Instead of waiting for the administration to change its crime reporting practices, Co-PAIT is producing its own crime reports. In an effort to ensure that “every alert people feel should go out does go out,” Co-PAIT members have been collecting student testimonies and publishing reports on crimes they believe the University has not sufficiently reported, placing them in each student’s mailbox.

Many of these testimonies come from the group’s SpeakUp sessions, in which students talk about their experiences with law enforcement. Co-PAIT will continue to hold these sessions, Teitelbaum said, and will also hold a SpeakUp session in December for those outside the Brown community.

Teitelbaum also said Co-PAIT is creating a witness hotline to “ensure immediate police accountability.” Students who have an encounter with law enforcement can call the hotline, and volunteers will respond at the scene to act as witnesses, collect copies of statements and advocate for the victim. If students consent, Co-PAIT will publish reports of these incidents and distribute them in mailboxes, allowing everybody on campus to get a better picture of the crimes that occur on campus, Teitelbaum said.

Though activity relating to the September incidents of alleged police misconduct that sparked the formation of Co-PAIT has died down in recent weeks, Teitelbaum said problems highlighted by those incidents are “systemic.”

“The University would like this to go away, but these incidents were just the spark for us to look at what policing is like at Brown,” Teitelbaum said. “We’re looking at problems in the system, and we’ve found more problems than just issues of police brutality. This is a sustained organizing effort, not just a reaction to events.”