Students and alums rally at Faunce against police brutality

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Over 100 students and a small group of alums gathered to protest police brutality on the Main Green Saturday afternoon in a rally organized by the newly formed Coalition for Police Accountability and Institutional Transparency.

Amid chants of “DPS, we are watching you,” members of Co-PAIT assembled on the steps of Faunce House and took turns reading anonymous student accounts of police brutality. The rally coincided with the Inman Page Black Alumni Council all-class reunion, and the readings were followed by speeches from alums and students.

Co-PAIT organized the rally in response to two alleged incidents of police misconduct that occurred three weeks ago. In one of the incidents, Chipalo Street ’06 GS was arrested after refusing to show his ID to officers in the early morning hours on Sept. 10. Street said he had a confrontation with officers from the Department of Public Safety and the Providence Police Department, during which he was assaulted and pepper-sprayed.

But this incident was not isolated, said C. J. Hunt ’07, who spoke at the demonstration.

“This event was the spark,” Hunt said. “But the keg, the powder, was our four years here.”

Members of Co-PAIT read testimonies of police misconduct written by Brown students dating back to 2003. According to one testimony describing an incident in Fall 2005, a student called DPS after racially charged obscenities were written on his door. When an officer arrived, he saw a picture of the student’s friend and persistently talked about how pretty she was instead of addressing the obscenities.

“I felt violated and disgusted by his behavior,” the student wrote. “How dare he trivialize what had happened to me. I didn’t know who to report it to. I didn’t know who would care.”

In another testimony, “I hate other ethnicities” was written on a student’s white board. DPS officers told the student there was nothing they could do about it.

“We have been violated by the people who are supposed to protect us,” a student told the crowd. “We have been taught that these experiences are not legitimate concerns in the eyes of DPS and the administration.”

Students formed Co-PAIT following the Street incident, hoping to take on police brutality themselves. The University’s Office of Institutional Diversity and its Public Safety Oversight Committee, Co-PAIT members said, have allowed discrimination-based violence to continue on campus.

Four Co-PAIT members – two at the rally and two reached by phone – declined to comment to The Herald about their goals and the work of the organization.

Members of Co-PAIT wrote in a Sept. 29 Herald column that the PSOC is “a supposed cover-all solution to current police-community tensions.” They criticized the University for handpicking the committee’s members as well as the PSOC’s failure to make its findings public.

Students also said at the rally that the committee met on Friday for the first time since last spring, a full three weeks after the incident with Street occurred, and only after mounting interest from alums.

“The University says it is investigating these incidents,” Makini Chisolm-Straker ’05 MD ’09 said to students at the demonstration. “It’s the ubiquitous ‘we’re working on it.’ Well, they’ve been working on it for 60 years. I ask you not to be complacent because they’re beating us in the street.”

Saturday’s Main Green rally was the second large demonstration since the Street incident. On Sept. 12, approximately 200 students marched around campus and to the headquarters of the Department of Public Safety at 75 Charlesfield St. to protest police brutality.

“We’re not going to take the e-mail the University sent us about how they’re working on it and doing investigations,” Co-Chair of the Organization of United African Peoples Ruth Apraku ’08 told the demonstrators. “We want transparency. We’re doing our own investigation.”

Apraku said PPD officers are notorious for “bringing extreme brutality to people of color.”

Jane Wang ’07, a member of Co-PAIT who spoke at the demonstration, asked how many students had even heard of the PSOC and saw about four hands go up in the crowd.

“If we’re affected by these decisions, we need to be the ones making these decisions,” Wang said.

Alums who spoke at the rally related current incidents to challenges they faced as students. Bill Perkins ’72 said it was important that the demonstration coincided with the gathering of alums, as it gave historical perspective to the issue.

“You are a part of a larger community and a larger struggle, and you must never let the idea get out that you’re not part of that,” Perkins said.

Stefan Lallinger ’08 told students and alums that issues of police brutality have been present “since the ’60s and ’70s, when you guys were here.” But Lallinger said it is time to stop them.

“We need to break that continuity, and we also need to break that silence,” he said.

More importantly, Lallinger said, that continuity needs to be broken at Brown.

“Brown strives to be a leader in this community and we strive to be a campus exemplary to others,” Lallinger said. “We need to feel safe as people of color in front of police, and we need to feel safe with how the administration deals with these issues. We can’t just put this under the rug and keep it for the next generation.”