News

Arrest uproar prompts forum, answers from admins

Administrators outlined preliminary steps yesterday to remedy percieved racial profiling within the UCPD and to revise Library behavior policy and protocol in how staff ask for ID

Photo: Darren Leow/The Chicago Maroon
Fourth-year Mauriece Dawson speaks at the open forum last Tuesday in the Reynold's Club. Dawson was arrested by the UCPD last week in the A-Level of the Regenstein Library for "unruly" behavior.

Administrators outlined preliminary steps yesterday to remedy percieved racial profiling within the University police department (UCPD) after issues were raised at a contentious Tuesday open forum. They will also consider revising Library behavior policy and protocol in how staff ask for ID.

Over 200 people attended the forum, which was convened to address a powerful student response to last Wednesday’s arrest of fourth-year Mauriece Dawson in the A-level. Many at the meeting said the arrest part of a larger culture of racial profiling on the part of UCPD.

A Regenstein clerk called the UCPD last Wednesday night to report an “unruly” group of students, including Dawson, although witnesses said they were not unusually loud for the popular study area. When told to leave the building by a UCPD officer, Dawson repeatedly asked why he had to leave; the officer placed him in a choke hold, pinned him to the floor, and placed him under arrest.  Witnesses said Dawson, who is black, was never asked for identification. He was charged with criminal trespass and resisting arrest.

Since the arrest, students’ parents have contacted administrators, including President Robert Zimmer, to express distress at Dawson’s arrest, which witnesses claim was unwarranted and inappropriately violent.

In an e-mail response to the parents of one student, Dean of Students Susan Art said, “We too are very upset about this situation, and I am in complete agreement with you that this is a heart wrenching situation…I hope this situation can ultimately move our campus in a positive direction, though it is hard to see right now if this can happen.” Art did not return requests for comment.

At the forum, UCPD Chief Marlon Lynch and Associate Director of the Library Jim Vaughan told the crowd that investigations into police and library staff conduct are underway, but could not say when they would conclude. As of Thursday night, one-third of witnesses and all UCPD officers had been interviewed for UCPD’s investigation. 

The arresting officer, whom witnesses have identified as Sergeant Eric Grays, has been taken off patrol, according to Vice President for Campus Life Kim Goff-Crews. Vaughan said union rules prevented him from reassigning or firing the clerk, whom witnesses identified as Lynn Franco.

Many of the comments at the forum centered on a perception of racial profiling by the UCPD. Lynch said he took those concerns seriously, and the community could hold him responsible for changing UCPD culture. “It’s my responsibilty,” he said. “But I’m also going to ask and put some responsibilty on those in this room to assist me with that, to provide the input neccessary to make it effective.”

Goff-Crews also sought student partnership on policy changes at the forum, although none in the audience offered any suggestions themselves. Yesterday she provided a summary of topics covered at the forum for students who did not attend.

That summary, posted on the Office of Campus and Student Life Web site, included several responses to student comments, including the appointment of UCPD Lieutenant JoCathy Roberts as “a liaison between students of color and the police” through the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Goff-Crews also wrote that there would be a review of what constitutes acceptable behavior in the Library, and how to deal with disruptions, a process she said will involve students. Forum attendees had suggested there was a strong disparity between the response to Dawson and his friends, who were laughing loudly, and when “white frat boys” drank beer and ate pizza in the A-level.

She and Lynch said that students would be informed of the investigations’ results.

Goff-Crews said at the forum that the University cannot drop any charges against Dawson once they had been filed in court, although a press officer at the State’s attorney’s office could not confirm charges had been brought and police officers said the investigation is ongoing and could not comment. Dawson could not comment on the status of his charges.

“The charges were made by the police, so they’re responsible for shepherding them through the system. We don’t think, legally, the University can pull them back,” Goff-Crews said at the forum, adding later in the meeting, “We’ll do what we can” to support the student.

At the forum, which was sponsored by the Office of Campus and Student Life, and Student Government (SG), administrators had few specific answers to attendees’ questions.

“We heard the same things over and over in that room tonight,” said fourth-year Brittany Little, a former member of the Organization of Black Students’ executive board.

She and others interviewed said the forum did have a positive outcome, in that many took the opportunity to mention times when they felt they were treated inappropriately or racially profiled by the UCPD.

“I feel like the discourse went well, because students who have been keeping silent for a very long time were able to bring their problems around experiences with UCPD,” Dawson said.

Concerns over Dawson’s case and other potential cases of racial profiling dominated proceedings. Around 50 attendees raised their hands when Dawson asked how many felt that they, or someone they knew, had been racially profiled by UCPD officers. More than half were black. “This is not an isolated incident,” Dawson said.

Divinity Ph.D. student Reverend Paul R. Ford (M.A. ‘05) interrupted one administrator to say the UCPD has engaged in racial profiling since at least 2003, when he said the University accosted a black SSA graduate student when he met a white, female friend on campus at 3 a.m.; the first thing Ford said officers did was ask the woman if she was okay, suggesting they viewed the student as a threat.

Wanting to “cut the crap,” Ford received applause when he yelled: “I am sick and tired of black students being racially profiled at the University of Chicago by their own police department.” The occasionally restless crowd applauded when some speakers expressed frustration or indignation.

Many at the forum were confused about ID policy, and Lynch pointed to the fine print on the back of the card: “Must be shown on demand.”

When investigating a call, Lynch said an officer should attempt to identify the person about whom the call was made, to hear his or her side of the story, and then make an arrest if the person is not forthcoming. “Can you ask questions to an officer? Sure, of course you can,” Lynch said, but allowed for exceptions. He said a police officer is expected to ask questions of the student before making an arrest. Witnesses have said that did not occur in Dawson’s case.

Goff-Crews said the ID policy needs clarification and that students should help administrators understand “how do we talk to staff and train staff…so that you feel comfortable” in showing identification.

Second-year Margaret Marion, who witnessed Dawson’s arrest and filed a misconduct report with UCPD, said the meeting left her feeling disheartened. “I don’t feel hopeful at all. I think this is going to blow over, and the only way this isn’t going to blow over is if enough of us speak up,” she said.

Director of the University Community Service Center and longtime Woodlawn resident Wallace Goode said the UCPD has a history of racial profiling.

“What occurred has been part of the UCPD’s M.O. ever since I can remember, and students often hear the story of when I was by harassed by the UCPD when I was a sophomore in high school—that’s 1968.”

Goode said he saw “frustration, concrete examples of unfair treatment, a desire to be a part of the solution, and doubt that the University will successfully address the situation” at the forum, but he had hope that the situation would finally be addressed, not least of all because he had expected the discourse to be more heated.

“This is a real opportunity for Kim Goff-Crews, Marlon Lynch, and a committed student community to turn this around,” he said.

  • John

    Why does every article list Dawson’s race? It seems like you’re trying to make this a race issue.

    Why not list the race of the library clerk or the police officer as well?

    All the uproar, it really boils down to – he was asked to leave, he refused this lawful order, and was subsequently arrested. The force used in the arrest is disputable – based on whether Dawson was resisting or not, but he was asked to leave. He SHOULD have left and then filed a complaint later.

  • Karen

    I wholeheartedly agree with you, John. I don’t understand why people need to make this into a race issue, because there is absolutely no evidence that it is. Somehow I doubt if a white person got arrested, there would have been the same sort of uproar.

    Anyone who knows Mauriece knows how loud and obnoxious he can be. Granted, calling the police officer may seem unwarranted; however, even in a public library, security officers would also ask loud and disruptive people to leave. Anyone who refused to comply would have been arrested. Besides, what was the police officer supposed to do? Leave Mauriece standing there? Sure, the use of force may have been extreme, but whether or not he should have been arrested is a ridiculous question to even ask.

  • Toby

    If a white student had been put in a chokehold and put in jail overnight for being “obnoxious”–and if white people were systematically treated more harshly by police and the justice system throughout Chicago and all across the nation, and if this were just one piece of general nation-wide social and economic stratification along racial lines, with whites being disproportionately on the bottom–who would be in an uproar then?

  • Steve

    @John and @Karen –

    They listed his race because the contention is that this was an example of racial profiling. Whether or not you agree with that assessment, you would have to be an idiot to think that listing his race is irrelevant. The whole issue in this article is whether or not the UCPD were racially profiling.

  • Tamara Higgins

    1) Re: This Event

    As others have suggested, this is not a race issue. It was, on the one hand, an obnoxious student, and, on the other hand, a poorly trained police officer.

    Watch, now, as both problems–entitled disruptive students and poorly trained private police officers–are paved over by another nonsensical debate about race.

    2) Re: Racial Profiling in Hyde Park

    News flash: Most of the violent crime committed in Hyde Park (and most of the crime committed against students in Hyde Park) is committed by black people, usually coming from the south and the west.

    Does that mean anything about black people per se? Of course not.

    But does that mean that, all else being equal, any given black person you see in a building or on a street in Hyde Park is more likely to be an initiator of criminal conduct as compared to members of other races? Absolutely.

    So, given the limited resources of the police force, it makes sense (at least from an efficiency standpoint) to give heightened scrutiny to a SUBSET of black persons (who present with additional indicia of criminality) as compared to that same SUBSET of white persons.

  • Carol

    … what did happen to those white frat boys with pizza and beer in the A-level?

  • mikka

    I agree with you John, race has nuthing to do with this. The officer was black as well. What i’m curious to know is when someome gets knocked in the head or robbed everyone is calling them and the u of c police are right on the spot to help us and everybody is fine then,no bad comments. They are here to protect us, anyone can walk on campus. What would the outcome have been if dawson wasnt a student and was in the library. When asked for an i.d simply “”present”” it and it wouldnt have gone any further. Your not above the law or rules because your a student. Stop acting like this is little house on the prairie, we need police to keep us safe. Crime can occur anytime and anywhere. People need to let it go, and follow the rules!!!!!!!!!

  • Carol

    Sorry I do not know any of you personally, I am AB ’87 in the PERL program, JD from elsewhere. I have a bit of experience in racial issues, having grown up in Chicago in the ’50s and ’60s. Race was also a focus of my studies, particularly fair housing issues and resegregaton. Did I mention that I sold and managed real estate in Hyde Park and surrounding areas? On the one hand I am happy that you are young enough to live in a world where racial profiling and other forms of illegal discrimination are no longer acceptable. On the other hand, I am saddened that you do not seem to grasp the reality that racial profiling exists, is vile ugly and wrong. Several of you don’t seem sensitive at all to the issue or the possibility that it likely explains the goings on at A-level. You do not cite a source for your the assertion that “most of the violent crime committed in Hyde Park … is committed by black people” yet you base your entire economic analysis on this repugnant notion. I meant my question seriously … what happened to the “white frat boys” with pizza and beer”? Do any of you know?

  • Scott

    Is there a test case featuring obnoxious white students to prove this isn’t a race issue? I don’t attend UofC, but as an outside observer of UofC students I wouldn’t put it past anyone at the university to be loud in the Regenstein.

    Chokeholding and arresting a student is a serious maneuver which should be used for serious infractions. Suspicion of trespass, especially without a demand for identification, is by definition suspicion and not cause for arrest. Suggesting that any police officer is mistrained in what constitutes “probable cause” is ridiculous- UChicago police are real officers, not security guards, and as such they understand the standards by which they may arrest people and use force.

    To say that this is “not an issue of race” by a farcical process of elimination ignores the glaring inconsistency between the officer’s apparently intentional breach of arrest rules with the student’s race.

    also @Tamara, Hyde Park is predominantly black- that most of the violent crime is committed by black people makes as much sense as that most of the groceries are purchased by black people. Aside which, the number of violent crimes committed by a particular race doesn’t show the percentage of members of that race engaged in criminality, and it certainly doesn’t give any indication as to how a random draw of members of a community might tend towards criminality based on their race. Such false correlations kept Jim Crow laws alive in the South for decades.

  • Tamara H.

    Scott:

    You obviously don’t understand basic statistics. Nor are you familiar with the demographics of the area (Hyde Park is not predominantly black, although blacks do make up the second-highest race). You also would do well to read my comment again carefully. I didn’t say anything about the percentage of members of the ‘black race’ (or even of blacks in this area) who commit crimes. You made a nice strawman there though.

    Reading is fundamental.

  • Albert Bere

    What about nerd profiling? I would like to see the UCPD arrest some of you nerds who smooch in the Quad.

  • Alex

    “most of the violent crime committed in Hyde Park … is committed by black people” – did you know that the majority of people in Hyde Park are actually black as well? I feel like that definitely adds a new dimension to this whole debate.

  • Donald

    @Al Bere

    Agreed. I’ve had it up to here (gesturing to my forehead) with romantic nerds.

  • Anonymous

    I heard from someone that both the arresting officer and the librarian in question were African American. I am troubled the Maroon did not include that information if it is accurate, since that is very relevant to the matter at hand. If that’s true, maybe we should consider the possibility that the incident was not motivated by racism, or at least, wasn’t solely motivated by that. The question of excessive force still remains.

  • Jon

    @ John, Karen, Tamara, Mikka, etc. The U of C is not a police state you idiots. We have a right, regardless of race, gender, or creed, to make some noise in the A-level without being forced into a chokehold and spending the night in jail. Maurice Dawson, whom I know well, is about 5’3″ – and, while sometimes a bit loud, he is not a menacing individual and in no way could he have been posing a threat to anyone. Aren’t you people even somewhat concerned with the immediate recourse to violence on the part of our so-called security force? I know that I sure am – I am not simply obliged to obey a police officer regardless of what they tell me to do. They are there to serve me, not the other way around. Americans have gotten so used to worshipping coercive authority that they have forgotten that, in so doing, they are surrendering their own civil rights as well as those of others.

    Moreover, why the hell does the race of the librarian and police officer have anything to do with this? Are you actually saying that black people can’t profile other black people? You have clearly not spent much time around police officers if this is what you think. I’m not categorically saying this had (much) to do with race, but your arguments are so fallacious and foolish I can’t believe that supposedly educated U of C students or affiliates are making them. Moreover, the Maroon DID report the race of both individuals, which makes your ridiculous point factually wrong. Regardless, your passivity in the face of police aggression and unwillingness to lend solidarity to a fellow student who clearly was wronged is disgusting and embarrassing.

  • TH

    Jon:

    Suggestion for future discussions: don’t start off by calling everyone else an ‘idiot.’ It will help people to take you seriously and listen to your points (insofar as you have any–I’m dubious).

    TH