Eyewitness: Student arrest emblematic of wider racial distrust

Students’ immediate reactions just as disturbing as force used to arrest student in the Reg

By Letter to the Editor

I witnessed the student arrest on the A-level last Wednesday night. As a second-year student from a rural town in Virginia that’s still plagued by racism, I’ve grown increasingly disillusioned as I’ve realized that race relations in Chicago aren’t much better than those I’ve left behind in the South. I strongly believe that if I had walked into the Reg laughing loudly with a group of other white students, we would have been seen as loud and obnoxious, but not “unruly and disorderly,” as the police incident report describes the group of black students in the Reg. I understand that the UCPD can request to see students’ IDs at any time; however, it should have been clear that the “disruptive” person in question was a student, as we all have to use our IDs to swipe into the Reg in the first place. The UCPD is meant to protect students, not to harass and scare us, and the Reg is oppressive enough without the added threat of spending an entire night in jail after being wrestled to the ground by a UCPD officer. The force with which the officer pushed the student to the ground and handcuffed him was alarming and unnecessary, but what bothered me the most was some of the reactions I heard after the officer escorted the student out of the A-level. When a group of students began collecting names of witnesses, a girl at the table next to mine refused to sign her name because she “didn’t really see what happened,” when I clearly saw her craning her neck to see what was going on just like the rest of us. There seemed to be an assumption that, because it was a young, black male being arrested, the UCPD must have had a good reason for arresting him; thus, many students returned to studying without questioning the scene they had just witnessed. I’m upset because this arrest is not an isolated event—it points to an underlying climate of racial distrust on our campus (and, unfortunately, a racial distrust that permeates much of our society at large). At the forum Tuesday night, many students shared their own stories of being racially profiled by the UCPD, but it wasn’t until after the forum that one of my close friends told me her own recent encounter with a UCPD officer, who flashed his headlights and told her that she and a group of Hispanic friends “needed to leave soon” while waiting for a shuttle in front of a dorm one night. No student should have to put up with such behavior from our own University police. More students should speak out about what they saw on the A-level, because such treatment of minority students perpetuates a distrust that harms everyone, regardless of race.

— Anna Akers-Pecht is a second-year in the College and a Maroon Copy Editor.