Monday, April 19, 2010

Police reports perpetuate racism

Racially infused police reports are not worth the marginal safety benefit.


I am writing to support the April 6 letter to the editor “‘East African accent’ is offensive” and to stand in solidarity with the minority communities negatively impacted through the engendering of racist messages by our University of Minnesota police reports. The author explains that “The use of the phrase ‘East African’ is distasteful, offensive, unnecessary and … stereotyping” and “burdens the Somali minority with [its] implications.”

When I categorize the “East African accent” description of racism I do not mean that University police Chief Greg Hestness consciously holds attitudes of superiority or disdain over people of color. I hope and expect that he does not, but that doesn’t mean the unconscious messages he distributes through police reports do not embed damaging assumptions within minds throughout our student body.

This is especially important for those of us with white skin who often fail to realize that assumptions we make on a daily basis and seemingly innocuous institutional practices carried out all around us have a real impact on a society that creates unequal opportunities for people of color, especially the East African immigrant populations residing throughout these cities.

When we white students personally know not a single member of our East African community, which describes many of us, what will be the first thing that comes to mind when walking alone at night and crossing paths with a dark-skinned stranger?

When the only time we learn about these people is through crime descriptions, it may very well be a negative, unjustified and racist assumption, since we don’t know that statistically we are all most likely to fall victim to the crimes of our own racial group.

We may not always be cognizant of this oppressive behavior, but as members of a diverse urban society we have an obligation to attempt an honest, critical reflection upon our subtle motivations, assumptions and actions that, if left without reflection, will continue to marginalize people of color without our awareness.

I understand that the police need information in order to better conduct investigations, but does that make this necessary? When considering the greater social good, should we be more concerned with catching (mostly) petty thieves and throwing them in jail or spreading racism throughout our campus via mass emails? The answer is clearly the latter.

While I can perhaps understand the need for mass awareness of serious violent crimes such as the recent stabbing, which has a white suspect, it is gratuitous to alarm the community and engender fear of a people when little good will come of apprehending these suspects in the first place.

Racially infused police reports engender statistically unjustified, racist assumptions throughout the University community at the negligible benefit of occasionally leading to the temporary incarceration of criminals. They must end.

Nicholas Orth. University undergraduate student

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