Black student groups at the University of Minnesota want the campus police to stop using racial suspect descriptions in their campus crime alerts. A group (including members from the African American and African Studies department, Black Faculty and Staff Association, Black Graduate and Professional Student Association, Black Men’s Forum, Black Student Union and Huntley House for African American Males) sent a joint letter in December to complain.
On a panel to discuss the complaint further, Ian Taylor Jr., president of the Black Men’s Forum, said the major problem was “the repeated black, black, black suspect. And what that does, it really discomforts the mental and physical comfort for students on campus because they feel like suspicions begin to increase.”
Police defended themselves with the extremely reasonable assertion that they were giving all the information in the suspect descriptions that they had available. In other words, they really can’t be blamed if the majority of the suspects happen to be black.
Furthermore, I find it ridiculous that this group of organizations, all of whom have descriptors like “black” or “African-American” in their names, should be contesting the use of “black” in suspect descriptions. What these groups are basically saying is, “By all means use black when you are describing something positive. But if you are describing something negative, you need to leave black out of it.”
I don’t want to discomfort anyone’s comfort, but I hope the police stand firm on this one. And it’s not because I have anything against blackness. I have more of a problem with suspectness. If the police cave on this one, it will open the door for any number of politically correct ommissions. “You can’t say the suspect had a stutter; that’s unfair to people with speech impediments. You can’t say he wore a Lakers jacket; that’s defamation of the Lakers organization. You can’t say he had a tear drop tattoo under his left eye; that increases suspicion about the good community of people with tattoos. You can’t say the suspect was female; that’s sexist.” I’m pretty sure the only descriptive adjectives that will still be allowed in suspect descriptions will be “white” and “male.” No one will complain about those, I am sure.