The Boston University campus is engaged in some soul-searching after a series of armed robberies of students allegedly committed by black males has left some students feeling like black males on campus are subsequently being regarded with suspicion.
The tension on campus was revealed last night at a forum on the Charles River campus led by Dead of Students Kenneth Elmore, who is African American. The racial issues that have sprung up at BU unfortunately are common on campuses that are near poor, black, crime-ridden neighborhoods—when students are victimized by crime, life becomes a lot more difficult for the black male students on campus.
The most dramatic moment of the evening came when Elmore angrily responded to a white student’s comments that one of her classmates suggested she could protect herself if she would “stay away from black people.”
“That’s an ignorant comment,” said a visibly shaken Elmore, according to a report by BU Today. Elmore urged students to “call each other on that crap. When we don’t call people out on it, we should all be ashamed. We should deal with it ourselves. Do not let that go by. Next question.”
The forum was attended by about 250 students, who are grappling with the many sensitive issues that have arisen in the wake of the robberies. An attempted robbery on Tuesday night on Commonwealth Avenue, the fourth in recent weeks, was thwarted when the victim told the two robbers that she had no valuables.
The students were addressed at the forum by Elmore, Peter Fiedler, the vice president for administrative services, BU Police Chief Thomas Robbins, Brookline Police Chief Daniel O’Leary, and Boston Police Sergeant Mike O’Hara.
A subject of much of the questioning was the decision by security officials to disclose the race of the suspects through the BU Security Alert system and in BU Today while not revealing other relevant details—thus making every black male on campus a possible suspect. Additional information was released Wednesday afternoon revealing that the suspects had distinctive backpacks and one wore braces on his teeth and new Air Jordan sneakers.
The officials said the additional information wasn’t immediately available, otherwise they would have released it right away. Brookline Police eventually released a video showing some of the suspects.
“If it had been white males who had committed these crimes, we would have done exactly the same thing. There’s no prejudice,” Fiedler said.
The three police representatives said their officers receive cultural sensitivity training, with O’Hara praising the University’s alert system: “We’d like to have something like that all over the city.”
Robbins said that officers are expected to provide specifics of why they deem someone suspicious. If a person is approached, “just be cooperative” and explain what you’re doing, he advised.
“We don’t get many quote-unquote false calls, false alarms,” he said. “Black males are crime victims more than most people,” O’Hara added. ”Help us help you.”
Another black student said that “African Americans across this campus are being put in this little box” of suspicion.
BU has offered a $10,000 award for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in the incidents.
After the forum, student Ann Jacob (CAS’14) said she felt safer now “because I got a better sense of who these suspects are, that you’re not just targeting any African American you see walking on the street.”
She said Elmore’s remarks against bigotry and the ensuing applause “really stood out. The awareness of race culture is important to talk about, as well as looking at how we’re targeting these minority populations on campus. The entire room can say yes, we’re with you, and we should call people out if they say something that targets a group of people.”
The suspects are described as males between the ages of 16 and 20, wearing hoodies, according to victims’ statements. In all four cases, victims said that the assailants drew a handgun and demanded money and possessions. So far, no one has been injured.
Boston, Brookline, and University Police have increased patrols on and near campus.