A longtime employee of the University of Massachusetts said he was grilled by police after someone called to report him as he walked to work Friday morning.
Reg Andrade said he returned from a bathroom break to find two plainclothes officers waiting for him in his office, the Daily Hampshire Gazette reported. Andrade, a 14-year employee who works as a case manager in UMass’ disabilities services office, said cops questioned him about his activities the night before, when he arrived to campus and whether he was upset when he came into the building.
Apparently, campus authorities had received an anonymous tip around 7:45 a.m about an “agitated” Black man who’d walked into the Whitmore Administration Building carrying “a large duffel bag … hanging off a strap, very heavy hanging on the ground,” according to a transcript of the call. Police said Andrade’s appearance matched the description the caller gave.
The university worker said he was following his usual routine after waking up at 4 a.m., he walks into the campus administration building to drop off his things around 5:45 a.m, then heads to the rec center for a quick workout before returning to his office to work around 7:45 a.m.
Andrade called the incident a clear case of racial profiling.
“How can somebody just walk by me, not even speaking, and try to discern that I was agitated?” he told the newspaper. “This is when it becomes dangerous, when people know how to push the buttons of law enforcement … Those were those strong key buzzwords: agitated Black man dragging a heavy bag.”
In an interview with The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, who first reported the story, University Police chief Tyone Parham said campus police immediately responded to the tip line call, which usually isn’t checked right away like the 911 lines, because the caller’s description of the suspect’s behavior was cause for alarm.
“One of the things we zoned in on with that message, because we listened to it a couple times, was really the behavior,” Parham said. “So it’s not necessarily the description of the person, it was really the behaviors that were exhibited, as to the reasons that we thought we needed to confirm this.”
The administration building was locked down for nearly 30 minutes as police questioned Andrade and searched for a threat. They found none.
“During this search, while we’re in the building, other staff are saying, ‘What’s going on?’ So, we told them and gave them the description, “Parham told the Daily Collegian. “Some of the staff were clearly like ‘Oh, I think I know who that is. [He] comes in everyday, works out, carries a large backpack, etc. etc.’ So, within minutes, we figure all of this out and know this is actually a person who works in the building.”
University spokesman called the situation Ed Blaguszewski called the incident “concerning,” and, like Andrade, suspected ulterior motives might be at play.
“To call the anonymous tip line was very unusual, and just the richness of the detail was very unusual,” he said. “So that just makes us pause and think, ‘Is there some sort of agenda here for the person calling in?’ We don’t know, but I think it raises questions in our minds.”
Though the incident left him shaken up, the employee said this isn’t the first time he’s been racially profiled on campus. Last summer, Andrade said someone called the cops on him as he sat in an empty classroom listening to an audio book. He was a student at the time. As an employee, someone again reported him to police after he finished working a new student orientation, The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported.
“I always have to have my ID card on me, always, no matter where I go,” he said.
Recalling being interrogated by the two officers, Andrade said, “I’m starting to think these two might have guns, these two men might have weapons on them, (and) here I am feeling extremely vulnerable, not comfortable in my own office. Where is this going? Am I going to get charged with a crime? Are they going to arrest me in front of my co-workers? Handcuff me?”
Andrade said he’s the only Black male who works in the university administration building.