It’s understandable that students who have no criminal intentions might be upset when Yale police officers and students treat their color as a reason to be suspicious of them. This is an uncomfortable position to be placed in. But one should be very careful before making the claim that Yale police officers are racist. A person is racist if he exhibits hostility or contempt for a particular race. Yale police officers are not prejudiced against a particular race. Both Michael Patten, Yale Police Lt., and Martha Highsmith, University Deputy Secretary, insist that probable cause is a precondition for any search. Now, if within the realm of “probable cause” cases, members of the Yale Police Department happen to budget more of their time in questioning people of black or Latino race, this is because illegal non-Yalies are more likely to be either black or Latino. Why? Because over 90% of New Haven’s homeless is either black or Latino. This does not make Yale police officers racist; it only makes them realistic.
If we lived in Boston, this would be different. If we lived in Beijing it would also be different. We just happen to live an area where the homeless are overwhelmingly either black or Latino. Because of the probability calculations involved, Yale police officers cannot help being more suspicious of people belonging to particular races. A black student walking across campus with a bicycle and a stereo is more likely to be questioned than a white student, not because his color makes him more likely to be a criminal, but because the racial composition of the non-Yale community makes him more likely to be a non-Yale student, and thus more suspect.
The allegation that Yale police officers are racist rings untrue for several reasons. In the first place, a large percentage of Yale police officers are black. Harold Dozier, ’04, even acknowledges, “All of the Yale police officers I’ve known or met have been African American, so I haven’t really experienced any racism.” Moreover, if Yale police officers were racist, instead of just biased against non-Yale residents, they would harass black students even after confirming that they were Yale students. Khary Carew, ‘04, the student stopped with the bicycle and the stereo, was left alone once he revealed his Yale ID. Obviously, then, the Yale policeman who questioned him did not suspect him because he thought that being black made him a criminal, but because he realized that being black made him more likely to not be from Yale.
I can’t assert with certainty that no one at Yale is a racist, becuase it is likely that there are some racist students. However, I do think it is easy for members of a particular race to assume that they are being treated in a racist manner when they are not. The example of Kenneth Dikas, ‘05, best illustrates this. Dikas informed the YDN that Yale students were racist because a group of girls on the first floor of Silliman College called the police when he started waving at them through their window--at 6 in the morning! Apparently he was locked out of Silliman and needed to be let in. But he cannot accuse people of racism for having been too scared to let him in. Would you talk to someone who started waving from your window in the wee hours of the morning? Calling women racist for wanting to be safe is a hundred times more offensive than anything that they might have done to him.
In short, people should be more careful when throwing accusations of racism about. Racism, in its true sense, does not seem to be a prominent part of the Yale experience. However, choosing to perceive racist feelings in people instead of noting the circumstances that explain ostensibly “racist behavior” threatens to create unnecessary tensions within the Yale community. Where racism is an issue at Yale, we should work to no end to remedy it. But we should always draw a clear line between what is racism and what isn’t, between what is malicious intent and what is merely a necessary precautionary measure.
Katerina Apostolides is a sophomore in Silliman College.