This morning, an email was delivered to faculty, staff and students of the Twin Cities Campus of the University of Minnesota. This message came from Pamela Wheelock, Vice President of University Services and addressed recent demands that students had made of the University. Part of this email reads as follows:
“In the course of this campuswide conversation, members of our community have raised the issue of the negative impact of using race as part of the suspect descriptions in the Crime Alerts.
We have heard from many in our community that the use of race in suspect descriptions in our Crime Alerts may unintentionally reinforce racist stereotypes of Black men, and other people of color, as criminals and threats.
That in turn can create an oppressive climate for some members of our community, a climate of suspicion and hostility.
To that end, today, Vice President Wheelock is announcing a change that will reduce the use of suspect descriptions in Crime Alerts when there is insufficient detail to reasonably aid in individual identification.”
To this author, who has been studying crime for over two decades, and creating forensic sketches based on these descriptions for much of that time, the demand to remove racial descriptions from crime alerts appears to be nothing more or less than asinine. It would appear that these students have the delusion that if we simply ignore issues of race, the issues will go away.
A few nights ago, this author called 911 after hearing two men loudly shouting that they were going to kill each other, about three feet from her front yard. When the 911 operator answered and heard the cause for the call, she promptly asked:
“Can you describe these men? Do you know what race they are?”
“No. It’s dark outside and all I can see is their profiles under the streetlamp.”
“Can you tell me any more about what they are saying?”
“No, they have been outside shouting for at least ten minutes and they are standing very close to each other. I did hear one of them say, ‘I’m gonna kill you!’ But it’s windy outside, and it’s hard to make out their exact words.”
“Okay,” she responded, “We’ll send out a squad.”
It is somewhat disconcerting to be asked to describe people first and foremost by their race, most of us can understand the need for this. I must admit that with the limited information that I had about these men, I made the assumption that they were white. However I had wished at the time that I could describe them down to every physical identifying mark, every mole and stray hair, in the hopes that the police could find them. I don’t even know if they needed to be arrested, on the contrary, I was hoping that the police might be able to secure the situation before one of them wound up dead.
While the demand of these students to avoid racial descriptions in crime alerts is ridiculous, the thought behind this demand is crystal clear. These students are acting on the assumption that most criminals are people of color. They would surely be surprised to see the following statistics from the Minnesota Department of Corrections inmate population:
93% of inmates are males.
53% are White, (However it should be noted that for whatever reason, the department of corrections counts the Hispanic population as part of the white population.
34.6% are Black, (once again it should be noted that this does describes the color of their skin, not their ethnicity. These people could be African Americans descended from people who have been in America since the country was founded, or they could be immigrants from places like Somalia and Liberia who came here yesterday.)
9.5% are American Indian, (or Native American, and once again this does not differentiate between various tribal affiliations.)
2.7% are Asian. (In Minnesota, this most likely means that these inmates are Hmong or Vietnamese population, as that is most prevalent population. In other areas of the country, this population would be more likely to be Chinese.)
0.2% are deemed Unknown or Other.
For more information about these demographics and statistics, see the following link-
The above numbers are certainly not what these students would have expected, perhaps indicating that they are the ones with racial stereotypes.
But hypothetically, let us say that the students had been right in their assumptions. What if the majority of inmates were black? Or, what if the majority of inmates were comprised of various “people of color”?
According to a Wikipedia entry on Race and Crime in the United States, African American males are incarcerated at a rate that is six times higher than White males. First it should be noted that this article is five years old, and has been disputed by some. To see this article, click on the following link-
But once again, let us pretend for a moment that these students were right, that the majority of criminals being apprehended by police, (not only on the University of Minnesota campus, but across America,) are people of color. What does this mean, and how should we tackle this issue? To this author, there are multiple issues at stake.
First, are there more criminals who are in fact people of color, or are there simply more people who are arrested and incarcerated who fit this description?
Second, if we assume that more crimes are actually being committed by people of color, what types of crimes are these? A person who loiters in a building may do so because he or she is homeless. A person who steals money may be using it to feed him or herself. If this is truly the case, the area around the University of Minnesota campus may need to institute more social services to help these people.
Third, if more people of color are committing crimes because they feel marginalized due to their socioeconomic status, or to the racial disparities that this country is constantly seeking to overcome, how can we address these issues?
But in general, the crime alerts seem to center around crimes that are not those of need, but those of want. There are not a lot of cases of people committing crimes in the hopes of gaining food, clothing or shelter. There are mainly reports of people behaving as stereotypical sociopaths, doing whatever they want to whomever they please for whatever reason they choose.
(Incidentally, the students who made these demands would apparently be thrilled if the University of Minnesota were to be attacked by a serial killer, as those are still predominately white males, and people could freely describe this attacker while still remaining politically correct.)
Universities have always been places for idealistic youth, and this is how it should be. Young people who are full of vim and vigor often have the hope and vision to help us make the world a better place. Yet the university at its core should be a place that teaches critical thinking. This author, who also attended the University of Minnesota, gained immensely from a class entitled: “Analysis of Oral Argument.” This course illuminated fallacies in reasoning and taught the students to make cogent arguments from their own perspectives. Even more importantly, this class taught us to think critically about issues, rather than to be spoon-fed the newest propaganda or trendy idea.
All students could benefit from a course such as this, especially the students who made these demands to the president. It is the responsibility of a university to address the needs of the student body, but it is also the responsibility to teach young people lessons that will help them to survive in the real world. Perhaps the most important lesson is that if you don’t like the way things are in the world, you don’t respond by sticking your head in the sand or by perpetuating denial of the problem. If you don’t like the way things are in the world, you go out and change it!
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