By John Hanley
“Black man in a dark hoodie” has come to represent many things during the past few years in America. Following events like the Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner cases, the controversy surrounding the relationship between police and black men and women has become a mainstream discussion.
With this racially charged dialogue occurring in American society today, a recent LSU PD emergency text alert pushed some buttons among students on campus. The text stated that an armed robbery had occurred near the Kirby Smith building, and that the suspect was a “black man wearing [a] dark hoodie.”
Some considered the text an ordinary, justifiable warning to take caution. However, other students felt that the text promoted discrimination and racial profiling, and those students took to the LSU quad last Thursday to voice their concerns.
“[The text message] is incredibly vague, and dangerously so because now every black man on campus in a hoodie…[is] considered a suspect,” said Zandashe Brown, a sophomore at LSU and organizer of the demonstration. “We have people among us that are respectful professors [and] students that should not be lumped together in the same category with criminals.”
The demonstration lasted about 30 minutes and involved a large group of students each holding a sign that vaguely described his/her appearance. This display was meant to show how difficult it is to narrow down a suspect on vague or incomplete information, and how this vagueness can criminalize a large percentage of the student populous.
“We need to change the way the police gather and disseminate information on this campus,” said Jaideep Shah, a grad student in Philosophy at LSU and participant in the demonstration. Shah says the vague descriptions like this one are part of a bigger problem.
“[It] has perpetuated a culture of fear towards black people, and black males in particular,” he said. “It’s a form of racial profiling in which you create racial hierarchies where some people are blamed for crimes and violence even…if they haven’t done anything.”
As the demonstration progressed, a crowd of students gathered around to watch and listen. Many were simply observing, but a few onlookers had mixed thoughts.
“Racial profiling is definitely an issue, but [the demonstrators] are kind of missing the intent of these texts,” said Jay Parvez, a mechanical engineering senior. “If all [the police] have is a racial description, I think there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when you persecute someone based on a racial description. That’s where the problem is.”
Parvez says that the demonstrators should focus on police that harass people based on racial profiling. However, demonstrators like Shamaka Schumake, a say that vague and racially based descriptions are part of what lead police and others that kind of racially-charged harassment.
“No one’s denying that everyone should be alerted that a serious crime occurred,” she said. “But if the description is so vague that it doesn’t actually allow you to identify a suspect, then it is more prejudicial than preventative [of] future crime.”
Schumake says that if the police do not have enough descriptive information about a suspect to help the community be wary of an individual, then the description should not be a part of the report. She believes that offering a description that applies to such a large group of people is not helpful to students and faculty, and that descriptions should be withheld unless or until specific details can be supplied.
“[The police should] just send out an alert that a crime has occurred and where, and that additional information will be provided as it’s gathered,” she said.
The LSU PD has not yet released a statement regarding the issue.