Campus cops hear students’ grievances

Campus cops hear students’ grievances
November 20
00:00 2014
(pictured above:  Chizoba Ukairo, seated beside fellow WFU student William Ray III, speaks.)

IMG_0237Communication, transparency and trust are the building blocks for better relationships between students and police, participants in a dialogue concluded on Thursday, Nov. 13.

Assistant DA  Jennifer Martin

Assistant DA
Jennifer Martin

The city’s Human Relations Commission brought students from Forsyth Technical Community College, Salem College, Wake Forest University and Winston-Salem State University together with officers from each schools’ campus police force as part of its Trust Talks, a series designed to bridge divides between the public and law enforcement. Winston-Salem Police Chief Barry Rountree and several of his officers and Forsyth County Assistant DA Jennifer Martin also took part in the discussion, which was held at City Hall.

Though a racially diverse group of students were invited to take part, African-Americans were most vocal, describing what they called racially-motivated targeting on campuses by both campus police and city cops.



IMG_0191To break the ice, Human Relations Director Wanda Allen-Abraha had each of the more than 70 participants – both students and law enforcers – to pull out something from a box containing an assortment of items. Some were then asked to relate their item to the topic dialogue’s theme. Salem College senior Erica Shepperd-Debnam said the lanyard she pulled reminded her of the disproportionate number of times black visitors are asked for their identification on the Salem campus.

“When there are parties on campus, minorities are checked more … by Winston-Salem Police,” Shepperd-Debnam, the president of the Salem Campus Activities Board, said later when asked to elaborate on her claim.

Several Wake Forest students had the same complaint, but said that it was campus police behind a systematic pattern of targeting black events and black campus visitors and students for extra scrutiny.

A major issue of concern was the policing of events held by black fraternities and sororities at The Barn, a social gathering venue at Wake. Several students said campus cops patrol black events to the point of intimidation, while events held by white Greek organizations at campus frat houses receive little to no attention.

“There have been policies put in place for that particular structure” that appear to show a “lack of equity by campus police” as far as social events on campus, said senior Javar Jones.

Participants were divided into four groups. Each group had a facilitator who directed the discussion around 10 questions that focused on everything from stereotypes to transparency.

In a group facilitated by Human Relations Commissioner Michael Clinton, Wake Forest students Chizoba Ukairo and William Ray III said campus police citation statistics bear out their claim that blacks are disproportionately targeted. Ukairo said for a school with such a small black population, Wake Forest hands out a large number of citations to African-Americans.

Patricia Bolling, a gate security officer at Wake, denied that any group is targeted, telling Ukairo and Ray that as a black woman, she would not stand for any form of discrimination.

In a separate discussion group,  Wake Forest Police Cpl. James Gravely said there have been incidents at The Barn that have warranted a greater police presence. He said there were once six fights at The Barn at one time. He said three campus police officers could not handle the situation alone, so three Winston-Salem police officers were called in to assist them.
“Three officers can’t handle six fights,” he said.

Wake Forest Police Chief Regina Lawson was on hand – as were Forsyth Tech Chief Renarde Earl, Salem College Chief Christopher Batista, and WSSU Deputy Chief Keenan Williams. Lawson said she could not comment on students’ specific allegations. All press inquires, she said, must be handled by the school’s media relations wing.

WFU Chief Regina Lawson

WFU Chief Regina Lawson

Forsyth Tech Chief Renarde Earl

Forsyth Tech Chief Renarde Earl

WSSU Deputy Chief Keenan Williams

WSSU Deputy Chief Keenan Williams

Salem College Chief Chris Batista

Salem College Chief Chris Batista

WSSU students and campus officers agreed that they butt heads mostly over parking citations; otherwise, they said, relations are congenial.

“We have a unique relationship with our students. It’s almost like family,” Deputy Chief Williams said.
Forsyth Tech student Chris Pankey, an aspiring television reporter, said he has never had an issue on campus with officers. It is a different story off campus, though. In his group, he described feeling like he has been racially profiled by police because he is an African-American male.

Forsyth Tech student Chris Pankey holds a clock while calling for students and police to take the time to understand each other.

Forsyth Tech student Chris Pankey holds a clock while calling for students and police to take the time to understand each other.

“I see no problems at all on our campus. I came to address what I see in the community with police and residents,” he said.

Several students complained that officers were not friendly on their campuses and only interact with them when there is trouble. Assistant DA Martin defended officers, saying they are human-begins with lives and issues outside of work. Rountree and at least one campus police officer invited students to ride alongside officers on patrol to see what they endure.

Allen-Abraha said the Human Relations Commission will next facilitate an on-campus discussion at each of the schools to keep the conversation going.

“This needs to continue,” she said. “The next step naturally needs to be … what are some solutions we can communicate together.”

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts was invited to take part, but had to decline because of its hectic production schedule, Allen-Abraha said. She said UNCSA has agreed to an on-campus discussion.

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Donna Rogers

Donna Rogers

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