Students Share Stories: Reveal Cases of Civil Rights Infringment

Compiled by Dan Pneuman

This past Tuesday, The Committee for Social Justice in SUNY Oneonta and Community held a mass meeting with the SA to bring attention to students’ concerns and frustrations that are particularly common among students of color. In an effort to bring understanding to this issue and experiences by multicultural student interactions with the police that, in many of their opinions, are far too typical and occur far too often. Here you will find examples of students (who wished to remain anonymous) claiming that the police violated their rights or engaged in racial profiling and racial condescension. The SA has committed to working with the Committee on Social Justice to address these concerns.

“When I first described the town of Oneonta to my mother I told her it was one of the safest places I had ever visited. It was not after I actually began attending the school that I discovered that my use of the word ‘safest’ may have been completely inaccurate. From my first night out as a college student I began to view inconsistencies in the way that the Oneonta Police department treated the multicultural community of students who attend SUNY Oneonta. I can remember walking down the left side of Chestnut street with a few friends who were also students of color and seeing a police car driving extremely slow to the right of us… the officer looking directly at my friends and [me]. This was particularly disturbing because about two blocks down from where we were standing, on the right side of the officer, a fight between a group of young white men was breaking out, but somehow it seemed we were more of a threat to the law than those breaking it. This method of detecting criminal activity appears to be the preferred method of the Oneonta Police Department as similar incidents continued to occur to my friends and I throughout my four years here. This created within the multicultural student body a sense of fear that can be comprehended only when one thinks of the Police State once described by Hobbes in his (in)famous Leviathan. The feeling of safety I once mentioned to my mother has since evaporated and [has been] replaced by one of insecurity and fear. Any time a police vehicle drives by, I cannot help but to cringe a little, not because I’m breaking the law, but because the authorities in Oneonta have marked me as a criminal simply because of my appearance… We, the so-called minorities, are targeted to the point were walking down Main Street has become as terrifying as walking down [the] halls of a maximum-security prison. This [police] behavior will not be tolerated any longer.”

“In Oneonta, I’d never thought I would be a victim of racial profiling until I was stopped by a UPD officer on three separate occasions and threatened to be thrown in prison on another. Was it a case of ‘driving while black?’ I may never know the motives for that particular officer’s infractions against me. All I know is that on each occasion I felt as if my skin color made me a suspect in Oneonta… Racial profiling cases involve the use of race or ethnicity characteristics to decide whether an individual is likely to engage in criminal conduct or commit a certain illegal act. In my case, I was one of two African American passengers in my friend’s vehicle who happened to be Latino and after we got pulled over we were asked where we were headed? Who owned the car? Were we drinking [or] smoking? After these incidents with the same UPD officer I was left wondering if it was appropriate for police to stop someone and then ask their dispatcher for a full description, or if they should wait for a full description before stopping somebody. Maybe I’ll never know.”

“It wasn’t until I recently visited Binghamton University and was in a similar situation that I realized that [mine] and my housemates’ rights were violated. In an identical situation, the Binghamton Police did not step foot in the house because the students didn’t let them and they didn’t force their way in. I could see that there was a mutual understanding of the student’s rights and the Binghamton Police weren’t trying to violate them; they just wanted to control the situation. I then began to wonder how this situation would have played out had it been the Oneonta Police. Granted different cities have different local laws regarding this issue; however, I feel that in the city of Oneonta, the police tend to disregard the fact that they don’t have automatic entry into student homes once they knock on the door. I think about what would have happened if we denied them entry into our home, and I don’t think it would have gone well because the OPD are so used to students allowing them to violate that right. The OPD consistently takes advantage of their powers and the fact that students don’t exhibit knowledge of their rights. Knowing what I know now, if placed in a similar situation, I would deny the officers entry and go outside to speak with them being comfortable knowing that I am not doing anything wrong. At the same time, I am fearful of the reaction these officers might have in response to this.”

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