Opinion

Crime Alert Descriptions Criminalize Black Loyola Students

BY DOMINICK HALL AND RYAN SORRELL

The frigid cold pierced the skin of senior Loyola student Phillip Spencer as he hurried home from the Damen Food Court around 10 p.m. one Friday night in April last year. As he threw his hood up and neared an alley by N. Lakewood and Albion avenues, the startling sound of sirens approached him.

Blinded by the flashing red and blue lights of a Chicago Police Department squad car, Spencer had no time to react to the three Caucasian men who exited the vehicle and violently slammed him against a side door. Loyola University Police Department (LUPD) officers showed up not long after and continued to harass him.

Bombarded with questions of where he was coming from, where he was going and why he was out so late, the confused senior hesitated and responded that he was only coming home from eating in the dining hall. The men proceeded to ask questions before admitting they only stopped Spencer because he matched a suspect description from a recent robbery.

Spencer’s experience mirrors the experiences of thousands of Chicagoans. A March 2015 report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois found that in Chicago, there were “more than 250,000 … stop-and-frisk encounters in which there were no arrests from May through August 2014. African-Americans accounted for nearly three-quarters of those stopped, even though they make up about a third of the city’s population.”

Racial profiling is also a problem on Loyola’s campus. LUPD frequently sends out crime alert emails in which it mentions the ethnicity of alleged suspects. All too often, the description of suspects’ ethnicities is “Black” or “dark complexion.” When Loyola’s student population is only 4.8 percent Black, the effects of such descriptions are intensely magnified. Experiences like Spencer’s are all too common for Black students at Loyola.

Here are a few examples of suspect descriptions released by LUPD this academic year:

“A description of the subject is: male, dark complexion, 20-26 years old, 5’10’’- 6’2’’, 170-200 pounds, short black hair. He was last seen wearing a gray, hooded sweatshirt, black sweatpants, and black Nike tennis shoes.” (Oct. 11, 2015, 9:26 p.m.)

“The offender is described as: male, dark complexion, 25-30 years old, 6’ 0”, 170-175 pounds, and short black hair. He was last seen wearing a gray-hooded sweatshirt, black sweatpants, and black gym shoes.” (Oct. 24, 2015, 6:32 a.m.)

“The description of the offender provided by the Chicago Police Department is male, Black, 30-40 years old, 5’11”, and 200 pounds. During the robbery, the subject was wearing a black hat, black ski mask, black jacket, black gloves, and was armed with a silver handgun.” (Dec. 7, 2015, 2:36 p.m.)

Most recently, on Feb. 26 at approximately 6:30 p.m., LUPD released the following description:

“Limited details on the offenders are available at this time … [T]he offenders are described as male, ages 18 to 22, and wearing dark-hooded sweatshirts … according to the Chicago Police Department, two of the offenders are described as male, Black.”

LUPD, stop sending out emails with limited details about suspects, and stop notifying us of the alleged ethnicities of the suspects, especially when the only descriptions given are “Black” or “dark complexion.” In both cases, LUPD turns Black people such as economics major and youth mentor Phillip Spencer into immediate suspects.

We, both authors of this article, as well as the vast majority of Black males on this campus, fit nearly every description posted by LUPD. In our time at Loyola, LUPD has only sent out one description of a suspect that had a “fair complexion.” Using race to describe suspects, and with only limited details, unjustly targets individuals of African descent.

LUPD does not include the ethnicity of encountered suspects in its public police logs or annual report. As stated in its report on 2014 crime statistics, LUPD’s mission is “to promote and maintain a safe and secure environment in which the University’s educational mission can be successful.”

LUPD, this is a wake-up call. Sending out emails with suspect descriptions that fit the majority of male Black students, faculty, administrators and workers is discriminatory and in direct contradiction to your mission.

Loyola, if you are looking for a reason why it is difficult to recruit and retain Black students (besides the fact that a study conducted by junior Jason Pica found that none of Loyola’s recruitment takes place at inner city South Side communities, based on information provided by black students and alumni at the Nov. 8, 2015 event Color My Loyola: A Reformation), addressing the effects of crime alert practices is probably a good place to start.

In this era of increased scrutiny surrounding police brutality and the systemic criminalization of people of color, we expect Loyola to demonstrate values-based leadership, as outlined in the Jesuit Mission, which emphasizes the importance of an “appropriate balance between justice and fairness.”

In 2007, Black students on Loyola’s campus protested against racial profiling by LUPD. In 2016, we are fighting against the same injustices.

Dominick Hall and Ryan Sorrell are juniors and major in communication studies, with a concentration in advocacy and social change. Both also work for The Black Tribune. They would like to thank sophomore Aliyah Jervier and senior Phil Spencer for their inspiration.

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