An Open Letter to University of Illinois Chief of Police, Barbara O’Connor

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November 15, 2010—We write with grave concern about
your recent use of the “Illini Alert” text-messaging system
on Monday, November 8, 2010 to report the assault in
Forbes Hall and to search for the suspect in that incident.
The use of the system in this case was, at best, an overreaction
to the incident, and, at worst, a misuse of police
power that smacks of racial profiling. To tell every member
of the campus community to call 911 if they see a “black
male, salt/pepper hair, 40-50 year old, 5’11, 170, med
build” does not increase safety on our campus. On the
contrary, through such a sweeping announcement, you
have in fact put a considerable part of the campus community
at risk, placing under suspicion valued colleagues,
coworkers, students, and visitors solely on the basis of
their race and gender. Given the local history of racial tensions,
which seem to have increased dramatically over the
past year, this kind of alert only exacerbates the very distrust
that has been so corrosive on campus and in local
communities. We believe that the use of electronic media
such as text-messaging and e-mail to issue crime alerts has
been profoundly counterproductive, with the accumulated
effect of generating widespread fear and suspicion that all
too often gets expressed through racial divisiveness.
The sexual assault of a student is a deeply serious matter
and deserves a swift and thorough response by police
and campus authorities. We are as concerned as anyone
else on this campus for the safety of our students in the
dorms and elsewhere. We also believe that it is important
that such incidents be handled in ways that do not inspire
panic or rely on racial stereotypes, but rather that educate
students, faculty, and staff about the most likely scenarios
for sexual assault and other crimes on our campus.
We condemn the use of the mass-alert (text message)
system to respond to such incidents. While it may be
appropriate to use this technology to respond to rare cases
of imminent widespread threat, such as a tornado or a
bomb scare, the text-alert system was completely inappropriate
– and, indeed, reckless — in this case. We are
extremely troubled that you could issue such an alert,
given the appalling history of racial profiling in this country.
We understand that the Clery Act requires the University
to give timely warnings of crimes on our campus, but
we believe that it is possible to meet that requirement via
other available media. We expect you, as the police chief of
a leading university, to take considerable care and responsibility
when making a decision about when or if race
should be mentioned in any communication. At a minimum,
we urge you to use every opportunity to inform the
public of the dangers of stereotyping and to remind us all
of the tremendous contributions made by all racial and
ethnic groups in our diverse campus community.
While you may have intended to protect students, faculty,
and staff, instead you have done serious damage to
the racial climate of our campus and local community. We
want you to realize that electronic crime alerts, especially
last Monday’s text message, undermine the ongoing and
often difficult work that we do in our programs and organizations
regarding race, gender, and sexual orientation,
along with our daily efforts to make this campus a diverse,
safe, and open-minded place to learn and work.
We urge you to immediately revise your policy for issuing
such alerts; to apologize to the campus community for
this irresponsible use of police power; and to confer in
meaningful and sustained ways with those of us who are
committed to the pursuit of racial and gender justice and
equity on our campus.
Executive Committee of the Campus Faculty Association
Senate Committee on Equal Opportunity and Inclusion
Students for a United Illinois
Professor James Barrett, Chair, Department of History
Professor Merle L. Bowen, Director, Center for African Studies
Professor Jorge Chapa, Director, Center on Democracy in a Multiracial
David W. Chih, Director, Asian American Cultural Center
Jennifer DeLuna, Assistant Director, La Casa Cultural Latina
Professor Jennifer Hamer, Faculty Co-Chair, Black Faculty and Academic
Professionals Alliance
Whitney Hamilton, President, Women of Color
Professor Dianne Harris, Director, Illinois Program for Research in the
Professor Ronald L. Jackson, II, Head, Department of African American
Rory G. James, Director, Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural
Veronica M. Kann, Assistant Director, La Casa Cultural Latina
Tony Laing, President, Black Graduate Student Association
Professor Isabel Molina, Director, Latina/Latino Studies Program
Pat Morey, Director, Women’s Resources Center
Leslie Morrow, Director, LGBT Resource Center
Professor Chantal Nadeau, Director, Gender and Women’s Studies
Professor Lisa Nakamura, Director, Asian American Studies Program
Ben Rothschild, Undergraduate-Graduate Alliance
Stephanie Seawell, Co-President, Gradate Employees Organization
Professor Siobhan Somerville, Co-Chair, LGBT Advisory Committee
Regina Mosley Stevenson, Academic Professional Co-Chair, Black Faculty
and Academic Professionals Alliance
Katie Walkiewicz, Co-President, Graduate Employees Organization
Professor Robert Warrior, Director, American Indian Studies Program

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