Police interrogate man for being black, lock down campus building




The police at UMass Amherst aren’t just security staff. The University is quite large, and the police there have the same powers as police officers in the surrounding towns.


Are you saying that campus security should not ask someone for their ID if called out on a report?

Public university campuses are generally open, in the sense that members of the general public are usually freely allowed on campus, but the campus is charged with a much higher level of responsibility for the safety of students and facilities than you will get in more general public spaces, and part of that is monitoring, if not control, over who is on campus. Asking for ID is about as minimally intrusive a mechanism for this control as can possibly exist.

The UMPD is an authorized Commonwealth police force, with full standard training. Their chief, Tyrone Parham, has a masters from Penn State and is also a graduate of the FBI national Academy. I don’t think “failure to become an actual cop” applies here.

Look, two things obviously went wrong here. First, the man in question was reported because of how he looked, and probably in part because he’s black, which is ridiculous on any number of levels, and the anonymous caller is an ass and almost certainly a racist ass. You can’t blame UMPD for that one. Then security came, which is what should happen, and asked him for confirmation of who he was, which again is what should happen, but then reportedly interrogated him for a long time. That is problematic, and I hope they dig deep to find out what went wrong and to hold the officers responsible for any grief they caused this guy. My main point was that the nature of a police department in a public university is that this digging is likely to happen, unlike so many stories where police are not held accountable for their ugly behavior. There are many more layers of accountability in play here than in a municipal PD.


Yeah, so that’s what crossing that low bar gets you.


“I was stopped and questioned seven times by University police on my way into the physics building,” he says. “Seven times. Zero times was I stopped going into the gym—and I went to the gym a lot. That says all you need to know about how welcome I felt at Texas.”

At the same time, Tyson says that racism, while an everyday reality, didn’t play a major role in his leaving the University. “Getting stopped by the police—I don’t count that as significant racism. That’s just ‘same shit, different day’ racism. I was stopped by campus police at other schools, too—though not with the same frequency as in Texas. And I still get followed by security guards in department stores.”



Yeah, nobody has heavy as fuck backpacks on a college campus…

(also, if I had been stopped and quizzed every time I was on campus with a heavy as fuck bag, and was genuinely looking disgruntled, but I have slanty eyes, so I’m one of the expected phenotypes on many campuses)


Do YOU think that that is what I was saying?




Felt like it. Either that or, only certain people should be asked for their IDs, which would be worse.


For those who think there is nothing wrong with the campus police asking for ID and a few questions, that wouldn’t be a problem, except that as is my experience, campus police almost never ask whites of student age for an ID or an explanation of their presence. I went to a small engineering school (not MIT) which is about an hour up the road from Amherst. During freshman year, my roommate (who was white) received a visit one night from a mutual friend an physics major (also white), who sat in the window of our fourth floor dorm room with an umbrella and started going “bang-bang” at passersby on the quad below. Most people (including one camps cop) went “bang-bang” with a finger gun in return, one campus cop in a car, however, came to a screeching halt, and jumped out of the car. I knew what was about to go down, so I quietly and slowly walked out of the room and down the back staircase to the quad. The others shortly thereafter figured out why I did that, and did the same. We went down and stood next to the campus police car and watched while they searched the room. We heard the cop make a call to the city police that the suspect was myself (no mention of my roommate or anyone else), for no apparent reason other than the fact that, apparently, they knew I was one of about 20 black students (out of 2500 undergraduates) on campus. When the city police showed up carrying rifles and shotguns, we marched our friend over to the campus police and had him admit that it was him in the window with his umbrella. End of story, except for the fact that nothing happened to him, of course.

This is, of course, not just a New England thing, for instance, a decade later I was working for a large software company in Northern California. One day I came out of my apartment, noted the presence of a Marin County Sheriff parked next to my car, drove the few miles to my job while obviously being followed, and then was tackled and detained when I entered the lobby of my place of work. No particular reason, they just thought I must be up to something, and were just protecting the good (white) people of Marin County. Or, like one of my friends, another black software developer living and working in Mountain View, the heart of Silicon Valley, who had the police come and bang on his door at 4am, dragged him out him and took him down to the station, mostly because they couldn’t figure out anything legal he could be doing that would pay him enough to afford the rent…


You don’t think that that is how it is now?


It could be, though over the last decade there has been serious effort on many campuses to professionalize and improve the racial sensitivity of the campus cops. You said that being asked for ID could be a concern depending on who is being asked. I would say that there is cause for concern if people from some groups are being not asked.

I’m on an urban public campus, and on behalf of our students I want campus security to react quickly on every call, anonymous or not. I also want them to treat the people they talk to with respect, the way they’ve treated me when asking me for my ID.


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Why would anyone call cops to check out someone, on campus, carrying a heavy bag lifted barely off the ground?


Tragedy aside, that is a kick ass name for a mech-e prof.


Great name, total waste of a human being.


As a physician, I am constantly reading studies speculating on why pretty much every health measure, corrected for SES, age, gender, etc, is so much worse for minorities, esp blacks, than for whites. I am baffled as to why so few of them consider things like this as the significantly added stressors due to existing while black. I guess they are afraid it will sound bad if they put that out there?


I could be wrong, but my guess is that you are among the people most always treated with respect and least often asked for ID.

I had a gun pointed at me (after hours) by the security guy at my tiny arts college in '82. I didn’t know the guy, I had just started, but, I wasn’t scared. That is to say that I am among those least likely to be shot in that situation. I didn’t really think about it, I just knew that I wouldn’t be shot.

I didn’t (sadly) see it as privilege at the time.


Welcome to Night Vale.


Last I checked there was nothing suspicious or illegal about carrying heavy bags.

Last I checked, there is nothing suspicious or illegal about being agitated.

There is nothing that says the police have to investigate reports of agitated people walking around. In fact, the correct response from the police should have been “Is he breaking the law? No? Then have a nice day”.

Because when the police arrived and SAW no crimes being committed, they should have left. No citizen should be interrogated for NOT committing a crime.