Black Student Union hosts racial profiling panel

Attendees to the racial profiling forum chat after the talk in the Union on Tuesday night. (Hannah Hunsinger | The Collegian)

The Black Student Union hosted the open forum, #HandsUpDontShoot Part 2: The Fight Against Racial Profiling and Police Brutality on Tuesday night in the K-State Student Union.

For this forum, the group enlisted the help of five panelists; Brad Schoen, Riley County Police Department director; Corey Leavell, chair of the Riley County Police Department Community Advisory Board; Michelle White-Godinet, assistant director of the Institutional Equity and Community Advisory Board Member; Jeremy Briggs, instructor of sociology, anthropology and social work; and John Exdell, associate professor of philosophy and community activist.

The forum, which was open to all K-State students, faculty and members of the community was based on the American Civil Liberties Union Study of June 2013, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White.”

This study showed that African Americans are 3.7 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession of marijuana — 4.4 times more likely in Kansas overall, and three times more likely in Riley County.

The event opened with Exdell discussing the gap in those numbers found from the study.

“There has to be a remedy to that disparity,” he said.

RCPD director, Schoen attempted to address those numbers by discussing some of their initiatives to minimize racial profiling in Manhattan.

“At RCPD we’re committed to fair policing, and so when it comes to racial profiling, it’s important to know what we’re talking about, “ Schoen said.

Schoen then explained the definition the police use to determine racial profiling as well as the difference between that and racial or other biased-based policing.

According to Schoen, their department follows the racial profiling definition defined by the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, which states; racial profiling means the practice of a law enforcement officer or agency relying, as the sole factor, on race, ethnicity, national origin, gender or religious dress in selecting which individuals to subject to routine investigatory activities, or in deciding upon the scope and substance of law enforcement activity following the initial routine investigatory activity (Kansas Statute 22-4609).

Schoen then explained the Kansas Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 46, on racial or other biased-based policing, prohibits law enforcement from determining probable cause and making arrests or taking an individual/group into custody based on race, ethnicity, national origin, gender or religious dress.

“As we work our way through this and look at these definitions, there are different things going on here,” Schoen said.

After making that distinction, the floor was then turned over to audience members for questions — which were mainly directed toward Schoen.

Schoen expressed that his department has standardized training for officers to make them aware of standard procedures. Schoen said their training dates back to the late nineties — even before they were required to do so.

“We have a notion at RCPD about wanting to do things the right way,” Schoen said.

The most important question that was addressed last night was what can be done by the department to balance out those statistics in Manhattan.

“The public has to care enough to put pressure on law enforcement and the forum is one of the first steps in doing that,” Exdell said.

Leavell expressed the importance of small issues that are not reported turning into bigger issues.

“If you have a complaint, or somebody you know has a complaint, you can contact the community advisory board, “ Leavell said.

Schoen said the goal is to encourage community participation in forums like this one.

“One of the things we want to do is we’re trying to organize a community forum where we can have administrators and people from the community and put on a symposium and discuss these issues,” Schoen said.

Lexis Lowery, freshmen in open option, said as a woman of color, after attending the event and knowing that the panelists cared enough to show up and address those issues made her feel safer around law enforcement in Manhattan than she did before.

One suggestion she had to fix the racial profiling issue was to continue having forums like these.

“We need to make it known that this is a real issue and it’s not just here, it’s everywhere in the U.S.,” Lowery said. “Forums like these will allow young people a platform to speak up.”

Jacob Handy, May 2014 alumnus and former BSU member, said hearing the police speak didn’t make him feel any safer, but the panel as a whole taking the time out to recognize the issue made him feel hopeful.

“I think getting more programs together with police officers outside of just the BSU would help bring more awareness to the issue and help,” Handy said.