Monday, May 16, 2022

Resident threatens Black student

By Aleksandra Sidorova

Plattsburgh City Police arrested resident Dustin Ormsby, 27, for verbally harassing a Black SUNY Plattsburgh student named David Harris April 14. Ormsby was arrested for aggravated harassment in the second degree. 

College President Dr. Alexander Enyedi addressed the incident in a message on the SUNY Plattsburgh Facebook page, reporting that the incident was being “investigated by City, State and University Police.” University Police Chief Patrick Rascoe, however, clarified that most of UP’s work was not in investigation, but in supporting Harris on campus, while the jurisdiction of the case lay with City Police. City Police Corporal Emily Duprey confirmed this.

Enyedi’s message said the incident appeared to be “racially motivated.” Although City Police’s press report issued April 15 mentioned the use of racial slurs, the “racially motivated” nature of the case did not have an effect on how they processed it.

“To us, everyone is handled the same,” Duprey said. “It shouldn’t matter who you are, what you look like. Everything should be handled the same.”

Duprey said City Police followed Harris’ requests in handling the case.

“There’s always room for improvement in absolutely anything that anyone does,” Duprey said. “When it comes to [this case], it was handled swiftly, quickly, and everything was done the way that the victim requested. To me, that was a good job, the way that they wanted it done.”

Aside from pressing charges and being granted a stay-away order, Harris also specifically requested that Enyedi address the campus on the day of the incident and reviewed his message.

Harris said he was “shocked” at how quickly the case was handled and how “genuine” both City and University Police were in their communications with him. He reported that Rascoe called him and drove him away from his home for Ormsby’s arrest. Enyedi and Plattsburgh Mayor Christopher Rosenquest also personally reached out to Harris, and Rosenquest addressed the incident in a Facebook post.

“As a Black man who was raised in Plattsburgh, I’m no stranger to being called the N-word. It saddens me to see this still happening in our community,” Rosenquest wrote. 

Harris said he had a “love-hate relationship” with law enforcement due to traumatic personal encounters in the past and the portrayal of police in the media.

“I’m glad I gave the system a chance to work out and it did work out,” Harris said. “I think that just speaks volumes of itself.”

Harris said he thought of privilege while reflecting on the incident. A brother at Phi Beta Sigma, a historically Black fraternity, and an active member of the SUNY Plattsburgh community, Harris has many connections, which he thinks may have influenced how the incident was treated.

“I am very well-connected with a lot of different people, different groups, and I just wondered: if I wasn’t involved as much as I am involved, would I have gotten the same treatment? Would I have gotten the same speed of reaction?” Harris said. “I do think there needs to be a level of priority in terms of answering the call equally for everyone, you know what I’m saying?”

Harris shared advice for students who may find themselves in similar situations to his.

“I feel like that’s something that definitely needs to be talked about — not always being violent, not always ready to put your hands on someone, or ready to retaliate,” Harris said. “I would advise people to really think before they react, and really process every possibility that would happen after you react.” 

Harris shared how the incident could have looked had he retaliated to Ormsby:

“I felt like, in an act of retaliation, [my] situation could have went really left. I could have went over there, and we could have engaged in a physical altercation, and then [Ormsby] could have had a weapon that I wasn’t aware of. I’m on his property, so now I become the perpetrator, and now the narrative has changed. What started as a racial slur and a threat on my life ended up becoming now I’m on his property inflicting violence.”

Although overall “definitely satisfied” with how the incident was handled, Harris said State and City Police could have done more. Harris explained that City Police know Ormsby to struggle with mental health and to have violent episodes. Prior to the incident, Ormsby called the police on Harris, having misunderstood Harris’ wave for a rude gesture.

“If the police are aware of the situation, I’m just wondering what more would they need in order to put him into a place where he can get the help and care that he needs,” Harris said. 

Although overall “definitely satisfied” with how the incident was handled, Harris said State and City Police could have done more. Harris explained that City Police know Ormsby to struggle with mental health and to have violent episodes. Prior to the incident, Ormsby called the police on Harris, having misunderstood Harris’ wave for a rude gesture.

“If the police are aware of the situation, I’m just wondering what more would they need in order to put him into a place where he can get the help and care that he needs,” Harris said. 

English language arts major Carmen Martinez, a student since 2017, said she was not satisfied with how the school handled the incident.

“I shouldn’t have to see activism from just another email,” Martinez said. “It’s very frustrating when there’s a problem, and the only thing that we get is an email.”

Martinez said she wants to see more “ownership” from University Police.

“I honestly wish [UP] would have sent out a message, too,” Martinez said. “I know it’s out of their hands, but as long as I know that they are at least trying to do their job and they’re trying to provide for students, then I can be OK with knowing that they’re still there.”

Martinez noted that post-pandemic, there are fewer conversations about the issues that students of color face. She said it could be due to the pandemic, but mentioned it could be a “new normal” in students’ attitudes.

“Having all those events, it didn’t solve the problem, but it made it easier to acknowledge that we have problems,” Martinez said.

Martinez said it may be helpful to have more opportunities to discuss issues of race, color and ethnicity: planning more events at the H.U.B. to bring students together and integrating such conversations into classes.

“I just know the campus tries,” Martinez said. “I think they really try to solve problems, but I think students are looking less for words and more for action. But the thing is, students don’t exactly know the solutions that they want. They’re looking toward other people because they realize that these people are older than them, probably wiser than them, and they really need help to the problems that they’re having right now.”

However, Martinez also mentioned how it can be difficult for students of color to engage in conversations on race.

“I think, when we talk about subjects with people of color, sometimes we’re worried,” Martinez said. “We get so many people who want to hear our opinions, but after a while, it feels like we’re just screaming into an empty void.”

Martinez said the city may benefit from community-building events and discussions on race beyond the campus.

“I think it’s more often the wider community [at fault] than the campus. The campus is constantly striving — like, they’re really trying,” Martinez said. “People of color, when they’re students, they realize that they have all these resources on campus, but when they reach the outer world, they don’t have as many resources. I don’t know why, but it kind of makes you lose faith in Plattsburgh and your society because of that.”

Yancy Carter, a junior English literature major from Chazy, shed light on the issue from the perspective of the North Country community. She explained that in the North Country, people tend to be separated not just by race, but income as well.

“There’s no community. [People of different groups] are only ever together [if] they’re in an education setting,” Carter said.

Harris believes SUNY Plattsburgh has power to advocate for its students when it comes to issues relating to diversity, and should use it. He suggested that the college work with city officials to “move [Ormsby] into another location that would be safer for students.”

“I felt that the school does a great job of making sure that the students are safe and advocating for students,” Harris said. “Because SUNY Plattsburgh is more than a big part of this community, in the city of Plattsburgh, I definitely feel like there’s power within the administration, because the students here are the culture of Plattsburgh.”

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