Thursday, December 2, 2021

Students speak out for arrested peer

Alana Penny

More than 30 students gathered Wednesday, to share their frustrations after a Black SUNY Plattsburgh student was arrested by University Police, Oct. 21. 

According to UP’s incident report, she was arrested for sub-standard lights and driving with a suspended registration and a false inspection certificate. She was later also charged with resisting arrest. Driving with a suspended registration and resisting arrest are both misdemeanors. 

A two-minute video, that appeared to be recorded by a friend who was in the car with her, was posted to Instagram. It shows the student being held against the car by two officers, while a third stood nearby. The person recording the video asks repeatedly, “why are you touching her like that?” 

When the student being arrested was in the police car, the recorder asked, “what is this for?” To which the officers responded, “for resisting arrest.” 

The arrest occurred at 9:30 p.m. last Thursday. Friday morning, students received an email from President Alexander Enyedi, recognizing it as a “difficult day for our campus community.” He said he spoke with the driver and reviewed the police report with the University Police Chief Patrick Rascoe, to “better understand the full context of what occurred and to determine next steps to be taken.” 

He also said he mobilized the campus Diversity Incident Response Education and Communication Team (DIRECT). He said the team reviewed the dashcam footage, provided integrated support to the student and referred the matter to Human Resources.

At Wednesday’s event, many students were not pleased with Enyedi’s response, prompting Michelle Cromwell, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, to organize this gathering in the H.U.B. Many students offered suggestions for just action that could be taken. 

Junior Justice Hall said there needs to be more transparent communication between faculty, UP and students. 

“I need reassurance that I won’t be put in a situation where I’m being pulled over for something minor and next thing I know, I’m being pushed up against a car, afraid of what’s going to happen,” Hall said.  

Hall, who is originally from New York City, said she had experiences like this with the police there and hoped Plattsburgh would be different.  

Senior Willie Corley shared his own experiences with University Police. Corley, a biomedical science major, spends many late nights in the library. 

“I need an answer as to why the hell UP is following me home from the library, going two miles per hour,” Corley said. “I refuse to go to any late-night classes. I schedule all my classes for the morning because the sun is up and I know people will be watching. There are days I don’t leave my room because I’m scared of what UP could possibly do to me.”

Corley is set to graduate this spring and said he will not be shaking the president’s hand unless something changes because he will not shake the hand of his oppressor.  

“I have younger siblings that want to come here, and I tell them to run the other way,” Corley said. “You are losing us. And when you lose us, this campus is going to shut the hell down.” 

Freshman Andrew Payro attended as an ally. He is local to the area. 

“As a queer person, as a disabled person, I will never know what it’s like to be judged by my skin, but I know what it’s like to be marginalized up here,” Payro said. “If you’re not white, Christian, upper class, neurotypical, able bodied, you’re going to have a hard time here.” 

Payro worries that if the incident had not been filmed, it would not have been addressed. 

“I wanted to be here to listen to you all and let you know the other marginalized students see you and hear you and also demand justice and that something not be said, but done,” Payro said. 

Rascoe also sent out an email, last Sunday, that briefly summarized what happened, followed by: “While the above summary presents the straightforward facts of this incident, they also presented an opportunity, that night, for the kind of trauma-informed, student-centered response that our officers always strive to provide. However, last Thursday night we fell short of this goal.”

Rascoe went on to say some of their police response focused on proper process and procedure without accounting for the students’ fear. 

He said he and Enyedi have been discussing next steps, including the possibility of forming a student/police campus relations advisory group. 

The Police Benevolent Association of New York State, the union that represents State University Police Officers, denounced the SUNY Plattsburgh administration’s response to the traffic stop in a press release Wednesday, calling it “unprofessional and callous.” 

“Unfortunately, rather than waiting for the full scope of facts, the University President Alexander Enyedi and University Police Chief Patrick Rascoe rushed to judgment and denounced the officers’ actions strongly implying that race was the motivation for how the student was treated,” the press release said. “This rush to judgment was based entirely on the student’s perspective without input from the officers or even a cursory examination of the incident, which is entirely captured on video and audio and refutes this false narrative.”

PBA said the State University Police officer training includes Cultural Competency Training, and they are regarded as among the best trained for serving “communities that are highly multicultural.” 

They encouraged SUNY Plattsburgh to enact legislation that incentivizes increasing and maintaining the number of highly trained, experienced, and diverse officers. 

 Enyedi attended the gathering at the H.U.B. He took notes on a notepad as students shared, then spoke at the end. 

“The most important thing I want to take home with this message is we failed you. Dammit, we failed you again. And that’s frustrating for me,” Enyedi said. “I am disappointed this occurred, but that doesn’t solve the problem. I think as a collective at the campus we sometimes hide behind the word ‘we.’ Everyone says ‘we need to do better,’ ‘we need to do this,’ ‘we need to do that.’ I don’t know who ‘we’ is sometimes, because a ‘we’ doesn’t show up, and I think that’s a culture change this campus needs.”

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