Brown Bag Addresses Racist Law Enforcement

On Tuesday, September 9, Colgate’s African, Latin American, Asian American and Native American Cultural Center (ALANA) held a brown bag lunch entitled “The Policing of Black and Brown Bodies in the USA.” The Arnold A. Sio Chair in Diversity and Community Kezia Page organized this brown bag. Page is also Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies and Coordinator of the Caribbean Studies Concentration in the Africana and Latin American Studies Program. The event served as an open forum in which students could speak out about the way that African American and Latino citizens are targeted by law enforcement, as well as a space where students discussed how race is perceived on Colgate’s campus.

Assistant Professor of Sociology Alicia Simmons and Madison County Police Officer Adam Reilly led the discussion and fielded questions and comments from students and professors in the audience. Assistant Professor of English Lenora Warren and Lecturer in University Studies Professor Nagesh Rao were among the members of the audience who spoke out at the event. It was a way to hear commentary and viewpoints about these issues from different voices. 

“I was pleased with the turnout at the brown bag. It signals for me that Colgate students, faculty and staff are concerned about the excessive policing of black and brown bodies in America. When Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman, I wondered at how quiet we were about it … but now seven to 10 black men later, the trend is hard to ignore,” Page said. “The heavy hand of structural racism and the foul breath of neoliberalism have formed a monster that we need to confront.”

Many different topics were raised at the brown bag, specifically in regards to the racial profiling of African Americans and Latinos by law enforcement. Officer Reilly discussed the lack of Black investigators, specifically in Madison County, and how it took him a long time to get promoted due to the fact that he is an African American. He was able to take a unique stance on the issues at hand as both an African American and a police officer. Officer Reilly talked about the psychological and sensitivity training as well as the accreditation process that police officers in Madison County have to go through, although this may not be a reality for all law enforcement across the United States.

“If we are unhappy with our circumstances, social psychologists believe that we can change them. We are here to find out how to change them,” Simmons said at the beginning of the event.

Simmons also talked about the danger of stereotypes and how this contributes to the law enforcement targeting African Americans and Latinos. She brought up many different issues, such as the “driving while black phenomenon.”

“There’s no justification for shooting unarmed people,” Simmons said in regards to incidences such as the shooting of Michael Brown.

Junior Charity Whyte was one of the students who attended the brown bag and spoke out. During the event, she discussed the idea of intersectionality and the importance of looking at the stories that we hear in different ways.

“Conversations about racial prejudice in America and at Colgate are difficult conversations, especially in large groups … and the ALANA multipurpose room was packed with students, faculty and staff who were all actively engaging in critical conversations regarding racial prejudice in our country and on our campus … the balcony was overflowing, people were standing all around the room and every chair was taken. It almost brought tears to my eyes,” Whyte said. 

Simmons also mentioned the success of the brown bag in fostering a sense of community and solidarity while talking about these pressing issues.

“It was wonderful to have so many students, faculty and staff come together to discuss the important social issues highlighted by the events in Ferguson,” Simmons said. “We grappled with a range of topics including how people of color can talk to children about interacting with the police, how the news media constructs stories about crime and effective strategies for creating social change.”

Some students shared personal anecdotes about how racism, specifically in the form of racial comments targeted at students, is still a prevalent issue on this campus and needs to be stopped. The brown bag was able to function as a space where students felt comfortable sharing their experiences and talking about these important issues.

“When times get tough, it is always nice to see that people care and are willing to fight against or at least talk about

injustices,” Whyte said.

Page agrees that racism is a prominent issue on this campus that needs to be addressed.

“I’m angry that this is a reality for students of color here, it’s an anger that puts me in mind of how I feel when there is news of another shooting,” Page said. “So this brown bag is also about a way forward, because I’d rather be busy than angry and there is work to be done.”

Sophomore Dayna Campbell also attended the event. She was grateful that Officer Reilly was able to come and speak at the Brown Bag but still feels as though more people need to learn about what is going on in terms of race on this campus.

“The numerous micro-aggressions that I have experienced in my opinion speak to a general lack of knowledge and sensitivity at all levels. We cannot say that this is an institution that celebrates diversity if all are not required to learn by being uncomfortable,” Campbell said.

Page says that it is important that events like this continue to occur to create a space where conversations and ideas can flow. 

“There will be more opportunities to talk about Ferguson. Professor Dave McCabe through the Lampert Institute has organized a panel discussion titled ‘From Freedom Summer to Ferguson: The Ongoing Struggle for Civil Rights’ with Professors Nina Moore, Simmons and Warren. It will be held on Wednesday, October 1 in Lawrence 105 at 4:30,” Page said. 

Simmons believes that this Brown Bag was a good way to start the year off raising awareness of racial issues and that it is something that needs to be continued.

“Overall, the event was marked by a spirit of intellectual curiosity and a desire for social justice. Ultimately, I look forward to the conversations that we started on Tuesday continuing across campus throughout the semester,” Simmons said.