Tuesday, August 30, 2005

An upsurge of violence at Cornell

What the hell is going on at Cornell? This morning, I received two robbery alerts from the University Alert system, and this is after a string of other emailed alerts that I didn't open. Here's an excerpt from the first one:

The Ithaca Police Department is investigating a strong armed robbery that occurred at approximately 1:30 a.m., Aug. 29, near the intersection of Campus Road and Mary Ann Wood Drive, below West Avenue. The male victim was walking on Campus Road when he was approached by two male subjects. The victim reported that one subject asked him a question, then both physically assaulted him, taking the duffel bag he was carrying. The suspects were last seen running east on Campus Road. The victim described his attackers as being two black males, both approximately 5 feet 9 inches tall and approximately 17 years of age. The victim was treated at Cayuga Medical Center for minor injuries.
And the second one:
The Ithaca Police Department is investigating a robbery/assault that occurred in the 300 block of College Avenue on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2005, at approximately 1:30 a.m. The female student victim was walking with friends when she was assaulted by a group of females. The suspects reportedly punched the victim several times and tore her clothing. The victim also reported that a Cornell employee attempted to assist her and was assaulted by a group of males. The victim reported that the group who assaulted her were several black females and one white female. The victim further described one of her attackers as being a heavy-set black female wearing glasses and having braids in her hair.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but, what's going on here? First off, why are the suspects in both cases African American? And what's with the last sentence of the second alert describing such stereotypical features? Not to say that the suspect didn't look like the person being described, but this is reminding me of the "white pick in his hair" incident all over again. Isn't it bizarre what features a victim of a crime will remember of his/her attacker? And more importantly, while I wouldn't say the police should stop issuing alerts, but I think it's important to be cognizant of how such reports skew one's perspectives of racial minorities, unconsciously or unintentionally supporting existing racial stereotypes. What images popped up in your mind when you read these alerts? I can bet that, in both cases, the mental image that came to the minds of most sported features like baggy pants, jerseys, maybe a couple of tattoos or wave caps. This is societal programming at its finest. Nowhere in this alert were most of the suspects described beyond their race, but immediately, most people conjur an image of brutish thugs and subsequently clutch their purses tighter when they run into people who fit these images on the street. Baggy pants and jerseys are a cultural and racial phenomenon, but by categorizing them, within one's own mind, as associated with the criminal element, society begins to demonize the race as criminal. Which is why I always get on my soapbox and preach the importance of being aware how your mind makes stereotypes out of fact. Everyone does it (it's part of how the human mind operates), but so few people are willing to consider the mere possibility that racism, rather than being a thing to be stigmatized and put into a box reserved for members of the KKK and Nazis, is a universal struggle everyone must deal with. And in case you're wondering, yes, I do include myself in the "everyone" in the above sentence. I spend a lot of time dissecting my privileges, and considering my prejudices, and trying my best to reconcile who I am with where I stand racially, sexually, economically, and nationally. Sometimes that means I end up re-thinking my opinion on something in order to not offend others, and other times I say stuff like "yes, my blog has anime on it, and yes, that's only perpetuating the stereotype of the lil' ABC Sanrio freak, not to mention encouraging the further appropriation of Japanese anime by non-Japanese peoples, and I accept that criticism of my actions... but you know what, I like this layout and I'm going to put it up anyways, fucked-up overtones and all." In my humble opinion, that's the way to fight racism; get everyone to deal with their own internal racist tendancies and promote racial understanding rather than political correctness (although PC-ness has its own merits). I find more comfort in a person able to understand his own bigotry than a person blindly assuming that, because they go to church on Sundays and have three (count 'em, three!) friends of colour, couldn't possibly harbour prejudicial thought. But certainly, regardless of this rant, these isolated incidents of African American youths running amok in Ithaca, NY, don't help matters much. I'm really surprised that both these incidents could occur in Ithaca (the ultimate of pacifist, northeastern liberal bubbles) in the span of a week. Then again, Ithaca has always been the site of a bubbling race war brewing just below the deceptively calm surface.


Blogger phillyjay said...

"In my humble opinion, that's the way to fight racism; get everyone to deal with their own internal racist tendancies and promote racial understanding rather than political correctness (although PC-ness has its own merits). I find more comfort in a person able to understand his own bigotry than a person blindly assuming that, because they go to church on Sundays and have three (count 'em, three!) friends of colour, couldn't possibly harbour prejudicial thought."

It would be great if most people could do that, but that takes more effort than people are willing to do.If a non black person, especially a white or asian person sees a group of black people together, or goes through a black neighborhood many if not most will be uneasy of us until we prove otherwise.It's not fair but unfortunatly that is the repitation we've had for decades and it's not going away anytime soon.And it does not help when a black indivisual commits a crime.Most are not scared out of their minds of blacks, but they definatly will be on edge to a degree.And they wouldn't have the same feelings if it was a group of whites or a poor white neighborhood vs poor black neighborhood.Doesn't matter if your in total thugged out hip hop gear, or dressed like any normal person.

Let me ask you a question Jenn.How do you deal with someone who belives he or she is not being prejudice, just smart?Looking at the statistics some, hell almost everyone believes blacks commit the most crimes.So going by the logic that white or asian or whatever person is more likely to be robbed by a group of black people or individuals, especially in a area that is majority black.As a result that person avoids a high amoount of blacks in a area or a group of blacks walking down the street.But he wouldn't to the same for a group of white people.How would you deal with this argument Jenn?I've heard it and different version of it online and in real life from (non P.C.) whites and asians, and none of them see it as a bad thing.They claim they are not against blacks, they're just being "statistically" safer.And if blacks don't want this image then we have to stop commiting most crimes in america.While they are entitled to their beliefs, I personally believe they're still associating crime and negativity with blacks in the end.And that can't possibly be a good thing.

8/30/2005 03:54:00 PM  
Blogger Kevin T. Keith said...

I don't quite get your complaint.

Certainly the tendency to fall back on stereotypes in reporting or characterizing crime is very damaging, but in these cases it sounds to me like the e-mails simply reported the descriptions given by the victims - and those descriptions don't seem that odd to me, either.

Sex, age, height, weight, skin color, and distinctive traits like braided hair are (a) noticeable, and (b) easy to remember. I wouldn't expect victims to remember much more than that (in fact, there is much research documenting how little crime witnesses do remember). If these descriptions are accurate (no reason to think they're not), they ought to be reported. If they are also stereotypical, then it seems to me your complaint is against the muggers for committing crimes while being stereotypical, not against the victims for accurately reporting that they were attacked by stereotypical muggers, or the police for alerting people to that fact.

The problem is not with reporting the actual facts of the cases - nor with the victims for failing to remember more of those facts (it's just not realistic to expect them to take a full description while being mugged). The problem is not even with the use of these vague or partial descriptions to identify suspects (the description of the heavyset woman does not positively identify any particular person, but it does positively rule out the vast majority of persons - and so is certainly useful information).

The problem is with the use of vague or stereotypical descriptions to target entire segments of the population as suspects - that is, to assume that because two muggers were young black males, that is sufficient evidence to stop or arrest all young black males, rather than just exclude anyone who does not fit that description. (In logical terms, it is the difference between "if young, black, and male, then a suspect" and "if not young, black, and male, then not a suspect" - which are not the same thing at all.) We should certainly oppose broad-brush "racial profiling", but that's not the same as saying we shouldn't report what information we do have just because it is "stereotypical".

8/30/2005 06:52:00 PM  
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