Friday, May 11, 2018

Statement Against the Policing of Black and Indigenous Students

[Content Warning: Racism, Anti-Blackness, Police Intimidation, Violence]

Dear fellow astronomers,

We bring to your attention a string of recent incidents involving Black and Indigenous students being racially profiled on university campuses in the United States. We urge you to reaffirm your commitment to the safety of Black and Indigenous astronomers, and especially students, within your institutions.

On April 30th, the mother of two prospective white students called the police to report two Indigenous students on a campus tour of Colorado State University. She described them as “definitely not being part of this tour;” as individuals who really “stand out;” “their clothing had weird symbolism and wording on it;” “I think they’re Hispanic;” and that her husband said that “another dad...also on this tour, also believes they don’t belong...their behavior is very suspicious.” This racist action was upheld and validated by the police officer who answered the 911 call, saying “the fact that more than one person noticed the strange behavior” after the caller alluded to the possibility that she might be "paranoid", aligning with the idea that white people’s discomfort merits police intervention. Officers were dispatched and the Indigenous students were asked to prove they belonged to the tour; one of them was patted down for weapons. The student later explained that he likes to keep his hands in his pockets because he is shy. We share links to the police report, and a statement from the university containing the original 911 call and body cam footage.

Similarly, on May 7th, a Black woman graduate student at Yale took a nap at the Hall of Graduate Studies common room to rest after writing a paper. Soon after, a white student, whose identity has been disclosed by the media, scolded the student using the phrase “You're not supposed to be sleeping here. I'm going to call the police” and took pictures of her without permission before calling the police. A friend of the Black woman student recorded this incident and the interaction with the police, which can be found here. We share a statement by the Black Graduate Network at Yale. At the time of writing, the university has not issued an official statement on their website.

These two incidents are coupled with many other racist calls to the police primarily against Black individuals at establishments like Starbucks, AirBnB, Grand View Golf Course, Nordstrom, Barneys, Walmart, Waffle House, and even public parks -- many of which have resulted in emotional and physical violence against these individuals. These are only a few examples of many incidents against people of color - especially Black folks - in this country, which often go unreported or without media attention. Make no mistake, these incidents do not happen in a vacuum, but are the continuation of centuries of systemic racism and over-policing of communities of color, and the over-surveillance of Black and Indigenous bodies in predominantly-white spaces. 

As summer arrives, new Black and Indigenous students prepare themselves to move to new settings, either to join graduate or REU programs. The signatories urge you to step up your commitment to their safety. A few recommendations for white colleagues include:
  • Recognize that it is your duty to ensure that Black and Indigenous members of your scientific communities feel safe, protected and included - and take immediate action to protect them.
  • Have conversations in your departments and research groups about the implications of white folks calling the police on people of color, which may result in their incarceration and violent (often lethal) action against them.
  • Have conversations with your white students and colleagues about situations that can endanger Black and Indigenous students, such as the use of alcohol and drugs at parties, jokes surrounding the use of these substances in the context of racist and anti-Black narratives, etc. - because, if police officers are dispatched, Black and Indigenous students will be treated differently from their white peers.
  • Call upon existing campus resources - such as a multicultural center, counseling services, or an office of “diversity” and inclusion - to facilitate these conversations.
  • Invest time and funding to provide workshops on implicit bias, racism and anti-Blackness, by qualified facilitators on campus and beyond.
  • Be aware of the implications of requiring Black and Indigenous students to stay in the office after hours, and of any activities that may result in these students having to stay or move around campus after hours.
  • Find resources for Black and Indigenous students so they can equip themselves with tools to help them stay safe. Be sure you consult with experts versed in anti-racism and anti-Blackness to guarantee that such training avoids causing harm to these students.
  • Make sure your Black and Indigenous students have direct access to people on campus with authority that they trust, and to attorneys paid by the university, who can help them on a very short notice in situations involving police officers.
  • Educate yourself about the root of the problem -- colonialism, the genocide of Indigenous people, the enslavement of Black folks -- and their connection to mass incarceration, police brutality, and over-policing of Black and Brown people in communities of color and in predominantly white spaces today.
  • Work towards earning the trust of your Black and Indigenous students and colleagues through concrete actions, not just words.
  • Hold your institutions accountable when policies in place are insufficient, and when calls for the protection of Black and Indigenous members are dismissed.

We add resources below and welcome input from the community to improve the above recommendations and to supply additional links to resources (below). Thank you.


Profe Jorge Moreno
Dr. Keith Hawkins
Professor Jillian Bellovary
Prof John Johnson
Dra. Nicole Cabrera Salazar
Dr. Lia Corrales
Charee Peters
Prof. Kathryne J. Daniel
Prof. Adam Burgasser
Prof. Aparna Venkatesan
Dr. Jacqueline Faherty
Prof. Kim Coble

The above signatories are members of the AAS Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy (CSMA). This statement reflects our own personal views, and is not an official statement by the CSMA nor the AAS.


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