"A climate of fear": Officials respond to the BU campus crimewave, concerns about racial profiling

Screenshot of recent "BUPD"-tagged stories from BU Today.

Students, administrators, and police officials met October 10 for a special town hall meeting on campus in order to address the recent string of armed robberies that have taken place near campus between September 23 and this Tuesday. The meeting, perhaps prompted more by the reaction to the robberies rather than the robberies themselves, was held just hours after the university announced a $10,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest and conviction in the four cases. (By Friday, three suspects were in custody, inclusing one who turned himself in to Brookline Police, resulting in his arrest.)

A panel of officials from the BU, Boston, and Brookline police departments presided over Wednesday's town-hall meeting, fielding audience questions. Students' comments ranged from suggestions to increase security around campus to questions regarding their own safety late at night; but perhaps the most prevalent concern voiced by participants was the potential for irrational fear, paranoia, and suspicion directed at black male students. Students cited in particular the BU Emergency Alerts. As the Daily Free Press put it: "Alert messages have described the suspects as two or three black males dressed in hooded sweatshirts each time."

Many town-hall attendees expressed the worry that black students were being marginalized, including one student who said that the text messages from the BU Emergency Alert Service were too "vague" and that he and other black students felt "singled out" because of it. To that end, Brookline Police Chief Daniel O'Leary said that his department would have "done the same thing" regardless of the suspect's description. However, another student echoed this sentiment claiming that the texts "exacerbate a climate of fear" around campus.

The climate of fear she was referring to can only have been made worse in light of the recent discovery of Jonathan Dailey, a graduate student at BAC, whose body was found chained to cinderblocks in the Charles River early Tuesday morning after he had gone missing from his Gardner Street apartment October 2. Though the incidents appear to be unrelated, according to a Boston Police Spokesperson present at the meeting, it was mentioned by at least three students in their questions to the panel.

This atmosphere currently gripping the BU campus has prompted perhaps the least useful discursive from students' parents, some of whom were attempting to circulate what amounts to a bounty in the comments section of a BU Today article, and gun-rights trolls calling -- in the same comments section -- for BU students to be armed (as if running gun battles between students and locals at an elite New England university belongs anywhere outside of a Tom Wolfe novel).

Though an arrest had been made the previous night, on Friday morning university officials directed students to remain cautious when entering the area around St. Paul Street where the robberies took place and to not "let [their] guard down," in the words of Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore, who told BU Today that he wanted to "remind everyone that there are still suspects out there."

In light these arrests and of the comments made by students at last week's town hall who were alarmed by the vagueness of these alerts, BU spokesperson Colin Riley said that, while he doesn't agree with the notion that messages were vague, he and other administrators do understand their concerns and intend to take them into consideration in going forward. Whether or not the university will actually consider changing how, in the future, they will report incidents if they have no information more specific than the suspect's age, ethnicity, and clothing remains to be seen -- though the effects of not doing so are quite visible.

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