Sensitivity alert

John has previously noted the problem of robberies at the University of Minnesota on its main campus in Minneapolis. The campus is near downtown in an urban setting. Following standard practice, the university issues crime alerts that identify the race of the perpetrator when the authorities have a basis to do so based on victim identification or otherwise. Some groups on campus are not happy with the crime alerts. The local CBS station reports:

School officials at the University of Minnesota are working with black student and facility organizations after they wrote a letter to the school’s president about the racial descriptions given in crime alerts.

The letter, sent on Dec. 6, 2013, was issued by members of the African American and African Studies, Black Faculty and Staff Association, Black Graduate and Professional Student Association, Black Men’s Forum, Black Student Union and Huntley House for African American Males.

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On Tuesday, school officials reported there have been 25 robberies in and around the University, an increase of 27 percent over the last few years.

The organizations wrote that while campus safety is crucial, the profiling can be devastating for black male students.

“[We] unanimously agree that campus safety should be of the UMPD’s utmost importance; however, efforts to reduce crime should never be at the expense of our Black men, or any specific group of people likely to be targeted. In addition to causing Black men to feel unsafe and distrusted, racial profiling is proven to inflict negative psychological effects on its victims.”

At Wednesday’s forum, Ian Taylor Jr., president of the Black Men’s Forum, said members of his organization feel threatened when the use of a racial description is given in the crime alerts.

“The repeated black, black, black suspect,” Taylor said. “And what that does it really discomforts the mental and physical comfort for students on campus because they feel like suspicions begin to increase.”

The use of the term “racial profiling” is inapt, but that is not the most striking feature of this university story. As one might infer from the last quoted comment above, the lack of a tangible harm experienced by innocent black students or others on campus is perhaps the most striking feature of this story, at least to me.

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