The killing of Michael Brown, a young black male, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri has generated newfound interest in racial profiling — sparking national outcry and popularizing the social media campaign #handsupdontshoot.
Christian Onwudiwe, a Youngstown State University professor in the criminal justice and forensic sciences department, explained that this kind of racial profiling has existed for decades, but the recent development of social media and personal recording devices has helped the issue quickly become mainstream. Though he is not aware of any instances of racial profiling taking place at YSU, Onwudiwe said that it is good for students to be aware of the issue.
“I do not believe there is any racial profiling on campus,” he said. “But the issue is important for your community to know because we can start being proactive towards this issue; everyone in the YSU community has a role to play in ensuring there is no conflict between YSUPD and black male students by treating people the way you want to be treated.”
John Beshara, YSU’s chief of police, agreed that if racial profiling occurred on campus, it was not frequent.
“Is there racial profiling going on here? There could be. I don’t think to any great degree. Youngstown, again, is a very diverse society — culturally diverse. I think we are stronger for that,” he said. “You go to a place that doesn’t have that great degree of diversity, it is probably a lot harder there.”
Beshara said the YSU Police Department celebrates diversity and ensured that the department does not tolerate profiling.
“Education and training are the two most powerful tools in preventing racial profiling,” he said.
Student opinions on the impact racial profiling has had on the YSU community differ throughout campus.
Alex Santino, a black male student at YSU, said that he has not been racially profiled by any police officer on YSU campus.
“They pretty much treat everyone equally,” he said.
Devin Staaf, a black male freshman on campus, said he has felt uncomfortable around YSUPD.
“I was sitting upstairs right next to the bathroom, this cop walked past and death stared me as he was walking by,” he said. “It was just an uncomfortable feeling.”
Beshara explained that if a student happens to experience racial profiling on campus, the student should remain respectful and try not to escalate the situation; the instance should then be reported to the YSUPD. Beshara said all complaints are investigated and appropriately addressed.
“Every complaint that is made, we investigate, as far as we can investigate,” he said. “It depends on the incident, as to how we would look at disciplining or training or educating the officer or officers involved.”