I am writing this message with a certain amount of umbrage, anxiety, and disbelief. At approximately 8pm on 5/28/10, I was approached by two campus police officers (officer Jeanne M. Parsons and officer Michael T. Reinke) while I was sitting in Toppers Pizzeria. I was “asked” to furnish identification; when I inquired why this was necessary, I was told that I wasn’t privy to that information.
Fortunately, I received my faculty identification on Thursday before the break, and so I handed this to the officers. As if the identification itself was not enough to allay their concern, Officer Michael T. Reinke proceeded to inspect the identification, holding it to the light (I do not believe this was because he had problems with his sight), authenticating it with his “vision.” After a minute of this absurd inspection, he demanded to know the name of the building in which I taught.
I could not remember the name of the building in that instant, anxiety began to seize me, and so I told him my department–Africology. I inquired again why I was asked to present identification and he told me that I “fit a description.” Of course, I asked what that description was and, again, I was told that I wasn’t privy to that information.
Officer Michael T. Reinke then handed me my identification with disdain. I asked for their information and I was handed two business cards. They exited the restaurant, without an apology or a modicum of concern that I was publicly humiliated. As officer Michael T. Reinke walked away he stared at me until he was out of my vision–I know that look very well, and it usually precedes physical violence.
I called campus police to make a complaint and apparently the two attendants at the Kenilworth front desk called the police when I walked next door to get some food. I fit the description of someone named “Brandon,” who, I am told, looks very much like me because “both of us have goatees.”
After the look I received from officer Michael T. Reinke, not to mention the utter disrespect and humiliation I experienced, I am not feeling safe at all. It is 10:46pm and I will not leave Kenilworth because I do not know if I will be harassed by police officers or if anyone else will call the police when I leave the dorm. I can accept the academic pressures of syllabus development and classroom teaching, but I can not deal with terror–if I did not have my identification in my pocket when I left the dorm, I do not know what that officer would have done. More importantly, I do not know my rights on campus.
Does the campus police have the right to stop me and search me? Can I refuse? Can I be detained? These are not questions, or concerns, that I have the strength or energy to pontificate. I received no information about campus policy, protocol, etc.
I feel like I have been invited into a perilous context and I am completely ignorant of my rights. This is terrifying; I do not want to leave my room. I have to move out of Kenilworth into Sandburg Hall and I do not feel comfortable at all. I don’t know if the staff at the main desk called the police on me out of malice, or if someone really does exist in the world with “an identical goatee” (which would make 60% of the male population in this country potential suspects).
I have never been so humiliated in a public place. The disregard of the police officers, and the look of animosity I received from officer Michael T. Reinke as he walked away, indicate that this is a campus hostile to people of color. I didn’t even receive an apology from the officers when they realized I was a faculty member. I left two hysterical and frantic phone messages with Michael Powell and Joyce Kirk because I felt concerned about my physical safety.
Officer Michael T. Reinke knows my name, where I am sleeping, and my department. This may sound somewhat “overly-dramatic” to you, but I am in a city in which I don’t know anyone, and I don’t have any idea of what my rights are as a faculty member. After this experience, I would discourage anyone I know from applying for this fellowship. No one should have to endure this type of humiliation and anxiety before having to teach a course. I can tolerate a certain amount of “racial intolerance”, but when I have to worry about my physical safety, it becomes unmanageable.
I know this e-mail message is rather long, but right now, I regret the decision to accept this offer. I will teach my class, but I will not have pleasant memories. This experience has left an indelible mark on my psyche; I have never been harassed like this.
Calvin L. Warren
Calvin Warren (American Studies) graduated from Cornell University magna cum laude with a degree in Rhetoric. His research is located at the intersection of Lacanian psychoanalysis, deconstruction, semiotics, and African American philosophical thought. His dissertation, entitled, “The Absent Center of Political Ontology: Antebellum Free Blacks and Political Nothingness,” is preoccupied with understanding how culture produces, regulates, and eliminates its waste when the waste in question is a human being. The project theorizes the limits of political ontology as a peculiar aporia. Antebellum Free Blacks provide the historiographical framework for this philosophical exploration. He is the recipient of several awards and fellowships including: the Ford Foundation Pre-doctoral Diversity Fellowship, the Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, and the Mellon Mays Dissertation Fellowship. He has also received psychoanalytic training at the Interdisciplinaire Freudien de Recherches et d’Interventions Clinques et Cultures (GIFRIC).