Even in the Ivy League, Black Men Are Still Subject to Racial Profiling

‘New York Times’ columnist Charles M. Blow alleges that his son was accosted at gunpoint by Yale University’s campus police.
In New Haven, Connecticut, police catalog guns. (Reuters/Michelle McLoughlin)
Jan 26, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Earlier this month, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow tackled the complexities of police interaction in a lengthy op-ed pegged to a Montana police officer's fatal shooting of an unarmed methamphetamine user.

The African American writer cited the incident as just one example of how complicated police interaction can be and the types of questions it raises. Among them: "If part of your job is to patrol 'high crime' areas, are you predisposed to lump in some noncriminals with the actual criminals in those areas?"

That question proved all too relevant on Saturday, when Blow's son, a junior at Yale University, was reportedly accosted at gunpoint by an officer on campus because he fit the description of a suspect, according to a tweet by the columnist.

Despite its U.S. News & World Report ranking as the third-best university in the country, Yale is in a "high crime" area—New Haven, Connecticut, is one of the country's 25 most dangerous cities—owing largely to rising gang violence.

Still, Blow's tweets suggest that his son Tahj's encounter with Yale police had nothing to do with gang violence in the city. Instead, he suggests that his son, a third-year biology major who was leaving the library at the time, was targeted by police because of his skin color.

"He's shaken, but I'm fuming!" he tweeted, using hashtags that reference Eric Garner, the unarmed black man who died at the hands of New York City officers in July.

A Yale university spokesperson confirmed to the New Haven Register that a student whose behavior and appearance matched the description of a suspect—"a tall, African American, college-aged student"—was briefly detained but did not identify the student by name.

The spokesperson said that an internal review of the incident will be conducted by the chief's office of the Yale Police Department. The actual suspect was arrested that night in the university's Berkeley College and is reportedly facing charges of felony burglary.

Of the eight Ivy League universities, only Yale has a student population that is more than 50 percent white, according to National Journal. Black students account for 8 percent of the total enrollment, compared with 62 percent white, 17 percent Asian, and 8 percent Hispanic.

The campaign "I, Too, Am Harvard" was launched in the spring by black students who wanted to ensure that their voices were heard at the predominantly white Ivy League school. Last fall marked the university's highest percentage of accepted black students to date: 12 percent.

Blow's tweets suggest that despite advancements in Ivy League diversity, not enough has changed in terms of racial biases on some campuses.

"Recent events reinforce what many have been saying for years: Have a convo [with] your children [about] what to do when interacting with authorities," Blow, the author of the 2014 memoir Fire Shut Up in My Bones, tweeted on Saturday.

Blow's Jan. 24 op-ed proved prescient. "In the end, this is again about fears, what informs and activates fears, the actions police officers take—reasonable or not—in response to those fears, and whether jurors generally find the officers' fears justified."