A white mom’s perspective: @Yale’s Report on the January 24 incident

Yale University released, today, its “Ad-Hoc Institutional Advisory Panel’s Review of the Yale Police Department’s Report of the Incident on January 24, 2015.”

This document with a ludicrously long title is fifteen pages long and provides a heavily redacted overview (it’s not an NSA black ops report) of the incident we all know involved an African American Yale police officer drawing a gun on New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow’s son.

To recap in brief… Young Blow was exiting the Yale library when campus police were in the area looking for a burglar. Blow was stopped and, by all accounts, complied with all that he was asked. The officer still saw fit to draw a weapon.

Yale commissioned an inquiry because of the publicity the incident garnered. The report, rather punctiliously, first certifies the accuracy and adherence of Yale PD to its own investigation and reporting procedures, after sanctioning the accuracy of the PD’s report. Then, the commission launches into its recommendations.

1. Inclusion in the definition of use of force, “intentionally pointing a weapon at or in the direction of a person.”

– Note: The word person, rather than suspect is used here.

2. Refinement of what constitutes holding a gun at “low-ready,” and using “use of force” when describing the use of this tactic.

– Note: the discussion here is on the finer points of holding a gun at “low-ready.” No judgment is made as to whether or not there was any justification for this use of force in this case, though it is mentioned that the officer may, in general, use this tactic as a precautionary, preemptory measure when there is concern for the officer’s safety. Again, no mention is made whether anything in young Mr. Blow’s behavior warranted such a preemptory or precautionary measure.

3. Recommendation to use body cameras.

4. Recommendation that Yale University emphasize its commitment to providing a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment, with recommendations for the university president to send out an email, the convening of panels to discuss race, prejudice, and policing, facilitating a dialogue, and creating a channel for concerned parents and students to express their concerns.

End of recommendations.

As someone who’s been following this story from the day Charles Blow tweeted about it, I am left feeling as if there is no admission that anything was done improperly. No one, not the school, its police department, or the commission, has clarified for us what their stance is on this instance of use of force. Was it justified in the eyes of the university? Does the police chief feel it was the right thing to do? Does the commission feel the use of force was warranted and appropriate? Once such an event happens, how are students reassured they will not be subjected to such treatment?

Those are the issues Charles Blow raised in his op-ed, the very same ones any parent, regardless of ethnicity, would want answers to, were it their child who underwent the same treatment as young Mr. Blow.

Missing from the report are any recommendations to train Yale police in martial arts techniques as options to be used prior to considering unholstering a weapon. Missing from the report are any recommendations on further refining the guidelines for when it is appropriate to unholster a gun. Yale University should not be using the same guidelines for policing inside its campus, as, say, a crime-ridden inner city ward. As a parent, I would want some assurance that this type of event will not be repeated, and certainly not as a part of the pursuit of a burglary suspect. The issue of proportionality doesn’t make an appearance in this report.

Had the robbery suspect been reported to have been armed, for example, I would not be arguing that the use of force in this case was excessive. But no such report was made, and the officer did unholster his gun and held it at “low-ready.” The report doesn’t even attempt to explain the officer’s reasoning and justification for this action, or its context and timing.

As a parent, I feel an explanation is still owed, along with a promise that such policing tactics are understood to be inappropriate in any campus setting. This type of over aggressive behavior runs counter to the mentality, atmosphere, and community guidelines expected at an institution of higher learning. It should be assumed by officers that any young person on campus is a student, first.

While, on appearance, this report may seem useful since it offers some practical changes, it really does nothing more than sanction an undesirable behavior inside an institution whose influence on our society extends to public policy across our nation.

To say that I am very disappointed would be an understatement.

To read the Yale report in its entirety, click here.

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