Clive McFarlane wrote a column about the case of David Russo. It should be noted that my familiarity with this case consists of reading stuff in the paper and Facebook.
The column compares Russo’s case with that of Trayvon Martin. In many ways, I think it’s closer to the case of Henry Louis Gates Jr. (that is, a person spots another person who doesn’t seem to belong in a neighborhood, the cops are called, and testosterone ensues).
I don’t really have an opinion on whether profiling occurred or not, because there’s not enough evidence one way or the other.
However, there are a few issues here, and I think they’re somewhat conflated in the column:
1. There’s an allegation that a WPD officer told a resident to keep her eyes peeled for young males who were black or Hispanic. While that has some bearing on what happened to David Russo, it’s a separate issue. It’s unclear whether the WPD was specifically asked about this when Chief Gemme responded “the department will not and can not comment about the specifics of this case, for all the reasons you know, but especially because it involves a juvenile.” Either way, I think that specific allegation deserves a followup outside the context of what happened next.
2. In the case of David Russo, a neighbor saw him entering and exiting his house but didn’t recognize that he lived there. While I might not know all my neighbors (by name or sight), I’m not sure I’d call the cops unless someone were entering through a window and exiting with a TV. Regardless, I think it would be pretty stressful if you live in a “very diverse neighborhood with several families of color” and still feel the need to alert your neighbors about the make and model of your Asian friend’s car.
3. When that neighbor called the police, the WPI campus police responded. Unless an incident takes place on campus or involves a student in the college’s immediate environs, I don’t feel comfortable with campus police doing what is the WPD’s job.
So, turning those into questions:
1. Is the WPD going to respond to Susan Puryear’s question? It’s unclear whether the officer said “watch out for kids who don’t seem like they belong in the neighborhood” and the neighbor took it as “non-white kids” or if the officer genuinely made a statement with profiling in mind. While she got it secondhand, it should have been looked into while it was fresh in everyone’s minds.
There’s no reason the WPD can’t answer the original profiling question, because it has nothing to do with a juvenile and everything to do with what a police officer told a resident outside of any particular case.
2. What is the proper forum for that kind of complaint? Because it seems going through the Mayor and City Council is not that forum.
3. Under what circumstances are campus police officers allowed to question and detain those not on their campus and who have no association with their school? This for me is the biggest question of all.
Updated: on the agenda for next Tuesday’s City Council meeting:
REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES Upon the Order of Councilor Konstantina B. Lukes – Request Ethnic & Minority Affairs develop a City policy on racial profiling: recommend adoption of the accompanying Order to Request City Manager request the Police Chief report to City Council the city’s policy on racial profiling.