Racism and policing

Jeff Mitchell is a former adjunct professor and double alumnus from the University of Nevada, Reno’s Department of Sociology.

The University of Nevada, Reno has a problem with racism and policing. While these two issues may appear separate, they’re intertwined. Just take a look at UNR’s recent press statements. Many concern either embarrassing/unethical behavior on the part of the UNR police, the issue of racism on campus, or both. The following events draw a straight line connecting the two.

Recently, a UNR student was made infamous by his attendance at the white supremacist rally. Swastikas have been painted in campus hallways, and police have been caught on tape joking about shooting a graduate student during a traffic stop. All of this was topped off with embarrassing national news of photographs of a UNR police officer dressed in black face as alumnus Colin Kaepernick with a sign around his neck that reads “Will stand for food.” The university’s response to these blatantly problematic events has been to issue statement after tepid statement begrudgingly admitting that while it officially condemns this behavior it has no concrete plans prevent it from happening in the future. Not surprisingly, the university has reported having heard from the “community … over the past few weeks that they feel unsafe on campus because of our current social and political climate.”

And why should they feel safe? The people charged with protecting them have created a crisis of confidence, and another half-hearted press release is not going to fix things. The university administration and police must take a stand to show that they are actually concerned about these issues, even if they are legally unable to bring disciplinary action against the actors involved. Lucky, UNR has among its alumni a now famous civil rights activist, who specializes in the intersection between racism and policing. That’s right. Say it with me … Colin Kaepernick!

I call on the UNR President Marc Johnson and Director of Police Services Adam Garcia to invite Kaepernick to speak on campus. This should include an invitation for Kap to run one of his “Know Your Rights” camps aimed at raising awareness on higher education, self-empowerment and instructions for interactions with police. It should also include a meeting with Kap and members of the various campus organizations representing the interests of people of color to address their concerns and begin to take lasting steps to make people feel safe. Sponsoring such an event won’t fix all of the issues listed above, but it will be a strong symbolic step in the right direction, one the university needs to take before it develops a reputation for being on the wrong side of history.