Monday, January 26, 2015


Yale Library

I would bet that what happened to Charles Blow’s son has been duplicated at every “elite” university in the USA.

I made a bet just like that some years ago at the University of California, Berkeley. A black employee in our department of Microbiology and Immunology went one floor down in the Life Science building to use the public soda vending machine. He was accosted by a campus police officer demanding to know what he was doing in the building. The young man said he was an employee and protested being stopped. He was taken to police headquarters even though other employees had quickly verified his identity, which only served to make the police officer angry and more stubborn to assert his authority.

Faculty in our department got the employee released and strongly protested the incident. Our department Chairperson, however, said it was just an unfortunate matter of miscommunication, not indicative of any pattern of police misconduct.

That’s where the bet came in.

We agreed to poll individually the six or so post-doctoral fellows and graduate students of color in the various biology departments at Berkeley. Every single one reported being stopped more than once, at gunpoint in a couple of cases. Why? Coming to the laboratory after class hours to attend ongoing research experiments. (Our employee was detained during normal working hours.) What could a black person be doing on the campus of an “elite” university?

Our Chairperson was convinced. The Department took the case to the Chancellor, who reprimanded the Police Chief. Chancellor and Chief both apologized to the employee, but as is virtually always the case, the offending police officer was not disciplined.

Can anyone wonder why Charles Blow was “fuming”? He closes his column thus: “…the scars cannot be unmade. My son will always carry the memory of the day he left his college library and an officer trained a gun on him.”

Ask why a new generation is so angry and refuses to take it! What happens at Yale or Berkeley is a small but very meaningful part of the saga unfolded at Ferguson and Staten Island. As Blow says: There is no amount of respectability that can bend a gun’s barrel. All of our boys are bound together.”


  1. Leon, thanks for posting. This just adds more credibility of how pervasive racism is within 21st century American society.

  2. The progress we had thought we made over the last fifty years appears to be only surface, while the problem is bone-deep.

  3. Leon,

    This is very important and very timely. Can you not place it in The Daily Californian or some other suitable place?