Friday, September 11, 2009

* YALE BEATS HARVARD (AGAIN) : Racial Profiling at Yale, Twenty-nine years before Henry Louis Gates at Harvard


26 May 80
A. Bartlett Giamatti
Yale University

Dear President Giamatti:

I am deeply disturbed by an incident I witnessed on my graduation night, May 25, at approximately 9:20 PM, on the steps of Hendrie Hall-----an incident which brings shame on Yale University and portends ominously for race relations between town and gown.
As I was walking by Hendrie Hall I noticed three white policemen, from Yale surrounding a young black male (perhaps 25 years old). The youth was handcuffed with hands behind his back and he was facing a wall of the building. I inquired of the policemen what was going on, and, when they refused to tell me, I inquired directly of the young man, “What are you accused of by these men?”

He replied that he had been lying or sitting on the front steps of Hendrie Hall. “Is that all?” I prodded. He turned his head toward me and replied, “Yes” with tears streaming down his face.

I asked him his name (Mr. S._______) and told him I would do something about it.

I returned to my apartment and immediately called Dean Leander Keck [Divinity School] and Professor Henri Nouwen [Divinity School], described the incident, and asked them to phone the campus police department and express their concern. I told them that as a lifelong resident of New Haven I felt that this was yet another example of Yale’s hostility toward townspersons; and, that it more certainly was an incident of blatant racist harassment on the part of three white campus policemen. For, had a young white male or a stumble-bum been doing the same thing on Hendrie Hall’s steps, he most certainly would have not been handcuffed and arrested. Or, even if an intoxicated Yale undergraduate had passed out on the front steps of Hendrie Hall and been mouthy to police who prodded him awake, the magic of the I.D. card would have insured that he would have been treated with the kid gloves Yale reserves for its own

Mr. S _____ had the misfortune to be neither white nor Old Blue. And his treatment by Yale police reflected that fact.

Dean Keck and Professor Nouwen were able to determine that Mr. S _____ was sent to city jail, charged with trespassing, and released.

I think Yale needs to evaluate the morality of this official behavior. Is lying on the front steps of Hendrie Hall such a heinous and threatening crime that three policemen from Yale need to handcuff a frightened black youth and reduce him to tears? Is one’s need to lie down --- for whatever reason ---a crime?
Does Yale wish to disrupt a young man’s life by requiring him to appear in court and perhaps earn a police record simply because he had the misfortune to sack-out on the property of precious Yale University?

I think decency and humaneness require that your office intercede in this matter to ensure that this young man’s life and sensibilities are not further scarred by this official behavior by Yale University which I can only interpret as institutional racism.

But in a larger sense, I wish to know if my alma mater is so obtuse that it does not recognize that such police behavior contributes to a potential latent-dynamite scenario similar to that which exploded in Miami’s race riots two weeks ago?

I would like to work quietly, behind the scenes with your office to create a town/gown committee composed of black and white clergy from the Divinity School and New Haven to monitor Yale University Police Department’s arrests of non-campus persons. I believe such a watchdog committee could nip in the bud potentially explosive situations by creating an environment in which the campus police would feel themselves held more accountable for their behavior than they now are.

I would hope that you know me well enough by now to realize that I am willing to work WITH Yale in this matter. But if Yale ignores my concern and pooh-poohs what I consider to be a potentially grave situation, you do know me well enough to know that I will bring this matter to the attention of those who will take it seriously.


Paul Keane
Class of 1980
Yale Divinity School

Roland H. Bainton, Professor Emeritus, YDS [Yale Divinity School]
Leander Keck, Dean, YDS
Harry Adams, Associate Dean, YDS
Henri Nouwen, Professor, YDS
Gene Outka, Professor, YDS
Charles Brown, Professor, YDS
J_____R_____, witness to the incident

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