In the kind of event that’s becoming all too common, an employee at Smith College in Massachusetts called the police on a black student who was sitting in a common area eating her lunch.
Oumou Kanoute is a residential adviser and teaching assistant at Smith. She was eating her lunch in a common area when she was approached by police, who said they received a call from an employee saying there was a “suspicious black male” who “seemed out of place.”
But, of course, when campus police responded, they “found nothing suspicious about the student’s presence.”
Posted by Oumou Kanoute on Tuesday, July 31, 2018
And in Kanoute’s video, posted to Instagram and Facebook, she says the police officers actually apologized to her for having been called out. Kanoute was understandably emotional when recalling the incident, being asked “why are you here” on her own college campus.
While Smith College is somewhat racially diverse compared to the national average, black people still make up an overwhelming minority. The campus is about 5% black compared to 45% white. As we’ve seen over and over, just being black in a traditional white space is enough to get you approached by armed police officers.
In her Facebook post, Kanoute wrote: “I did nothing wrong, I wasn’t making any noise or bothering anyone. All I did was be black.” Smith College has given a detailed response to the incident, including messages from the school president and Institutional Equity Officer, and information about how campus officers are trained.
College president Kathleen McCartney apologized to Kanoute and acknowledged that the school still has work to do to eliminate racial bias. She also included a Google Form where members of the Smith community can offer their own ideas for how to achieve this goal.
This statement goes farther than others have in recent incidents. Though Smith College does say that their policy prevents them from releasing the identity of the person who made the call to campus police. They may take punitive action against that employee, however, pending an investigation.
But Kanoute says that’s not good enough, and that she wants to know who called the police on her. Many of her supporters online agree. They want the identity of the caller released, and for that person to be fired from Smith College.
What makes these incidents especially infuriating is that, so often, the police-callers don’t even talk to the person first.
Whoever called the cops probably didn’t even get within 10 yards of Kanoute – because they gave a report of a suspicious black man. In fact, WBZ reporter Christina Hager, who covered this story, shared additional footage that had to be cut from their broadcast, where Kanoute addresses this very issue.
As difficult as it appears to have been for Kanoute to speak out, her words have struck a chord around the country, and prominent figures are speaking out online.
Absolutely furious about what happened to Ms. Kanoute—and honestly sick of the racist behavior of people threatened by black people just existing. This is a good opportunity for @smithcollege to help make real change. https://t.co/q2IIIIyqd9
— Soledad O'Brien (@soledadobrien) August 2, 2018
Add “eating lunch” to:
-Sleeping on campus couch
– Waiting at Starbucks
-Swimming in community pool
-Wearing socks at the pool
– Going into your own big, fancy house
-Shopping with coupons
To the list of things that you run a risk doing, while black. https://t.co/jlqS2UkBjG
— Ana Navarro-Cárdenas (@ananavarro) August 3, 2018
What do you guys think? Should Smith College release the identity of the person who called the police? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter at @WhatsTrending.