I woke up painfully yesterday, fazed about the upcoming DELF exam, to the brisk vibration of my phone – surprisingly, it was a notification from Colgate. What could they possibly need this time?
The words ‘armed man’ sent me into a frantic state of panic.
Never in my life in South Korea (or Canada) have I seen a real firearm. The legality of firearms in the United States has worried me to some extent, but that alert raised a lot of questions for me. How could campus security let this slide? What could have been the perpetrator’s motive? Has he been captured by security yet? How could he have possibly obtained a firearm in the first place, considering New York State’s firearm laws are one of the strictest in the United States?
Then it happened. No attacker, no firearms involved, no (physical) victims. Turned out the ‘perpetrator’ was a harmless African-American student, having only in his possession a glue gun for finishing his art project for his ‘The American School’ class. All-clear?
My relief, for there were no deaths, injuries nor any guns involved, however, quickly turned into indignation.
Aren’t we seeing an evident pattern here in this 21st century – African-Americans wrongfully accused (and convicted) of a violent crime they had no participation in? Consider Marvin Anderson, then 18 years of age, who was wrongfully, without any empirical evidence, accused of rape, robbery, sodomy AND abduction, then sentenced to a whopping 2 centuries in prison, only for the criminal justice system to exonerate him, 15 years later (imagine what you could achieve in that time period), on account of a simple DNA test. Wonder what the prosecutors were doing for 15 years. Let’s also not forget the senseless killing of Tamir Rice, aged 12, who was shot to death by a Cleveland police officer, who allegedly ‘assumed’ his toy gun was a real Colt pistol. Not excluding the countless amounts of police brutality towards African-Americans in general (the earliest personal account of these events was the infamous 2013 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO) as well. “To Protect and Serve?”
I would refrain from pinpointing these incidents to a single cause, however – institutional flaws do exist in America’s police forces (as such with the Tamir Rice case). But then again, there was no reason for that Cleveland police officer to shoot that poor, innocent kid in a mere 2 seconds. No questions asked? And please, let’s not kid ourselves, racial bias, both explicit and implicit, has had a definite role in all of these cases.
A quote from Sweet Johnson (from the game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – anyone play that game?) comes to mind:
“Everybody blasts on fools first, then asks questions second.”
Consider the data from the National Registry of Exonerations. Mere coincidence that while only 13.3% (October 2016 Census) of Americans are black, nearly half (about 47% based on data from 1989 to October 2016) were wrongfully convicted and exonerated by the ‘justice’ system? What about the fact that blacks take more time in average to get exonerated for wrongfully convicted crimes than white people?
I have digressed a little. However my point still remains; racial profiling and implicit/explicit racism, no matter what anyone would tell you, remains a veritable cause of the unfortunate set of circumstances that happened yesterday at Colgate. An African-American student had become, amazingly, a target of a completely unfounded accusation (somehow a glue gun resembles a Glock pistol?) that sent the whole university in a 4-hour lockdown, sent every student and faculty there in a state of panic – not to mention that the administration actually felt the need to sent New York State Police, the FBI AND a damn SWAT Team, all at the same time. He basically had his life threatened, without knowing that he was actually the wrongfully accused.
All this because he had a glue gun in his hand for his art project. Tell me, can we really call this ‘following protocol?’
What an ugly world we live in. During my 14 years in Korea, I have encountered numerous cases of racism, especially in Seoul and its suburbs, especially against African-Americans and South East Asians. (shocking that we Koreans still discriminate people based on their skin color. So ashamed). I remember very clearly the day when an African-American man, probably about 6 feet in height (not exact, but he was nevertheless much taller than me), sat between two women on the subway, and the women on both his sides did not hesitate to promptly leave the vicinity, while shamelessly uttering derogatory statements, without having the gall to face the man. I’ve witnessed multiple cases like this happen to South East Asians too, especially Filipinos and Indonesians. That was only a year ago. However disgusting these occurrences are, let’s not forget that South Korea is 96% Korean, and the concept of multiculturalism and diversity is still not (sadly) entirely welcomed yet.
But we are talking about America. I was so enthralled, as soon as I got my acceptance letter from Colgate, by the prospects of not just learning computer science, but also embracing American values such as the embodiment of different traditions, religions, cultures and lifestyles. America is supposed to be the true ‘melting pot’, a nation of immigrants who stand by values of tolerance, acceptance, understanding, and above all, compassion. A prestigious liberal arts college like Colgate University should embrace these values and make a welcoming studying environment for students of all ethnicities.
What a betrayal of these ideals yesterday’s fiasco was. It’s just beyond words.
I have witnessed too much of these disgraceful events to stay silent. And I deeply regret that I never took any action as I saw that African-American get discriminated in that Line 2 Seoul Metro. As a conscious future Raider, I shall refuse to stay unspoken on these matters. These kind of injustices simply cannot and should not be forgotten.
And it is also we, as a collective group, who must be outspoken about these kinds of issues. And it is only by working together than we can create a truly inclusive society at Colgate – one without false accusations against each other, one where no student shall be discriminated against on account of their race, and one, where all students shall be treated as equals.
(Writing from Korea)
May 3, 2017 – Jinseob Sohn, LE POINT BLEU