For a while now, I have been wondering if there are others who have noticed a similarity in the University Police Department “crime alerts.” The unmistakable orange color of the crime alert grabs the attention of a student walking by a bulletin board or coming out of an elevator. It grabs their attention just long enough for them to read the cursory and often inconclusive advisory about crimes that have recently occurred on campus.
Over the last three years, I have come to dread these crime alerts. In fact, every time I see one I cringe with disdain. There is usually, at the top of the flier, a brief description of which recent crimes have taken place on campus. The most typical of those crimes listed are: stolen wallets, laptops, credit cards, GWorld cards, checkbooks, etc.
And then as your eye makes its way down the flier, you get to the “description” section. I dread this section.
Without fail, if a description is given at all, it most likely will be “a black male” or “a black female” that is described. Well, I have a major problem with this because, when put into perspective, this just does not add up. Who is committing these crimes on campus? This question is important because if we know who is committing these crimes, we can better protect ourselves.
However, I would argue against the image UPD has created in its crime alerts – that only “black males” and occasionally “black females” are the culprits of most campus crimes. The crime alerts have achieved this through continually and exclusively including those incidents when an African American has been described as an alleged culprit of a crime. This systematic practice by UPD cannot be accurate.
First, where are the blacks on GW’s campus? You might see one or two here and there, but other than that, we are spread pretty thin around campus. African Americans comprise less than 10 percent of the student population here at GW. And there is not one single black person that I know on campus who has attempted to rob or assault myself or anyone else.
Over time I have noticed certain individuals who do not seem to be GW students, but who are frequently on the GW campus – I refer to them as the “regulars.” These are the individuals who sit on the benches outside GW buildings all day long, who may eat a meal in J Street or who commonly walk around asking for cigarettes. Some of these people appear to be without a home and some not. Are they the ones committing these crimes? Could it be the African-American male “regulars”? Of course not; they are regulars. How could you possibly rob someone in an alley and then hang out in J Street? It just does not add up.
Furthermore, UPD never publishes how these crimes are solved. So, although they describe the culprits, they leave us hanging. This is dangerous because it creates an unsubstantiated stereotype.
The crime we should all be alerted to is UPD unjustifiably and disproportionately labeling African Americans the culprits of many GW crimes. Something should be done to stop UPD from continuing this practice or something should be included in the crime alerts, such as the outcomes of solved crimes and the confirmation or non-confirmation of those alleged to be the criminals.
-The writer is a senior majoring in anthropology.