While a Florida jury’s decision has the nation in an uproar, racial profiling continues to be an issue at Purdue.
Last spring, attention was drawn to racism at Purdue when the words “White Supremacy” were written in the Black Cultural Center. The event caused a group of students to march to Hovde Hall, demanding that Purdue’s administration combat racism on campus. The words were later determined to be part of a class activity, rather than an intentional racist message.
Racial prejudice is again a hot topic in the wake of the verdict of the George Zimmerman trial. The jury found the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer not guilty of second-degree murder. Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, was accused of killing 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman did not deny that he killed Martin, but instead said he acted in self-defense.
The case was further complicated by Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which Joshua Dressler, a professor at the Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law, told the Wall Street Journal had an important impact on the case.
“The statute itself places the burden of persuasion regarding self-defense on the prosecutor to prove that the defendant did not act in self-defense,” Dressler said. “In the past, in most states, if a defendant claimed self-defense, it was up to the defendant to prove he did act in self-defense.”
While the ruling legally acquitted Zimmerman of murder, the Department of Justice could still pursue legal action against him via a civil rights case, which could result in jail time. Whether they will or not remains to be seen.
Critics of the jury’s decision have erupted in protests across the country, insisting that Martin’s death was a result of racial profiling. Tyrell Connor, the outgoing president of the Black Graduate Association and member of the Purdue Anti-Racism Coalition, said racial profiling still exists, even in the Greater Lafayette area. Connor, who is from New Jersey, said he has experienced more profiling since he has been at Purdue than where he grew up.
This included a time when he was pulled over by the police with his friends for looking suspicious.
“I asked (the officer) why he pulled me and over and he said the reason was, I had friends in the car and ... he said ‘you guys looked back’ and pretty much that we just looked suspicious,” Connor said.
The officer then became suspicious that Connor’s car was stolen. As a student, Connor has a New Jersey license, but his car has Indiana plates. Fortunately, the officer was able to verify Connor’s information, who was then able to go.
Racism is also an issue at Purdue regarding other minorities. Connor said he has seen many students stereotyping Asian students, and has seen Twitter accounts dedicated to mocking them.
These issues have led to protests across the country and some have turned to violent protests. The Los Angeles Times reported protests in Oakland, Calif., and Los Angeles that became riots; people began smashing windows, lighting garbage fires and attacking news crews. Nine were arrested in Oakland, Calif., and 14 were arrested in Los Angeles.
Richard Hogan, an associate professor in sociology and American studies who specializes in social movements, said people are driven to violent protests because peaceful protests are sometimes unfruitful.
“It is not clear that revolutionary change is possible through nonviolence,” Hogan said. “If there is no organized opposition to racial profiling ... they will continue to use this tactic.”
Connor testified to this, saying some are tired of protesting peacefully. He said he does not agree with the tactics of violent protesters, but there is part of him that asks “how many times” they must protest peacefully before something is done.
As an alternative at Purdue, he suggests educating students on different cultures and races.
“You will never be able to walk in their shoes, but you understand where they come from,” Connor said.
He gave the example of how students may see a black individual in a hoodie (referring to Martin, who was wearing a hoodie the night he died), and that if the students have interacted with other black students who dress like that, they will not assume that person is a criminal. That, he hopes, will bring Purdue closer to an environment where people respect each other's differences.