Students Protest Police Tactics, Racial Tension on Campus

COLLEGE PARK, Md.

On the 50th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a bus, University of Maryland students protested what they called racial injustice by campus police.

The College Park campus has been embroiled in a debate about race, equality and integration since a party on Nov. 13, when the UMd. Department of Public Safety responded to a noise complaint about a party of about 100 people, most of them Black, at the New Leonardtown apartments.

Campus police arrested two UMd. students, both 19, and a 23-year-old man who is not a student. The charges included assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, and two officers were treated for minor injuries, said Maj. Cathy Atwell, a campus police spokeswoman.

Some students, however, said police waved nightsticks, squirted pepper spray on students and showed their guns.

“They were pulling out their pistols, and the two young men (the arrested students) were peaceful,” said sophomore Chris Graham-Egbo, a Black student who said the incident was a sign of a major problem on campus.

Last week, a few dozen students marched across the campus — demanding an apology from police, an investigation and a pledge to end police brutality and racial profiling. They also insisted that all charges be dropped.

Atwell said Police Chief Kenneth W. Krouse had seen the list of demands and had contacted one of the students to set up a time to talk about the issues.

Many of the protesters said they had a larger purpose: to call attention to racial tensions just below the surface at the university.

“Personally, I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the police,” said Greg Oberson, 26, a White graduate student. “It was probably a pretty chaotic situation.”

But he agreed that the campus tends to split into racial groups. He said sees it in his engineering program, where he doesn’t usually hang out with the Asian students but with other Whites.

“People do tend to stay with their own type or race” at UMd., said Andrew Kurland, a White junior. “They sit with the people they identify with.”

Brandon Dula, the university’s assistant director for multicultural involvement, said officials are planning a discussion this week about diversity and cross-cultural interaction on campus.

Krouse wrote a letter to the Diamondback, the campus newspaper, asking people not to judge the department by a single incident. He said police want to “embrace the diversity that encompasses our campus community,” pointing out that the department helped to design a response to hate and bias incidents and has increased minority participation in hiring.

Atwell said an internal investigation of the Nov. 13 arrests is underway, as is routine after any incident in which officers use force.

Protest organizer Daniel Lewkowicz, a White sophomore, said that he is troubled by what seemed like excessive force by police and segregation on campus. He said he hopes changes are made before the semester ends.

“When things get calm again, people get complacent,” Lewkowicz said.

— Associated Press



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