A week ago, Colgate University’s security director put the campus on lockdown after he received a report of an armed black man roaming the premises.
It turned out to be a black student carrying a glue gun for a school art project—and now, administration has put security director Bill Ferguson on leave as they investigate him for racial profiling.
Colgate’s president, Brian Casey, sent a campus-wide email after the lockdown last week, saying it was “important that we understand the role that implicit racial bias had in the initial reporting and responses to the events of last night.”
Casey added that “profiling” led officials to take precautions that “confused and harmed this campus and our students.”
But local law enforcement present at Colgate during the lockdown—as well as national campus security experts—are defending the precautions Ferguson took.
“I’m a black male, and I would know if there was racial bias,” Madison County Sheriff Allen Riley told the Syracuse Post-Standard. “The color of a person’s skin is not something we look into—we just get a call that there is a person with a possible weapon. A person with a gun is a person with a gun—whether that person is red, green, white or of any gender.”
After receiving the report of a possible campus shooter, Colgate sent students an email notification that there was an “emergency situation.” It later sent a follow-up warning of an “active shooter.” The campus was put on four-hour lockdown.
Upon learning what had actually happened, students accused the university of racism.
One senior, Nitika Sachdev, told the Washington Post that the incident paralleled the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot by cops who mistook his toy gun for a real weapon.
“We spent all night on lockdown fearing for our lives because a young black man was doing an art project,” another student wrote on Twitter. “This is racism—this is Colgate.”
And Tolu Emokpae, another black student at Colgate, told the New York Daily News that the incident “shows me that I really cannot simply live.”
But other experts specializing in campus security told the Syracuse Post-Standard that the university’s response was appropriate. They said it followed many of the hallmark precautions put in place after the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007 that left 32 dead.
“Someone running without a shirt in the rain with what appears to be a weapon is not normal,” said Jim White, an Indiana security expert. “Public safety responded and took appropriate action based on the facts provided. … The subject being African-American is incidental.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.