The members of Arizona Critical Ethnic Studies are deeply concerned by a recent incident involving an Arizona State University (ASU) police officer and an ASU faculty member. We call for a swift and thorough investigation into this matter.
On the evening of May 21, 2014, Dr. Ersula Ore, a professor in the English department at ASU, was walking home from campus after teaching a summer course. Dr. Ore, who is African American, was stopped and questioned by a male ASU police officer patrolling the area in his vehicle. After a short exchange with the officer, a brief physical altercation ensued in which Dr. Ore, who was wearing a dress, was forced up against the officer’s car and then onto the ground, fully exposing portions of her lower body to the public. Eyewitness accounts of the incident, including video evidence, support Dr. Ore’s assertion that the officer did not clearly inform her regarding why she was being stopped or inform her of her rights, and engaged in excessive force during her detention. Despite these questionable circumstances, however, Dr. Ore has subsequently been charged with felony aggravated assault on the officer, among other charges.
We are troubled by the responses of the media, University, and ASU Police Department about this incident. Media versions have presented a sensationalized, one-sided story that differs substantially from Dr. Ore’s and eyewitness accounts. Officials at ASU, in response to questions about the incident and possible racial profiling, have sought to distance the University, stating that 1) because the incident occurred on a public street between parts of campus, it was technically “off campus,” so Dr. Ore was a private citizen; and 2) although they will comply with any investigation, there is no evidence of racial profiling. We find these responses insufficient. First, the officer involved was an ASU police officer and the University is responsible for the conduct of its employees, including its police force. Second, whether as a private citizen or as a member of the ASU community, Dr. Ore has the right to expect dignified and humane treatment by ASU’s police officers. ASU, as a public institution, has a responsibility to ensure this occurs. Third, ASU has not undertaken a thorough investigation into the matter, so how can officials claim that there is an absence of racial profiling? In a state and metropolitan region in which racial profiling has been proven to be widespread, the ASU administration’s lack of concern for the well-being of an ASU community member of color is unacceptable.
Given that the mission of the ASU Police Department is, “To enhance the quality of life by providing a safe and secure environment through professional and proactive law enforcement services in partnership with the University community,” this incident clearly warrants further inquiry from ASU. We ask the ASU administration to conduct a comprehensive investigation into this matter as well as an audit on the conduct of its police force vis-à-vis racial profiling. How can ASU ensure a safe, secure, and just environment for its faculty, students, and staff if it disclaims any responsibility for the actions of ASU police officers? The following questions should be starting points for its audit: In the ASU Police Department, what training is in place to ensure that its police officers are knowledgeable and well-trained to be in compliance with laws prohibiting racial profiling and excessive force? What monitoring systems exist to ensure accountability? How does the department respond to racial profiling complaints?
Dr. Ore, the ASU community, and the broader public deserve a full and just investigation into this incident.
Arizona Critical Ethnic Studies is a network of college and university educators and independent scholars throughout Arizona.
No black person is ever safe.
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