Keeping the conversation going

Students are given the chance to express their concerns regarding local law enforcement

Big Rapids Department of Public Safety chief of police Danielle Haynes did not attend the recent Conversation on Supporting Community Policing Relations event hosted by Ferris. Photo by: Cora Hall | Editor in Chief

To keep the dialogue surrounding the Black Lives Matter Movement going at Ferris, Big Rapids Social Equity and the Office of Multicultural Student Services held a virtual event on Wednesday, Oct. 28.

Conversation on Supporting Community Policing Relations with Minority Students of FSU was created to allow students to voice their concerns and feelings regarding local law enforcement.

However, neither the chief of police for the Big Rapids Department of Public Safety (BRDPS), Danielle Haynes or a representative were able to attend. According to Ferris Department of Public Safety Interim Director Gary Green, the event was mainly directed at the Big Rapids Department of Public safety. Green, multiple members of the Ferris administration and the Big Rapids City Council were in attendance and the recording was sent to the BRDPS following the event.

Although BRDPS was unable to attend and directly answer questions or concerns, it didn’t deter students from opening up and sharing how they felt about BRDPS policing. 

“Ferris is recognized as a criminal justice school, and if Ferris is recognized as a criminal justice school, why are we not having talks about this if we know that this is an issue,” said criminal justice senior Leonardo Almanza when talking about the lack of representation of minorities in the classroom.

Almanza is one of the few students of color in the criminal justice program and pointed out how difficult these conversations can be when in a classroom of 30 to one. During his time at Ferris, Almanza pointed out that only one of his professors had briefly covered the subject of minorities within the criminal justice system.

“We are facing these issues as minorities and as minorities, we need to be able to have a voice within this criminal justice system,” Almanza said. “A class needs to be created in order to see the statistics on why minorities are going to prison, why are these minorities being targeted? We have these types of conversation in class but we never truly go into depth on why, they bring out the stats and that it.”

Comments like these are why music management senior Byron Brooks felt that this event needed to happen.

“Minorities are a part of this community and we’re here to stay so it’s about time that we see ourselves reflected in the makeup of the Big Rapids Community,” Brooks said.

Brooks was one of the main organizers of this event along with Darnell Lewis, assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Student Services, and  Dr. Angela Guy-Lee, Social and Behavioral Sciences & Humanities.

The main goal of this event wasn’t just to showcase how students of color didn’t feel safe in the community but to also call out the lack of diversity within BRDPS, which currently has no officers of color and only two female officers. 

Brooks hopes that the BRDPS will take the sentiments of students seriously and take action to improve the department. 

“We need to keep these conversations going, as a matter of fact, they need to never end,” said Dr. David Pilgrim, Vice President for Diversity, Inclusion, and Strategic Initiatives after hearing the feedback and sentiments that students were expressing for not only the city of Big Rapids but also for the university.

Students went on to share how they’ve felt uncomfortable while simply driving around campus and/or Big Rapids, After, they expressed how they felt as if they got pulled over simply for “being Black.”

Students aren’t the only ones to experience discomfort on and off-campus. Staff members such as executive director of the Center for Latin@ Studies Kaylee Moreno-Burke shared a recent experience that left her fearing for her safety.

While in line at Taco Bell an individual began to make threats towards Moreno-Burke’s life and began to harass her by following her around the city because of a sticker of the Mexican flag that was on the back of her car.

Moreno-Burke contacted BRDPS and was told to contact the campus police because she was a staff member of Ferris. Moreno-Burke then proceeded to tell them that she also lived in the community. Eventually, a police officer went to meet her but nothing was done to help her.

“We can’t do anything, it’s not illegal to be a jerk,” was the response given to Moreno-Burke. A police report was filed, but Moreno-Burke wasn’t left feeling reassured.

“This was the most violent experiences I’ve ever had,” Moreno-Burke said. “I didn’t come to work for probably a week because I was nervous coming into town. I kept thinking, would this vehicle find me again? I clearly have Ferris identifiers on my car, am I going to endanger my students if I park on campus.”

One of Green’s main takeaways from the event was that students were looking for a common ground to find ways to have education and interaction between local law enforcement and students.

“I think part of the main thing is the feeling of inequity,” Green said. “Some students feel like in the city or in this area, they’re being targeted because they’re Black and they’re being pulled over for violations that they don’t feel are justified.”

Despite the experiences with BRDPS, Green believes there has always been a positive relationship between Ferris DPS and students.

“This is a norm for us. The way we operate here has always been equal,” Green said. “I’ve been a lot of places and this place runs with the idea that everyone is on equal playing ground. It doesn’t matter race, socioeconomic background, it doesn’t matter country of origin.”

When students come in as freshman, they may have a  different idea of what police enforcement is, according to Green.

“I’ve been places working in the inner city where the police have been heavy-handed and it put a wall between the public and the police,” Green said. “I’ve seen that, and I don’t see that here. I see it more in urban, inner-city policing because I’ve done both.

During the remainder of the conversation, some expressed concern that after the presidential election, regardless of who wins, instances similar to Moreno-Burke’s may occur, and also asked how the diversity within the BRDPS and Ferris DPS could increase.

The event ended off with a call to action from the Big Rapids Social Equity for the BRDPS. This call was asking BRDPS to work with Big Rapids Social Equity and Ferris to create a five-year action plan to address how they can on strengthening diversity and also implementing more community policing initiatives.

Big Rapids Social Equity is awaiting a response from BRDPS. The Big Rapids Social Equity would like the BRDPS to accept their call to action, creating a safer environment not only for students but as well for the community as a whole.