Arrests prompt racial concerns

A citation for a minor offense escalated into situation in which two students were arrested and one of them ran from campus police, highlighting what some see as a fundamental misunderstanding between law enforcement officers and minorities.

Two Department of Public Safety officers apprehended freshman LaQuita Monroe, an African-American, after they saw her outside Norse Commons Oct. 14 with one of the dining hall’s plastic cups.

Jerry Payne, also an African-American freshman and an acquaintance of Monroe’s, attempted to intervene on her behalf and was arrested, according to the incident report, for failing to step back at Officer Ken Honchell’s repeated requests.

Payne, who could not be reached for comment, ran from the scene before he was placed under arrest for interfering with police and disorderly conduct, but he was later apprehended in his room in Kentucky Hall and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Sodexo, the company that provides dining hall services for the university, has asked DPS to step up its efforts to prevent students from taking dishware from their facilities, according to Jeff Butler, chief of DPS.

Matt Brown, director of residential life at Northern Kentucky University, said, “every year dining services experiences significant losses…that’s a common problem.”

Since Payne and Monroe were both charged with misdemeanors and this was the first offense for each, both were eligible and opted for diversion, which allows defendants and their attorneys the option of having the case heard outside of the court.

Monroe received five hours community service and must write a two-page essay on what she learned from the incident. Payne will receive Nov. 17 eight hours community service and must write a two-page essay explaining why he chose to run from officers.

“Diversion offers a perfect opportunity for a second chance,” said Sarah Sidebottom, NKU vice president of legal affairs and general counsel for legal services.

Monroe claimed she initially cooperated with the Officers Honchell and Rob Yelton, both of whom are white, but said she felt threatened by being approached by officers of a different race.

Jeff Butler, chief of DPS, said the incident report showed that the officers intended only to ask Monroe to return the cup, and she panicked.

“She initially refused to stop and talk to the officer about it,” Butler said, “and the officer detained her. She just fell apart.”

Monroe said she became upset after Yelton grabbed her wrist to prevent her from leaving the scene and, according to the incident report, she began “screaming and becoming combative.”

Second-year freshman Adam Marshall said he was sleeping in his Norse Hall dorm room when he was awoken by a woman’s screams outside.

“I looked and saw a girl being held by the arm by an officer and she was flipping out,” Marshall said, adding that he believed Monroe overreacted.

Monroe said she didn’t realize taking the cup to class was in violation of the posted policy, but she said her reaction was spurred by emotion.

“When (officers are) coming towards me, you’re scaring me,” Monroe said, “and when you’re grabbing me, you’re gonna scare me. So you’re gonna trigger off some emotion – some alarm is gonna go off in my body.”

Michael Washington, history professor and director of Northern Kentucky University’s African-American studies department, said that Monroe’s response is not unusual.

“Phobia of police is very, very, very common in the African-American community,” Washington said. “The general perception of African-Americans in the United States is that police does not serve and protect them.”

Butler said he sees the incident as indicative of societal problems. “The perception that this young lady brought forward in saying that being stopped by two officers of a different race created a problem for her is a real perception that she has,” Butler said. “I don’t doubt her veracity in that regard, but at the same time, it is a terrible indictment of the society we live in.”

Dr. Mark Shanley, vice president for student affairs, said that as the university succeeds in its effort to attract a more diverse student population, administrators must address this perception by African-American students.

“We’re experiencing a larger critical mass of students of color and that probably introduces new dynamics into the campus,” he said. “I think we learn that those perceptions are there and then we’ll have to formulate ways to address those concerns.”

Monroe said she didn’t go into the incident believing that the officers were racist toward her, but after the officer grabbed her, she said the thought entered her mind.

“When students come up here, come from different places, or even African-American students,” Monroe said, “we come and we run into things like this, we see stuff like this on TV…blacks getting beat up by police officers, so we already have a certain…I don’t know how to say it. They just need more training.”

Brandon Hill, a Student Government Association senator and vice president of Students Together Against Racism (STAR), believes such problems of perception should be addressed with anti-racist training, as opposed to general diversity training and should include both officers and communtiy members.

Programs such as STAR’s undoing racism workshop, planned for next semester, that deal specifically with the way groups such as African-Americans, Latinos and Appalachian people perceive police could go a long way toward improving societal relationships, Hill said.