It’s happened again. Another black person had a cop called on them just because of the color of their skin.
The latest incident happened to a student at Smith College, Massachusetts, who is also currently working as a teaching assistant and residential adviser for the summer.
Oumou Kanoute was on a break from her job and was relaxing and eating in the common room when a busybody decided to call the cops on her for no reason. The alleged white college employee had reported her as a “suspicious black male sitting in the common room” who apparently “seemed to be out of place.”
In a video she shared on Facebook, Kanoute said a police officer came into the room and asked her “We were wondering why you were here.”
“I was eating lunch,” Kanoute cordially responded. “I’m working the summer program so I was just relaxing on the couch.”
The cop apologized to her and tried to defend the actions of the white staffer, stating, “From the doorway he didn’t know who it was.”
Kanoute responded, “It’s OK. It’s just like, kind of stuff like this happens way too often, where people just feel, like, threatened.”
The cop quickly resolved nothing was out of the ordinary and left the building. However, Kanoute was left traumatized.
She later wrote in an outraged Facebook post that she was “blown away at the fact that I cannot even sit down and eat lunch peacefully… This person didn't try to bring their concerns forward to me, but instead decided to call the police. I did nothing wrong, I wasn't making any noise or bothering anyone. All I did was be black.”
The young woman said she was — understandably — “nervous, and had a complete meltdown after this incident.”
She has also appealed to her college administration to identify the caller so she can demand an apology from him; however, Smith has refused to do so.
“No student of color should have to explain why they belong at prestigious white institutions,” Kanoute wrote. “I worked my hardest to get into Smith, and I deserve to feel safe on my campus.”
Smith College President Kathleen McCartney apologized to Kanoute and said that “we continue to fall short even as we continue to make progress.”
“This painful incident reminds us of the ongoing legacy of racism and bias in which people of color are targeted while simply going about the business of their daily lives,” she said. “It is a powerful reminder that building an inclusive, diverse and sustainable community is urgent and ongoing work.”
However, since she had refused to disclose the name of Kanoute’s accuser so she can extract a justifiable apology from him, her words hold little water for now.
Interim director of inclusion, diversity and equity, Amy Hunter , said she had reached out to the student and the campus police and human resource were investigating the incident.
“Smith College does not tolerate race- or gender-based discrimination in any form,” she said. “Such behavior can contribute to a climate of fear, hostility and exclusion that has no place in our community.”
Kanoute said Smith College often outsourced their security to the Northampton Police Department over the summer break and said she was shaken to realize a police officer with a lethal weapon with the full authority of the state behind him might have responded to the call.
The altercation is just one out of the long series of similar encounters where black people were forced under unjustified police scrutiny in recent months. These incidents include sitting at a Starbucks, having a barbecue, selling water in one’s own property, playing with chalk, swimming in one’s own pool and smoking a cigarette.
These encounters have a potential of getting people of color arrested over absolutely no reason except baseless racism. Once a person gets an arrest record, it can haunt them for the rest of their lives, when it comes to social, academic or professional career, not to mention the prospect of the loss of freedom. Even if an arrest doesn’t happen, the encounter itself can scar a person for life.
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