If you've heard a lot of stories lately about white people calling the police to interrogate people of color for seeming "suspicious," it's not because it's suddenly happening a lot. It's because people are sick of letting it go. These things have been happening a long time, and just reporting them is making white people realize what a common occurrence it is for people of color just trying to live their lives.
One of the most recent cases happened Monday evening at Yale, when officers were called on a black graduate student named Lolade Siyonbola, who had fallen asleep in the HGS common room. Siyonbola posted a video of the encounter on her Facebook page, naming the woman who allegedly called the Yale police on her as Sarah Braasch, who she claims called the police on a friend of her before, who was lost in the building:
The videos show Siyonbola talking to police, who will not allow her to go about her business, even after she opens the door to her apartment to prove she lives there. She is extremely calm, but clearly upset about being asked for her I.D., and keeps the video trained on the police officers throughout.
“I deserve to be here; I paid tuition like everybody else; I am not going to justify my existence here,” Siyonbola says.
People have been very disturbed by Siyonbola's encounter with police and on her fellow student reporting her, and they're inspired by the way she stood up for herself.
I'm not going to justify my existence here. ~ Lolade Siyonbola— Vachel Vachel (@_Vachel7O9R) May 10, 2018
First: white people, can you please stop calling the police on black and non-black people of color while we are doing the same things you all do on a daily basis? Napping, moving our stuff, going on a school visit, sitting in Starbucks. We’re tired.— Janan (@jananamirah) May 10, 2018
And some are taking the time to explain to white people yet again that calling the police is not the appropriate response to everything you don't feel "comfortable" with.
Okay, white women. Apparently this needs to be said. You call the police when someone’s life is in danger or the potential for someone’s life being in danger or property being destroyed is strong. That you are uncomfortable or nervous is not a good reason to call the police.— Laura Seay (@texasinafrica) May 10, 2018
It is NOT your job to police public spaces & call the cops when there is no destructive behavior going on, but you think someone is doing something wrong. Loud music, cooking out in a park, someone napling in a dorm - these are not destructive behaviors.— Laura Seay (@texasinafrica) May 10, 2018
If you call the police on people of color for petty reasons, you put their lives in danger. It’s that simple. And that deadly.— Laura Seay (@texasinafrica) May 10, 2018
Examples of when it *is* appropriate to call the police:— Laura Seay (@texasinafrica) May 10, 2018
-When you see a car accident happen
-during an active shooting
-a child is left alone in a parked car on a hot day
-you witness a robbery or kidnapping
-live electrical wires fell due to a storm
-someone is being assaulted
All of these ^ involve situations of *active* harm or destructive behavior that requires an immediate response. People just living their lives - even in ways you don’t like! - is not a good reason to call the police.— Laura Seay (@texasinafrica) May 10, 2018
I keep thinking about my students at Morehouse. Every single one of them had stories about being racially profiled, followed around stores by ckerks, pulled over by cops for no reason. Every one.— Laura Seay (@texasinafrica) May 10, 2018
If it’s that bad for me, what does living with that level of stress do to those young men over a lifetime? What does it do to their mothers, aunties, grannies, & the others who raised them & love them?— Laura Seay (@texasinafrica) May 10, 2018
Others pointed out that Siyonbola's story is in no way unique, because there've a slew of similar instances in the last few weeks:
On Tuesday, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Lynn Cooley emailed all the PhD and masters students about the altercation, saying it's an example of how the university needs to work on inclusivity.
“Incidents like that of last night remind us of the continued work needed to make Yale a truly inclusive place,” Cooley wrote. “I am committed to redoubling our efforts to build a supportive community in which all graduate students are empowered in their intellectual pursuits and professional goals within a welcoming environment. An essential part of that effort must be a commitment to mutual respect and an open dialog.”
The administration has promised to hold "listening sessions" with students about how to make Yale feel like a safe place for students of color to exist, and be heard on campus.
Siyonbola has written on Facebook that she is moved by the outpouring of support from fellow students at Yale, and asked other people to share their stories:
Grateful for all the love, kind words and prayers, your support has been overwhelming 🙏🏾
Black Yale community is beyond incredible and is taking good care of me. I know this incident is a drop in the bucket of trauma Black folk have endured since Day 1 America, and you all have stories. Share below if you feel led. xo
Siyonbola stood up for herself and kept her presence of mind to Facebook Live the confrontation. It's inspiring that she's turning an ugly scenario into an opportunity for other black students to talk about their experiences and how things can change.
And to bat around some ideas:
Question - So if I see a White person looking suspect and making me feel uneasy do I call 911 and have the cops come check it out? Or do I just don't say anything? Do we turn the tables on white people so they can start to feel how we feel being a person of color? Let's Discuss pic.twitter.com/AU1iKs9MgV— Melissa B. (@melissablive) May 10, 2018