Policing at tailgates deepens mistrust between students of color and AAPD

Game days create particular situations of concern for students of color.

Game days create particular situations of concern for students of color. Buy this photo
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Thursday, October 19, 2017 - 11:12pm

Though any game day in Ann Arbor is bound to witness its fair share of police activity, the game against Michigan State University on Oct. 7 — the first night game since 2014, and against one of the University of Michigan's biggest rivals — was certain to see more. Still, several arrests and citations made at tailgates hosted by Black and Latino fraternities have members objecting to the lack of communication they have with police — and aggressive tactics therein — as compared to older, predominantly white fraternities.

There were at least six citations given out at the houses associated with Kappa Alpha Psi, a historically Black fraternity, and Latino fraternity Lambda Theta Phi house. At least two of the citations involved arrests, according to Ann Arbor Police Department reports of the incident retrieved by a Freedom of Information Act request. The citations were for disturbing public peace, creating a nuisance, obstructing police and contributing to noise.

All 10 predominantly white fraternities surveyed by the Daily reported no police presence or citations at house tailgates hosted Oct. 7.

According to the police report, officers were alerted to the party by a text from a student.

"(Reporting party) GOT A TEXT FROM A STUDENT REF A LARGE CROWD IFO (in front of) THIS HOUSE. RP IS NOT ON SCENE; STUDENT SHE GOT A TEXT FROM IS A PASSERBY," the report read.

Police reported there were approximately 1,000 people blocking the street in front of the Lambda Theta Phi house when they arrived. They then encountered one of the hosts of the party, who told them his party had gotten out of hand and he couldn't clear people out, and he was subsequently cited with disturbance of public peace.

The report states police then noticed a crowd of about eight people surrounding a Hispanic male and then dragging him inside the house. The officers went up to the house and knocked on the door. When someone opened the door slightly, one officer forced their foot inside to stop the door from closing again, and entered the house thereafter.

Lambda brother Emilio Velazquez, an LSA junior, explained he and his brothers were forcing an agitated brother inside the house to protect him from reprisal.

“They came into our backyard without a warrant … they were putting people in handcuffs for loud noises,” he said. “They forced their way in without a warrant and took one of the guys who was holding the door and slammed him on the porch.”

One officer’s report, on the other hand, details a student who “tripped over the bottom ledge of the door, which caused him to lose balance." The officer then "utilized and guided his momentum down to the porch.”

An email from the Multicultural Greek Council coordinator to Velazquez obtained by The Daily indicates AAPD is moving to file a public nuisance against the Lambda house for repeated offenses. In an interview with The Daily last year, AAPD Sgt. Thomas Hickey, community engagement lead, said officers’ party patrols only respond to referrals. Velazquez, however, maintained his house takes pains before events to ensure neighbors are not disturbed, and yet the tickets continue. He said he was not aware of other fraternities receiving this level of citations.

The Office of Greek Life declined to comment on this story.

These discrepancies in accounts, and communication more broadly, are not uncommon between communities of color on campus and local police. Coleman-Byrd and Velasquez, for example, estimated crowd size to be between 600 amd 800 people.  report by The Daily last year found Black students in particular to be wary of police after repeatedly hostile interactions on and around campus. Kappa Secretary Ka’marr Coleman-Byrd, a Business senior, said AAPD has not initiated any attempts at outreach — even after policing dialogues hosted by Black students. Many also perceive predominantly white chapters to have working relationships with AAPD.

“Last year we reached out to Ann Arbor police as well as the University police,” he said. “They have never made an effort to reach out to us. My trust towards police is really a case-by-case relationship. (Interfraternity Council) fraternities never get shut down when hosting a tailgate or party because they have an agreement with Ann Arbor police. It is unfair that we aren’t not given this same courtesy/ opportunity.” 

“I do think it’s a people of color issue because this doesn’t happen to the white fraternities on campus,” Velazquez agreed. “If you were to walk down Hill Street you’d see a bunch of kids partying and blasting music and you never see them get shut down.”

AAPD did not return requests for comment.

The department’s records, though, do not detail blatant profiling or discrimination — and students themselves admit to parties sometimes becoming too raucous and getting out of hand. Rackham student Javier Solorzano Parada, a former Lambda brother, said he understands officers are trying to maintain the peace. But a lack of transparency toward already vulnerable students, he argued, agitates interactions. At the tailgate in question, Parada said he was outraged by officers’ hostility.

“It's not fair that someone got arrested and we weren't given an explanation,” he said. “I would've been the first person that day to say, 'Officer, let me know where you need me to be.’ ”

“Communication is key with communities of color, and you need to tell us it's not about race but safety, or size or whatever reason you may have,” he continued. “And if I'm scared after all these years here, what must it be like for an undergraduate student? Or a first-generation student? We shouldn't have to be afraid of the police. We shouldn't have to live in fear.”

More than communication, Black and Latino students moved to question longstanding inequities embedded in Greek life. For both Valezquez and Coleman-Byrd, their organizations cannot afford to maintain stable housing on campus like most IFC members can. Houses on Geddes or State Streets are not in the cards for their members, due to both smaller numbers — and therefore due revenue — and intersections of race and class.

“We have between five and 10 brothers maybe — we don’t have the financial stability to get houses on Hill Street,” Velazquez said.

“My whole refund check as an undergrad would've gone to dues at some of these predominantly white frats,” Parada said. “In order to get into the system, you have to clear those barriers. We're just trying to survive, pay rent, and the struggle is real. We don't have the funds to buy a home.”

And so — as the 10 undisturbed IFC fraternities appear to indicate — the imbalance in resources weaves back in with what may seem like, at face value, discriminatory policing. In order to register an address, or even a restricted event with the Office of Greek Life, chapters must designate an official property. A lack of physical space and funds may spin the cycle of public safety problems.

Coleman-Byrd explained his MSU tailgate swelled to such proportions because the only other tailgate on campus hosted by a historically Black fraternity — Alpha Phi Alpha — also got shut down earlier in the day.

He wonders where else Black students were supposed to go, a question Parada echoed for the Latino community. Both the Black and Latino/Hispanic population at the University have hovered around 5 percent of the student body in the last few years.

“My entire community was there that day,” Velazquez said. “The rest of campus is not a welcoming community to be a part of because we’re always taken advantage of. It’s really stressful, and it shows — in academics, in life as a whole and with the law.”