Police deny allegations of racism

By Eric Anderson

“Why?”

As hundreds of partygoers streamed out of Alpha Phi Alpha’s abruptly broken-up annual banquet, Nydia Santana, junior in LAS and a multicultural advocate, said the one-worded question was attributed not only to the sudden and unexplained arrival of the Champaign police, but also to the struggles of student minority groups to refute conventional stereotypes. Alpha Phi Alpha, a black fraternity, hosted the formal banquet at Champaign’s Hilton Garden Inn as part of a weekend-long statewide convention on Feb. 2.

Michael Harden, planning chairman for the conference, said that the police officers’ involvement was confusing because to the fraternity’s knowledge, no incident occurred. Multiple sources said it was an alcohol-free party, and there was no evidence of any fights.

“We were summoned by the hotel management,” said John Murphy, deputy of the chief of police in charge of operations division. “The event had gotten out of hand, and they needed police assistance to intervene and gain control of the event.”

Murphy added that officers were informed that attendees exceeded maximum capacity and more people tried to enter.

“(The police) would not have shown up had the hotel not called them,” said Rene Dunn, department spokeswoman. She said officers were instructed to remove subjects from the lobby who did not have a hotel key.

However, Paula Gardner, a hotel manager present at the event, said hotel management did not summon the police and does not know how the police were notified. “I was at the point of contemplating calling the police when they showed up,” she said.

Twenty minutes before the police dispersed crowds of guests, a University senior in LAS, who requested to remain anonymous, avoided fighting the crowd vying to enter the ballroom by remaining in the hotel lobby. She said police approached and told them to leave the lobby.

“All of the sudden (police) started pushing this one black guy to get out the door,” she said. The man she had been speaking to asked the police why they were pushing the man.

“As soon as he took a step forward, several policemen jumped on him and pinned him against the wall,” she said. “He did nothing to deserve it. They pinned him to the wall and put his arms up.”

Police ushered the first man outside. “They handcuffed him, put him in the snow,” she said. “The policeman was on top of him with one of his knees on top of his back with one of his arms behind him.”

She saw the man she had been talking to in the lobby.

“They took out their black sticks, and they just started pushing him. He was like, ‘Why is he doing this to me? Why is he doing this to me?'” she said.

Santana said police also used strong racial language.

“When a Champaign police officer says, ‘Get all of these niggers out of here,’ I have a huge problem with that,” she said. “(The party) was set up to fail.”

Harden said he did not hear racist remarks firsthand.

“I cannot personally attest to any negative comments,” Harden said. “Albeit I have heard corroborating accounts of remarks made by uniformed Champaign police that can only be described as less than savory.”

Due to extreme consequences for racist or inappropriate language, Murphy said he doubted that third-party allegations accusing police of racism were true.

“Sometimes it’s banded about that officers have said this. People don’t necessarily grasp the severity or how damaging this can be to officers if they actually have said it,” Murphy said.

Harden said that there was no reason for unsavory language to be used.

“That type of unprofessional decorum is not justified simply because of large crowds; large, peaceful crowds, at that,” Harden said.

Officers who use such blatantly racist language face extreme repercussions.

“The Champaign Police Department does not tolerate the use of any kind of language that will be interpreted as racist or in any fashion unprofessional,” Murphy said. “Officers know that if they were to use (the alleged racist) language, that has the conceivable outcome of ending their career.”

Murphy has invited Alpha Phi Alpha to file an official complaint to the police, which the fraternity had yet to do as of late February. The Champaign police boast a “very structured, very established” complaint process.

“The idea that someone would have a complaint and not have it aired is not accurate,” Murphy said.

Santana said this incident does indeed have racial underpinnings.

“There’s a fear of Champaign police in the minority community because we’ve had so many problems with them before,” Santana said.

The person who witnessed two Alpha Phi Alpha brothers arrested said, “You knew it was blatant (racism). Usually you see passive racism and I see passive racism out all the time as a black person. The fact that it was so outright, it just amazed me.”

Before the incident, the hotel was skeptical about hosting Alpha Phi Alpha’s event because the fraternity offered ticket presales. The hotel agreed to contract the banquet because the fraternity assured the hotel that there would be no problems.

“The ballroom was full well beyond 600 people,” Gardner said. “It was double what we had agreed to.”

Gardner estimated that there were around 1,500 people, despite the contractual agreement that the hotel would host 600 people in an upstairs ballroom, and 200 fraternity alumni in a downstairs ballroom.

“I wanted to honor the contract that we had and not upset the guests that were attending, but it got to the point where there was no control of the event. And that totally is the responsibility of Alpha Phi Alpha,” she said. The hotel has not spoken to the Champaign police since the incident.

Alpha Phi Alpha issued an apology for the incident: “Due to circumstances out of our control, we were not afforded the ability to execute and operate our own event, as power was transferred into the hands of the uniformed Champaign police, at no request of ours. For this, we sincerely apologize, and will take action to amend the wrongs of this event, looking toward the future.”