Profiled? Student’s Shoes Laced With Controversy
*Editor’s Note: This article has been modified from its original version. Morrison spoke with David Rainer, the Associate Chancellor of Environmental Health and Public Safety, not Chancellor Randy Woodson. We will run a correction in the 2/27/13 issue of the Nubian Message.
Freshman accuses Campus Police of Racial Profiling
Kierra Leggett| Editor-in-Chief
Justin Morrison, a freshman majoring in civil engineering, has accused Campus Police of racial profiling, after they detained him in the Atrium on Feb. 6 because of the $130 sneakers he was wearing.
“I was in the Atrium with a few of my friends and we were eating lunch, nothing was going on, when out of nowhere two [white] cops came up, put their hands on my back and told me to put my hands behind my back,” said Morrison. “Everyone in the Atrium stopped what they were doing and stared.”
Morrison, who said he was “humiliated,” cooperated with campus police, and placed his hands behind his back. According to Morrison, when he asked the police why he was being detained, one of the officers replied, “The pair of shoes that you have on right now.”
Confused, Morrison told his friends “Don’t worry about it, because I know I didn’t do anything. I’ll talk to y’all soon.”
He was handcuffed by police inside of the Atrium and then escorted outside to a police car, where he was frisked. While being escorted to the car, Morrison said he continually asked for further clarification about why he was being detained. According to Morrison the officers responded, “We don’t really know all the details.”
After being frisked, he said he was transported to the Campus Police Station where he was interrogated.
“They took me to the interrogation room, and the first thing they asked me was about the shoes I had on and if they had anyone else’s DNA on them,” said Morrison.
Morrison said he wasn’t sure how to answer that question because you can get DNA from just walking around, so he asked the officer what he meant by that question. “The officer told me it was a ‘yes or no question,’” said Morrison, “But, I didn’t really answer it because if I answered ‘no’ and they found DNA on it, I’d get in trouble, but if I said ‘yes,’ they’d say ‘Oh well we got the guy.’’’
Morrison said that after further questioning him about where he got his shoes, Campus Police questioned him about an armed robbery that occurred at Avent Ferry Residence Hall on Dec. 3, 2012. The victim of the robbery reported having an expensive pair of sneakers stolen.
Morrison, who ordered his sneakers online, retrieved his e-receipt from his smartphone, proving to Campus Police that his size 11, “Gym Red” Air Jordan Retro One sneakers were not stolen.
“I ordered the shoes when they came out, so I had the confirmation number in my e-mail” said Morrison. “I showed that to them [Campus Police] and they still questioned me about who I hang out with and talk to, even after they saw that I actually paid for the shoes.”
Lt. David Kelly, the Public Relations Officer for Campus Police, offered an explanation for why Morrison was detained.
“It stemmed from an incident that occurred on Dec. 3, in which a student in Avent Ferry was robbed,” said Kelly. According to Kelly, among the items stolen from the student was a “very unique pair of tennis shoes,” which the victim noticed Morrison wearing in the atrium on Feb.6, thus prompting him to notify Campus Police.
“I normally buy sneakers that are really different,” said Morrison. “Those sneakers were real different, they were all red, and I’ve never seen anyone with them.” According to Morrison the victim of the Dec. 3 robbery said similar things regarding the novelty of the shoes.
Morrison’s sneakers were not released for sale until Dec. 31, 2012, which has led him to develop his own theory as to why the victim reported him to Campus Police. “Those sneakers didn’t come out until 28 days after the robbery happened,” said Morrison. “My friends and I think he just wanted the shoes.”
Morrison said once they concluded with their interrogation, Campus Police asked for permission to search his room, which he granted them.
Kelly would not elaborate on why Morrison’s room was searched, saying those details were “part of the investigation.”
Morrison, who missed an afternoon biology class as a result of his detention, said that after searching his room, officers left without filing any charges. It was then that he telephoned his parents to let them know what happened.
“My parents were mad about the way [Campus Police] went about doing [detaining me],” said Morrison. “They should have asked me off to the side instead of putting me in handcuffs in front of everybody and embarrassing me. They’ve now put a name over my head as like a criminal. The people in the Atrium who I didn’t know are going to think I’m a criminal. People are still asking me ‘Aren’t you that guy who got arrested in the Atrium?’ and I have to respond, falsely arrested.”
Despite Morrison’s qualms with the way the situation was handled, Kelly said that Campus Police was “within protocol to place the subject in handcuffs” considering that he was at the time being detained under suspicions of involvement with an armed robbery, and Campus Police didn’t know if “he had a firearm.”
In an e-mail sent to Chancellor Randy Woodson, Morrison’s mother Deborah wrote, “ My son did not choose to go to N.C. State… to be stereotyped and humiliated because he is black, has a thin mustache, and wears expensive shoes. Where is the justice in this? We need an explanation of what makes this right, and how your institution justifies that your handling of my innocent son was right.”
David Rainer, the Associate Chancellor of Environmental Health and Public Safety,has responded to Deborah Morrison’s e-mail, by reaching out directly to Justin, one week after his detention.”[Rainer] told me that he was sorry it happened and that there wasn’t really anything they could do about it,” said Morrison. According to Morrison, Rainer also told him that the incident was “unfortunate.”
Woodson was unavailable for comment on this story by press deadline.
Though he appreciates Rainer’s gesture, 19-year-old Morrison feels more could have been done to appease him. “It didn’t really satisfy me, because I felt like [the incident] was downplayed,” said Morrison. “It just seemed like he didn’t think it was that big of a deal.”
While racial profiling against African American males is something that Morrison, who has no criminal record, has heard about, the Eagle Scout and honor student said his recent encounter with Campus Police has opened his eyes to the ugly truth surrounding the problem. “I’ve definitely heard about it, and that incident—it definitely solidified it and made it more real.”
Kelly would not comment on Morrison’s accusations against Campus Police, nor would he provide a comment on whether or not NCSU students should be concerned that they could be racially profiled by Campus Police.