The following is an email I received from my school’s police department. It contains a host of problems, some of them grammatical. It is also slightly funny.
On Saturday morning at approximately 1:24 a.m. two Mercer Law School students were walking home from downtown Macon. At the intersection of Cherry and New Streets, they were approached by two black males. One of the males pulled a gun, pointed it at the face of one student, and said “Give it up!”
The students were unharmed but they were robbed of personal belongings.
Mercer Police strongly advises everyone to avoid walking in off campus public areas late at night or in the early morning hours.
Why the red and purple fonts? I don’t know. Nevertheless, we’re not here to address email aesthetics, so let’s talk business. The email begins with “Crime Alert!” Since when did one armed robbery warrant such a sensational declaration? This robbery is not the 5th armed robbery in the past month or the 40th armed robbery within the past year. It is an isolated event. Part of me wants to believe that the email was given this heading just to make sure it was not overlooked like every other email sent out by my school’s police department, but my intuition tells me something else is at play.
I don’t like to rely on just intuition though, so let’s delve deeper. Why does the email give such an explicit account of the robbery? “Give it up!” said one of the allegedly black male assailants after “pulling his gun.” “Give it up” is not some special catchphrase. I imagine stick-ups around the country involve this phrase. Why wouldn’t they? It’s easy to say and easy to understand. My point is that this is an incredibly unnecessary detail that only serves to escalate the tone of the “alert.”
Furthermore, why are solely race and gender mentioned? No other descriptive details are offered. Height, age, hair color, clothing, eye color, skin tone, and any other potentially useful details are all elided. On one hand, perhaps the victims simply did not notice these things. In moments of fear, certain things stand out and other are forgotten. On the other hand, as enforcers of the law, officers are trained to do as much as they can to ensure that the law is enforced. Ergo, these omitted details would have somehow been fleshed out.
All this email will do is increase [white] people’s fears and black people’s alienation. That email’s description is so goddamn vague that I could be a possible suspect. Even if students do not act wary when around me, the possibility that they could -solely because I’m black – makes me feel distant, unwelcome, even guilty. Moreover, the details of the perpetrators are given just because. There is no call to help with identification or anything. Nevertheless, for some unknown reason, these guys’ race just had to be mentioned.
Mercer already has a tenuous relationship with the surrounding community. Admittedly, through the efforts of students, faculty, staff and members of that community, this relationship is improving. Thus, when emails like this are sent out, emails that explicitly say that the community is hostile and dangerous, these efforts are undermined. In reality the areas around campus are just as dangerous or as safe as the areas on campus. It’s an open campus. Accordingly, I take steps – no matter where I am – to decrease the chance of something bad happening to me. Nevertheless, I am patently aware that at any given time, something awful can happen to me, in spite of my efforts at prevention. As a community, as people, we Mercer students need to accept that. You are never entirely safe. With that knowledge, you can choose to futilely enclose yourself in structures [like racism] to “protect” yourself or you can cautiously venture out into the world and accept that you, like everyone else, are susceptible to the laws of probability.
In short, I ask that you take this notion of absolute security and give it up. It does nothing but cause you to retreat into questionable, ultimately harmful ways of dealing with the world, particularly other people. Undoubtedly, that email was sent with good intentions, but those intentions belie a skewed vision of the world. If college students, the supposed “future” of the nation are experiencing the world in such a distorted manner, we’re further away from a “post-racial” world than I thought.
By the way, is it just me or does “post-racial” sound like a really bad cereal?