Guest columnist: What if it were me?

Bruce Walton

Like many students, I was pretty scared when some friends and I heard a piercing beeping over the intercom in the library followed by a voice instructing us that a shot was fired near Bowman Hall. I was relieved; still tense, but very relieved. Then just a few minutes later, we heard a second announcement that the suspect was described as a black male in basketball shorts holding a silver handgun. That was when I became afraid to walk home that night. If that man were still at large, I was less afraid he would shoot me on my way and more worried someone would think I was the suspect.

Such a vague description of a suspect is highly unprofessional to be announced to the public, and many black males weren’t happy. Thankfully, this man was apprehended. But say he wasn’t; say they were still looking for him, and I, a black male, were walking on campus when a vigilante — or worse, the police — tried to apprehend me as if I were the culprit. It was very warm that evening, and a lot of men were wearing basketball shorts. I was wearing jeans at the time, but who’s to say the police couldn’t profile any suspicious black male on campus on the grounds that they switched clothes from shorts to pants? The people had a right to know about what was going on, but the description was not that helpful.

At the very least I would have liked to know if he was even wearing a shirt. I was told from other black students that black men coming from the basketball courts were forced to be searched without permission before coming into the building. This could have easily turned into complete mass hysteria and those suspected could have been the first to be persecuted.

Saying how long his hair was could have helped. Was it dreadlocks? Cornrows? Mohawk? Short hair? Where was that description? I wish that the situation had been dealt with in a more carefully executed fashion, or at least that officials had waited until they had a more detailed profile. We might not have been too far off from seeing an innocent black man detained, tazed or even shot simply for walking home from the Rec Center with a silver water bottle and basketball shorts. With the recent increase in school shootings in the last couple of decades, everyone was on edge — I can understand that. But those descriptions still linger in my head because it could have been me.

Contact Bruce Walton at [email protected].