Edward Kopko, district attorney candidate, and Cornell police speak about racial tension and law enforcement.

Michaela Brew / Sun Senior Editor

Edward Kopko, district attorney candidate, and Cornell police speak about racial tension and law enforcement.

October 18, 2016

Students, Cornell Police Clash Over ‘Systemic Racism’ in Law Enforcement

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There was palpable tension in the room Monday as Cornell police officers and district attorney candidate Edward Kopko sought to offer students pragmatic advice on dealing with law enforcement, while audience members countered that conflicts result from systemic racism.

Over 60 students attended the discussion, hosted by the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the ALANA Intercultural Board and Black Students United on Monday. Called “Know Your Rights,” the event aimed to begin a dialogue on “the history of mistrust between police departments and communities of color,” according to the event’s Facebook page.

Kopko, who acknowledged the role of “an insidious, sneaky racism” in the judicial and law enforcement system, emphasized that the main message he wanted students to walk away with was an acknowledgement of their rights and responsibilities when confronted by law enforcement.

“You have your own responsibilities to be calm,” he told the crowd, which mostly consisted of students of color. “If you walk out of here tonight learning one thing from this stuff, keep your mouth shut. Don’t talk. You can get yourself in trouble.”

For Hendryck Gellineau ’19, Kopko’s advice was not enough.

“The problem is not that I’m not exercising my rights, it’s that they’re not being respected,” Gellineau said. “And if that is the case, this room shouldn’t be filled with us right now, it should be filled with police officers.”

Kopko and the two CUPD officers fielded questions from the crowd. When asked about how he reconciles recent violent events against people of color in his line of work, Anthony Bellamy — an African American CUPD officer — spoke on a personal level.

“I want to help people, number one,” Bellamy said. “Number two, I got told I couldn’t do it. I got told I couldn’t do it. A black man can’t be a cop.”

Bellamy claimed that a turning point was when his son questioned him about a shooting earlier this year.

“I fumbled around with my emotions, trying to figure out what to tell my son,” he said. “My son is asking every time there’s been a shooting why groups are protesting. … That’s real for me. Every day. But I do this job because I want to help people.”

Renee Alexander ’74, associate dean of students and BSU advisor, said she thought the event was successful at promoting conversations about what constitutes a complicated and widespread problem.

“A black man talking about what he tells his son, that’s real,” she said. “This is a very complicated conversation, because the issue is systemic. And you won’t clearly resolve any major problems here. But you can know more about how to conduct yourself with law enforcement.”

Kopko also acknowledged what he called the heart of the problem, saying that knowing one’s rights in a law enforcement encounter is helpful, but “in the exact moment, it does nothing for you.”

“It’s a systemic problem,” he said, to the crowd’s applause and murmurs of approval. “There is a racial bias in the American criminal justice system.”

Although Gellineau acknowledged the tense atmosphere and current lack of a solution to these issues, he said he felt no “animosity” in the room.

“There are a lot of things that we understand being at the point and position that we are in, and a lot of things that they understand, and those things clashed today,” he said. “But what came of it was mutual understanding, and that in the end was mutually beneficial.”

  • scandalous

    The entire approach to security needs to be revamped. If there was more peer security at the O week murder stabbing, they would have turned the murderer in already.

    The provost and Interim President have failed to engaged security reform on campus. These students are right that something is wrong. The solution in part is to get the students more involved in the process. Hopefully with new senior University leadership this will happen. We need a new Provost and President that talk with people, engage them in making Cornell better.

  • Outraged alumnus

    I think that having Alpha Phi Alpha cosponsor this forum is a positive sign. I hope that every Cornell fraternity — whether monocultural or diverse — holds an after dinner meeting wiith a CUPD officer to improve Greek-police relations. Campus police need to see that fraternities are not just people out to voilate the ABC Laws and fraternities need to understand the difficult job that campus police have.

    I also agree with the post above that Omega Psi Phi should do more to help identify the knife-wielding murderer from Orientation Week. The Monocultural Greek Letter Council (MGLC) and Travis Apgar should do more to hold the sponsoring faternity accountable for the lack of cooperation in identifying the killer.

  • Abe ’19

    “There is a racial bias in the American criminal justice system.”

    Are the people who believe this also going to be voting Republican? The Democrats run every city. That means that they’re the ones who are giving orders to the police forces. If there is a “[systemic] racial bias” in the American criminal justice system, then the Democrats are to blame.

    Moreover, I want one of these people to point to the judges that are involved in this “vast conspiracy.” Point to the prosecutors. Point to the defense attorneys. Who got together and decided that we were going to screw black people?

  • borris batanov

    The nail that sticks out gets hammered.

    A black man is 11 times more likely to commit murder than a white man. A black man is 7 times more likely to have a criminal record than a white man.

    55% of the murders and 50% of the robberies in the US are committed by blacks, who are only 12.5% of the population. A third of the rapes and assaults in the US are committed by blacks.

    It’s only natural cops, both white and black, male and female, pay more attention to a race which exhibits more criminal behavior.

    Also, police brutality and racial profiling are not new. The answer today, as it has been for decades, is having the police 100% accountable to civilian review boards.

    Funny how Black Lives Matter never mentions this, but instead, with a broad stroke, undermines ALL police authority. They are a violent, racist group, interested only in power and curtailing the civil rights of Americans.

    Funny how Black Lives Matter never tells blacks not to resist arrest, the cause of all death and injury of blacks by cops.

    Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Charlotte beat up whites and terrorized white families in cars. There are videos of this on Twitter. Funny how this never made the news.

    • Worried about catching the killer

      If Blsck Lives Matter cares about black lives, they should be out protesting the unsolved murder of Anthony Nazaire on the Cornell campus. What have Omega Psi Phi and Travis Apgar done to help identify the killer?

  • Sam

    There really needs to be a study about the subject. Take a random sample of white people and put them randomly to walk around in predominantly black neighborhoods. Take a random sample of black people and put them randomly to walk around in predominantly white neighborhoods. Power this study enough to really see if there is any difference in how much crime there is.

    I would love to see the results!

  • Please

    The Cornell drinking game: every time u hear “systemic”, “institutionalized”, “marginalized”, or “oppression” — drink! You’ll be hospitalized halfway through one class