ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — A viral video making it’s way around the University at Albany shows a 19-year-old man being arrested by at least seven campus police officers on November 5.
The University at Albany Police Department confirms Ali Mohamed Sanoh was arrested at the Campus Center and charged with resisting arrest, providing a false identity, and harassment, among other charges. Although Sanoh was not a student, those attending the university say seeing the nature of the incident sparked a wave of unrest.
“To see an incident like that occur was a trigger for a lot of our students, a lot of our students who have been in those situations,” says UAlbany senior and President of the Student Association Desann “Dee” Chin-Carty. “People felt that if a person of color was to walk into a room, the response they would receive from administration, from employees here, from other students would be totally different rather than say if a student not of color was to walk past.”
Members of the UAlbany Student Association set up a race relations forum Wednesday inviting administrators and police to hear what makes students of color feel uncomfortable on campus.
“One of my student ambassadors came up and was telling me about how she witnessed UPD standing outside and there was a group of white men smoking. Smoking is not allowed on campus anymore, but the officers weren’t policing that. Whereas a group of black men just sitting around, standing around are approached immediately, the officers asking, hey what are you doing or you’re loitering, you’re not supposed to be here — almost out of anticipation that something might happen,” explains Tyriq Johnson, the Student Association Director of Intercultural Affairs.
Attendees at Wednesday’s forum say the video of Sanoh’s arrest served as a catalyst to voice concerns over undue police attention to minority students and events.
“We just recently had a tailgate for homecoming and there were almost 20 police cars lined all the way up the street. Do you really need so many officers from Albany, Colonie, all over just to police 50 students?” Johnson asks.
Students also took the stage to ask administrators about changes to the student curriculum.
“We used to have a diversity and inclusion program in general education and now we don’t. What is that saying to our new students about what’s important?” asks Chin-Carty.
Among a list of demands issued to UAlbany administration, SA members cited a need to have a student representative on the independent review board for campus police conduct and sensitivity training for faculty, staff, and students.
“Why is that when students of color are gathered together issues are being raised? People are generally fearful of students of color, nationally and internationally we see instances where they’re quick to call the police,” explains Chin-Carty. “The university police are responding to calls. We know they’re not actively going out and looking for students, it’s the people who are calling the police on them. So now it’s about having those dialogues so that people are exposed to different walks of life and understand people’s cultures are different.”
“We really want them to focus on our mental state, because this is a constant battle for us when we’re at home and when we’re at school,” says university junior Halimatou Diallo.
Diallo and UAlbany sophomore Stephany Solis organized a protest on campus Friday in response to the arrest video.
“It was saying this is our campus as well, and we demand to have the resources, not only to retain students at the university, but also to survive and feel safe here,” Solis says.
Students tell NEWS10 ABC they felt empowered to see so many administrators turn out to Wednesday’s forum.
“Before we even started, we show up to the Campus Center and the administrators were already outside waiting for us,” Diallo says.
“Seeing that administration, seeing that like they came out to one of our events, that’s something I love to see that I would love to see more of. I feel like now, they’re understanding where we’re coming from,” Johnson responds.
University Police Chief Frank Wiley confirms the November 5 arrest and the officers conduct remains under investigation.
“We expect to have the results of that back very soon,” he says in response to questions about the progress.
Wiley says there is “no empirical evidence” to support campus police targeting or disproportionately approaching students of color. However, he adds his attendance at the forum was to gain a better understanding of the students he serves.
“One of the most important things I can do is to have my finger on the pulse of the community,” Wiley explains. “The sentiments that are being expressed, be they specific or general, are important and I find them very constructive.”
Mike Christakis, Vice President of UAlbany Student Affairs. also weighed in on keeping an open dialogue between students and staff.
“It’s important for all of us to be hearing these stories, the narratives that are being shared, so that when we do look at what the road ahead looks like, we’re all starting off from a relatively similar place,” he says.
“We want to be a community that is truly inclusive and provides a safe learning environment for students. They should feel safe so that they can learn and become graduates and proud alums of our institution,” Christakis goes on to say.