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Arrest of Black Professor Infuriates Colleagues

November 2, 2005

Antwi Akom says he was just going to his office late on the night of October 25 to pick up a book he needed to prepare for class the next day.

But after he was stopped by security guards at San Francisco State University, he ended up facing felony charges of resisting arrest and battery of a police officer. Akom, an assistant professor of Africana studies, was briefly jailed. He has told supporters that he had an identification card and was willing to show it to the guards. Security officials have said that they did ask for the ID. The security report said he did not comply with reasonable requests. Akom's supporters said that he repeatedly told the officers he was a professor and that he was in a rush because he had young children asleep in the car he drove to campus.

The incident has prompted a wave of meetings and demands for reform at San Francisco State. Professors say that Akom was a victim of racial profiling and that black employees routinely face harassment. The controversy is particularly upsetting to some professors, who say that they have taken pride in San Francisco State's progressive reputation -- the university was the first in the United States to grant degrees in black studies -- and are deeply hurt by the way a colleague was treated.

"I don't care how many Ph.D.'s you have. The blacker you are, the more your color singles you out to people who don't have a sense of how to live with you," said Dorothy Tsuruta, chair of Africana studies. She said that profiling of black people at San Francisco State is widespread, and that it is particularly common for custodial workers whose shifts have them getting off in the middle of the night.

She said that black students and faculty members -- along with many of their white colleagues -- have been galvanized by Akom's arrest. "This is about more than him. Black people are afraid to be in our building now. Black people are being profiled."

On Tuesday, Akom was arraigned and the felony charges were reduced to misdemeanor charges, but anger over the arrests remains strong.

San Francisco State officials have said that they will investigate the allegations of racial profiling, but have declined to conclude at this point that that's what happened. On Monday, however, Robert A. Corrigan, the president, announced that he was appointing a special panel to investigate the allegations. The two-person panel will consist of Willie L. Brown Jr., a former mayor of San Francisco, and Louise H. Renne, a former city attorney. Until they report, Corrigan appealed to students and faculty members for "the most difficult of responses in the midst of high emotion: a suspension of judgment until a full, clear picture emerges and rumors can be replaced by facts."

"We are a campus community that identifies itself by a central commitment to social justice and equity," Corrigan said in the statement. "Did we live up to those values on October 25? To answer that question, I believe our best course is a thorough external review of this matter. With the help of respected, impartial individuals who share our values, but who will approach their task independently and neutrally, we can gain a full picture of events and the context in which they occurred."

 

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