ID check by U. Texas police sparks racial profiling controversy

By: Lauren Reinlie
Daily Texan
February 7, 2003, Friday

University of Texas-Austin student Kevin Curry's plans to file a complaint against UTPD for racial profiling have sparked a campaign about the issue and have intensified the dialogue among students who have similar complaints.

Curry, a management information systems senior, was stopped in the Texas Union for a student identification check by UTPD Officer Glen Koen on Jan. 18.

Curry said that because of this incident, he plans to file an official complaint against UTPD for racial profiling next week.

Curry was playing the piano on the third floor of the Union when he saw Koen walking toward him. He said he was waiting for a meeting on the fourth floor of the Union so he decided to leave the piano and go to the meeting. He said he stopped at the water fountain, and then walked up the stairs.

According to Koen's report of the incident, Curry was stopped and asked for his identification because he looked "furtive" and "suspicious" and that he was "shifting his weight" in a way that is "consistent with someone who is thinking of running."

According to the report, Curry began to argue with the officer about why he was being asked for his ID. Curry said he thought he was being questioned because he was black. Koen explained how Curry looked suspicious and was required to have his ID on the third, fourth and fifth floors of the Texas Union.

According to the report and Curry's account, Curry did provide the officer his student ID, as well as his driver's license.

Koen filed an incident report with the Student Judicial Services because he found Curry to be in violation of school policies, and Curry was summoned for a hearing.

After he received notice of the hearing, Curry went to Student Judicial Services and to the Dean of Students Office. Curry said Teresa Graham Brett, dean of students, and John Dalton, assistant dean of students helped him with the incident. After reading Koen's report, Dalton informed Curry that he would not have to attend the hearing and the charges would be dropped. Brett helped Curry find the proper forms for filing a complaint.

However, Curry said he found the process for filing a complaint cumbersome and confusing. UTPD required him to file an open records request to receive the department's racial profiling policy.

UTPD Chief of Police Jeffrey Van Slyke said the incident was not a case of racial profiling.

"There are rules on the third, fourth and fifth floors in the Texas Union," he said. "The whole basis for the issue was an officer trying to determine if a student was in compliance with institutional rules ... We try to put the best product on the street to make sure that we maintain and safeguard the campus."

Since Curry has made this incident public, he said many other students have approached him expressing concerns about similar incidents with UTPD officers.

Roderick Bivins said he was asked for his student ID when he was standing outside of Gregory Gym with four of his black male friends.

"At that point you just really realize that he just did it because we were black," Bivins said. "It happens all the time. Kevin [Curry] is the only one who will make sure something is going to be done about it."

Curry started a racial profiling campaign through the Multicultural Information Center by distributing buttons with the slogan "[some people say] I look furtive."

He said he hopes the campaign will raise awareness about the issue of racial profiling on campus and encourage people to fight for their civil rights.

Van Slyke said he has not had any racial profiling complaints under the new policy, which was enacted in December 2001, but he did not know how many complaints were filed before the policy was enacted.

Van Slyke said he cannot change people's opinions about the police department.

"I cannot change how somebody feels. We are not here to be a feel-good people," Van Slyke said. "People want to vent, and they feel like they have been mistreated. Truth and reality are different than how people feel."

Van Slyke said he has problems with the current laws on racial profiling, which require the department to present information by March 1 to the UT Board of Regents on the race and ethnic background of all persons issued a citation.

"If you are living in a predominantly black or Hispanic area, who do you predict will be stopped?" Van Slyke said. "So when you release statistics on that, what do you think people can claim? There is no point of reference in how you can determine if there is any racial profiling."

Under the current policy, racial profiling complaints are handled internally and Van Slyke decides on the possibility of corrective actions.

Curry said he wants to see UTPD respond to this incident after he files his complaint and not to have his complaint filed away and forgotten.

"All the work I am doing will just be left to waste," Curry said. "So many times something happens like this and they just look at it and put it away."

Curry said some students were interested in holding a student forum on racial profiling. Van Slyke said he would not have a problem with attending a forum on the issue.