Members of the University at Albany campus community are reacting to the arrest of a visitor of color last week.
Cellphone video posted to social media shows several UAlbany police officers taking down an individual, identified as 19-year old Ali Mohamed Sanoh, in the Campus Center November 5th. He is accused of harassing and menacing a campus employee. He faces charges including false impersonation, resisting arrest and drug possession.
New York State University Police Chief J. Frank Wiley emailed a letter to the campus saying no one was injured during the arrest and "the department is reviewing the circumstances of Tuesday night’s arrest to ensure our officers’ actions were consistent with their training, department policy, and state and federal law.”
Students took to social media, posting videos of the arrest with the hashtag #retrainUPD and the headline "How dare you." Here's audio from twitter: "But they're beasting right now... they're yelling and beasting right now... he's like, he's already, his hands are behind his back."
Another user tweeted via the UAlbany Student Association website "This week has really felt like an episode of Dear White People" - a reference to a Netflix show about students of color who deal with cultural bias on a daily basis.
Chief Wiley describes the situation differently. "Officers used the minimum amount of force possible, the lowest level of force in the force continuum, in law enforcement consistent with our policy: minimum amount of force. There was no striking, hitting, use of any strike material like batons, no electronic conduction devices. No pepper spray, no punching, none of those things occurred. It was only compliance holds, which cause no injury. The entire event was over in about 60 seconds when the gentleman stopped resisting, the officers immediately stopped using any force helped him up, and made the transport. That was the extent of the contact."
Wiley responded to students who posted online allegations of racist police procedures. "Our entire operational manual is available online, and we even talked about how we function consistent with the recommendations of President Obama's 21st century Commission on policing. We think that we do everything that is part of best practices to make certain that we are not functioning in ways that gives the impression that we are acting as an agency driven by racial animus. That's abhorrent to me personally. It's abhorrent to our philosophy. And we do everything we can to make certain that that doesn't happen. I will say however, that it might not always be possible to function in ways that satisfy everyone and everything.”
The Student Association is hosting an open forum on Wednesday at the Campus Center Ballroom from 11 to 4. A woman who answered the phone at the Student Association said no one was available for comment.
Wiley says his officers are prepared to respond to any community concerns "in the most constructive of ways."
When asked for comment, a university spokesperson directed WAMC to the campus-wide emails sent by Wiley and the vice president for student affairs and dean of students. Those messages are posted below:
Message from Chief Wiley about Tuesday's incident in the Campus Center:
Dear members of the UAlbany community,
I am writing to share more information with you regarding an incident that transpired in the Campus Center on Tuesday night. I know there has been considerable discussion on social media regarding a brief video depicting the arrest of a visitor to our campus.
I recognize that some of you have concerns based on the portion of this encounter that has been shared on social media. However, I am asking that you join me in reserving judgment until we have more complete information regarding what occurred.
Once that process is complete, we will share that information with the University community. In the meantime, as we work to complete our review, here is what I can share with you at this time:
On Tuesday night, University Police Department officers responded to a report of an individual menacing an employee in the Campus Center. This individual was subsequently taken into custody after providing officers with a false identity and resisting arrest.
The individual was arrested, issued several tickets, and released. There were no injuries reported.
It is standard practice for UPD to automatically review all use of force by our officers, regardless of whether a formal complaint is filed. Consistent with that standard, the department is reviewing the circumstances of Tuesday night’s arrest to ensure our officers’ actions were consistent with their training, department policy, and state and federal law.
The review will include video from witnesses as well as cameras in the building and worn by our officers. UPD will not reach any conclusions until this review is complete. Furthermore, the conclusions reached will be forwarded to the University's Independent Review Committee for its consideration, comment, and recommendations, as necessary.
That level of independent review is extremely important, and I am very pleased that our University has a process in place to provide it.
Please know that we take your concerns seriously, and I commit to you that we will proceed with these important next steps in a transparent way. In the meantime, anyone who has information about this incident is encouraged to contact UPD at (518) 442-3131.
As always, the safety and well-being our entire campus community remains UPD’s top priority.
Thank you for your time and your consideration.
J. Frank Wiley | Chief of Police
New York State University Police | University at Albany
Invitation to a broader conversation on campus climate:
Dear UAlbany Community,
Earlier today, you received an email from UPD Chief Wiley regarding an incident that occurred in the Campus Center on Tuesday evening. It is clear to us, based on the reactions on social media, that many in our community see a need for a broader conversation.
As one of the nation’s most diverse research universities, we need to be able to have honest and forthright discussions about difficult topics, such as perceptions of our campus climate, our commitment to diversity, and the safety and well-being of our students. Nothing is more important to us than fostering a climate where everyone is welcome and feels welcome.
The University, and particularly our newly established Dean of Students Office, is committed to helping create venues for these important conversations. The Student Association is hosting an extended open forum on Wednesday, November 13 at the Campus Center Ballroom from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. This presents a timely opportunity to come together as a community. Representatives from University leadership will be present at the forum, and we encourage you to attend as well.
Thank you in advance for your active engagement. We are committed to proceeding with diligence, transparency and a willingness to listen—and your participation is critical to our collective success.
Michael N. Christakis, Ph.D.
Vice President for Student Affairs
Clarence L. McNeill
Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs
& Dean of Students