Light & Verity

Police criticized over treatment of black student

A New York Times columnist’s son is held at gunpoint.

The national debate about race and policing hit home at Yale in January, when an African American undergraduate was held at gunpoint on campus by a Yale police officer because he fit the description of a suspected burglar. The story became national news within hours when the student’s father, New York Times columnist Charles Blow, wrote about it on Twitter—and, two days later, in his Times column.

Blow said that his son, Tahj Blow ’16, was returning from the library to his room in Saybrook College when an officer approached him, raised his gun, and told him to get on the ground. Tahj Blow was questioned and released; the actual suspect was arrested shortly after the incident.

In his column, Blow wrote that he objected, not to his son being stopped and questioned, but to the drawing of a gun. “What if my son had panicked under the stress, having never had a gun pointed at him before, and made what the officer considered a ‘suspicious’ movement?” he wrote.

In a message to the Yale community, President Peter Salovey ’86PhD, Yale College dean Jonathan Holloway ’95PhD, and Yale police chief Ronnell Higgins wrote that the fact that the officer “drew his weapon during the stop requires a careful review.” They defended the decision to question Blow. “We have great faith in the Yale Police Department,” they wrote. “What happened on Cross Campus on Saturday is not a replay of what happened in Ferguson; Staten Island; Cleveland; or so many other places in our time and over time in the United States.”

The officer’s actions were criticized both on and off campus. Micah Jones ’16 wrote in a Yale Daily News op-ed that the incident was “one more in a string of frightening reminders of our vulnerability as people of color.” But others faulted Blow for not mentioning that the officer who stopped his son was African American himself. The Yale Police Benevolent Association, the department’s union, issued its own statement taking Salovey, Higgins, and Holloway to task for questioning the use of a weapon. “The tone of the e-mail… has a chilling effect on officer safety and may yield a consequence that results in the death or serious physical injury of one of our officers,” the union’s statement said.

Salovey, Higgins, and Holloway said that the police are “conducting a thorough and expeditious investigation of the circumstances surrounding the incident, and will report the findings of that investigation to us. We, in turn, will share the findings with the community.”

The comment period has expired.