A Statement in Solidarity with Professor Imani Perry from the Black Justice League

On Saturday, February 6th, 2016, on her way to support a student-led event, Professor Imani Perry was arrested for a single, 3-year-old parking ticket. She was told she could not call anyone to tell them she was being arrested; and was justifiably afraid given that many Black women never make it home after police stops and other encounters with the police. She was handcuffed to a table and told that the department would only take cash, not debit or a check to pay the ticket off. She was patted down by a male officer when there was a female officer present, an undoubtedly intrusive procedure.

We, The Black Justice League, stand in solidarity with Professor Imani Perry, the Princeton University Hughes Rogers Professor of African American Studies. Despite having been in contact with Professor Perry, as she is a mentor to some of us, she has in no way conspired or demanded that students advocate for her. We have chosen, of our own volition and in the interest of justice, to back her. We #StandWithPerry.

In any case, we recognize that even—and especially—if the way she was treated was in alignment with proper conduct for the department, it speaks to broader historical and contemporary issues around the racialized, gendered intimidation and dehumanization of Black people at the hands of the police and in society at large. The law is the lowest common denominator regarding the treatment of Black people.

Many have been paying attention to her account of her arrest on social media. That is the best way to learn about her experience—her story in her own words. Yet the vitriol, hate, and threats that have met Professor Perry’s account are disheartening, to say the least. Disagreements with her stance that she was mistreated do not need to feature overt racial slurs, or other racially coded language.

Some suggest that she should have just paid her parking ticket to avoid being stopped. Yet the payment of a parking ticket is a civic matter—not a criminal one, and certainly not one that warrants being handcuffed to a table. Additionally, the notion that Black people should have immaculate records in order to avoid harassment is flawed and reveals the existence of an unevenly and unfairly applied double standard. It also fundamentally lacks empathy; even a well-educated, kind, and thoughtful individual such as Professor Perry is capable of forgetting about a ticket. The insidious idea that Black people make no genuine mistakes, but are ever-mischievous and dishonest, has weaved its way into the conversations surrounding this incident and is extremely dangerous.

Some of the vitriol has also come from Princeton students via anonymous postings online, much of which insinuates that Professor Perry believes herself to be above the law. In fact, however, many illegal activities go unpunished on college campuses. On this overwhelmingly white campus in particular, many students have consumed alcohol under age, used illegal drugs, and even driven without a license. Yet their white privilege shields them from the realities of state sanctioned intimidation, surveillance, or even mere enforcement of the law.

On Monday, February 8th, we created the hashtag #StandWithPerry, to seize the attention of Princeton University and the country—we wanted Princeton to publicly #StandWithPerry. On Tuesday morning, President Eisgruber wrote a statement that expressed his concern for the events that transpired that Saturday and encouraged respect for Professor Perry and all members of the Princeton Community. He also expressed that he was looking toward the results of the Princeton Police Department’s investigation of the situation, an investigation, he was assured, would be “fair” and “thorough.” While we appreciate the statement, we note that part of white privilege is believing that the police will be “fair” in times of crises and amid profound scrutiny.

We urge the University to publicly #StandWithPerry with transparency, regardless of the statements made by the police department and the outcome of any investigation. We are paying close attention to how the University reacts as an indicator of its value for the personhood of Black faculty and other Black members of its community. The reality is that Professor Perry’s holistic safety and peace of mind are at stake should the Princeton Police Department act on any threats and seek reprisal for her choice to speak publicly on the matter. This is not about political opinions on community policing—this is about Professor Perry’s safety. In truth, it is about the safety of all students and Black people in the Princeton community.

We have been collecting stories from students and people who live in the Princeton area, and have received many stories from Black people and other people of color on the harsh treatment they endured in police interactions. We have received stories from white people who’ve recalled encounters with the Princeton police in which the officers were playful and jocular, eventually letting them off with warnings or light chastisement. To many, this is surprising. To us, this is the reality of policing in the United States.

We denounce those who vilify Professor Perry and seek to invalidate her experiences. We are enraged about the structures, policies, and practices that make her experience–and that of countless Black people–possible. And we are proud to stand with Professor Imani Perry.

-Black Justice League

7 Comments

  1. Richard Feynmann says:

    The opening sentence of this blog entry, as follows, is demonstrably false in several aspects.
    “On Saturday, February 6th, 2016, on her way to support a student-led event, Professor Imani Perry was arrested for a single, 3-year-old parking ticket.”

    Everything that comes after this opening is predicated on that sentence being true, and had just a modicum of research been done it would clearly by understood that it is not true.

    QED.

  2. Robert Barker says:

    To characterize this incident as arresting Dr. Perry for one unpaid traffic ticket, is grossly misleading. Police stopped her for driving 67 in a 45 mph zone, ascertained that she was driving on a suspended license and had an outstanding arrest warrant for 2 unpaid traffic tickets, and arrested her, handcuffed her, took her to the police station, and released her when she paid bail. Everything that occurred is a direct result of her behavior and moreover the actions of the police were not only lawful but would be consistent with another suspect of any race, ethnicity, or gender.

  3. She was driving on a suspended license, which is driving without a license. Why can’t people admit when they are wrong instead of blaming the laws that they violated.

  4. LevelHeadedHuman says:

    She was driving 20 miles over the speed limit with a *revoked license*. You will GO TO JAIL, no matter who you are or what you look like because of that. Under a society that respects rule of law, nothing you can point to in THIS specific scenario remotely hints towards racial discrimination. The police aren’t supposed to let people make calls before they go to jail, no matter what they look like. When you’re at the station they will and they do handcuff you to desks, chairs, etc because you are…being…detained.

    There is absolutely a problem with policing with respect to black bodies and people of color. This situation however is so far removed given the actual facts it’s a complete joke. Learn to rally around actual injustice instead of exploding and getting activist rage over nonsense events such as this, coopting awareness from ACTUAL PROBLEMS which are ACTUAL examples of Injustice in order to pat yourself on the back saying “Yay we are fighting for justice!”. Get over yourselves.

    This is what happens when you blind yourself to ideology and are unable to parse events as they come, and are mentally incapable of being objective. Congratulations.

  5. Still Thinking says:

    I guess the only part that I don’t understand is the “regardless out of the outcome of the investigation.” What if it had surfaced that Prof. Perry had made up the entire incident? [completely hypothetical, obviously not what happened at all]

    I agree that Prof. Perry was probably not treated as well as she should have been. I also agree that laws in place disproportionately affect the marginalized. But I also wonder if this kind of covergence around Prof. Perry’s experiece, which seemingly acts as a kind of “control” meant to show that the negative treatment of African Americans by the police is not complicated by the fact that African Americans are also disproportionately poor/living in low-income neighborhoods, will do more harm than good.

  6. Charlie Finley says:

    Your article is erroneous and should be updated with actual information rather than obtuse speculation.

    See
    http://planetprinceton.com/2016/02/11/police-release-video-of-princeton-professors-motor-vehicle-stop/

  7. Thanks for Commenting on this matter before you watched the video and making matters worse for us Black Folks. This was a simple thing that you Made into a Huge thing. I have plenty of white friends whom “forgot” to pay a ticket and were arrested the same way.. Now that you pointed this simple stupid thing out that has no bearing one the real issues. You will make any other Truly Bad Arrests seem as if that person is just Crying wolf. Thanks for Making the Racial divide wider. MLK purpose was to close the Gap he would have studied this and then act if something needed to be done.. Simple.. When you move change your address so parking tickets can get to you. If she had done that part that is Required she would not be in the situation. She would have gotten a speeding ticket at the most.. Hmmm maybe not even that because these Cops actually seemed pretty good.

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