The Wheaton Police Department has begun an investigation on sophomores Leonard Blair and Nathaniel Chiruyi’s allegations of racial profiling by police officers in the city of Wheaton, which The Record reported in its Sept. 24 issue.
Wheaton College and the Wheaton Police Department reported that no formal complaints of racial profiling have been made — neither by Blair and Chiruyi nor by any other students or faculty.
President Philip Ryken told The Record, “I’m not aware of anyone who has ever gone to the Wheaton Police Department with a specific concern about racial profiling. One of the things that the police chief emphasized to me was how important it is for people to go forward with a concern like this so that the police department has an opportunity to follow through and respond. My sense is that this is an issue that the police department will take very seriously.”
When asked why students do not go forward to make formal complaints, assistant professor of politics and international relations Michael McKoy, a black male, said, “If I were a student and that happened to me, it wouldn’t cross my mind to tell the administration about it. It doesn’t always occur to me to push for social change or structural change. Because how could President Ryken know, how could Paul Chelsen know, if no one tells them? If you think, ‘You just suck it up and move on,’ then how could they know?”
When asked the same question, Ryken said, “I think it’s intimidating for people to go to someone in authority and raise a concern. You have to go file a report with the very organization that has caused you a problem.”
Chiruyi said that he did not initially file a formal complaint because, “The way I saw it, this was something that I would only have to deal with for four years, then I would go back home (to Kenya). It’s the way things work in states.”
Senior Iskar Smith, EVP of college life, told The Record, “What Leonard (Blair) was getting at is normal for me. I just get looked at differently.” He said that he has never been stopped by a Wheaton police officer because he dresses and carries himself so that he does not “seem suspicious,” but there has been a time when a woman crossing the street in Wheaton grabbed her child’s hand “as if she was afraid of me.”
Now that the Wheaton Police Department has learned of Blair and Chiruyi’s incidents, they have begun an investigation of these allegations of racial profiling. The police were concerned that formal complaints were never filed, but they were not able to comment on the specifics of these cases, as the investigation is ongoing. They did, however, deny that racial profiling has been happening in Wheaton and expressed a desire to comment on these allegations in the future once the investigation has been completed.
Vice president for student development Paul Chelsen told The Record in an email that Wheaton police chief Mark Field alerted him on Thursday, Sept. 24, that he had initiated an internal investigation, and director of multicultural development Rodney Sisco followed up with Blair and Chiruyi that afternoon.
Chelsen wrote that on Friday, Sept. 25, Wheaton police commander Jim Volpe emailed him to discuss the internal investigation process, after which Chelsen met with Blair and Chiruyi to explain how the investigation would work and encourage them to participate. Chelsen wrote that he then met with Volpe on Tuesday, Sept. 29, to receive the citizen complaint forms, which he then gave to Blair and Chiruyi. He said that he has also updated certain student leaders that Student Government recommended he keep up to date.
James Sotos, a civil defense attorney at the Sotos Law Firm, who specializes in cases of racial profiling, explained to The Record that if an investigation involves a single complaint, the department interviews the complainant and the officer involved and reviews the officer’s case file to see if there has been a pattern of stopping people of a certain race. If the investigation finds no history of repeated behavior, the case may end there.
If the issue is systemic and involves a number of complaints, however, the investigation examines the departmental statistics and submits these to the state of Illinois.
Chelsen wrote, “The situations experienced by Leonard and Nathaniel have the potential to raise the campus awareness about the citizen complaint process through the (Wheaton Police Department) … If other members of the Wheaton College community believe they have experienced racial profiling by a Wheaton police officer, I encourage them to share their concerns directly with the Wheaton Police department through the citizen complaint process. I have obtained a description of the process from Chief Field and will make it available to each of the vice president’s offices for them to distribute throughout their respective divisions …”
Chelsen wrote, “I deeply desire all faculty, staff and students of color at Wheaton College to see the college and the city as their home. I also desire to work together within the college and with the city to make this a reality, while acknowledging there is much work to be done. May God, who is just, equip us for this work with the help of his Spirit and the reconciling love of Jesus.”
Ryken and Volpe both urged members of the Wheaton College community who suspect they have been racially profiled to submit formal complaints to the police department. Any complaints should be directed to Volpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.