On Tuesday, Oct. 20 at around 3 p.m. a group of about 30 students calling themselves Chargers For Change protested outside the Student Services Building in response to a recent incident of alleged police harassment.
The incident occurred on Oct. 3 when the UAH police department stopped a Black teen driving by campus for an allegedly faulty tail light. They then searched him, while allegedly referring to him repeatedly as “brother.” The police asked him whether he was hiding drugs or a dead prostitute before asking why he was sweating. The episode is described more fully in a Facebook post by the victim’s mother, published on Oct. 12.
On Oct. 14, almost two weeks after the initial incident, UAH President Darren Dawson released a statement publicly acknowledging the event and stating that UAH police would undergo additional training and be subject to more accountability. It also stated that Dawson had reached out to the victim’s family. A second statement on Oct. 19 stated that he had met with the family again, but shared no details of the conversation.
The Times reached out to Trenton Draper, the student responsible for organizing the protest. Draper is a biology major in his junior year and a senator in SGA.
“It was the first time I hadn’t felt safe on campus,” Draper says, referring to when he discovered the Facebook post describing the incident. “As we’re getting responses from the university, they were really vague and did very little to make me feel more safe.” He reached out to the administration, received permission to protest, and organized a group of fellow students. He also noted that several students previously unaware of Chargers for Change joined in during the protest.
With input and feedback from several peers, Draper wrote a letter to UAH administration outlining a number of action items the administration could implement to prevent similar incidents in the future. Among other things, the letter calls for the officers involved in the stop to be identified and fired. It also calls for mandatory implicit bias training, de-escalation training, inclusivity training, and for Chief Michael Snellgrove of the UAHPD to personally take responsibility at a public forum. The Times reached out to Snellgrove and UAHPD representatives, who declined to comment.
Although he continues to voice concerns about the lack of transparency regarding the UAHPD and the fact that it appears to tolerate discriminatory behavior, Draper is optimistic that the situation can improve. He notes that Dawson and several other members of UAH administration attended the protest and seemed receptive. “I know they want to do the right thing, having seen them at our protest,” Draper says “I’m very optimistic we will see the changes we wanted to make.” Dawson could not be reached for comment on this story.