Following the pepper-spraying and arrest of a faculty member’s spouse on campus, a University subcommittee has been set up to look into police policies and practices—including concerns some have expressed about racial profiling.
Rui DaSilva was trying to bring donated bikes into the Quadrangle just before noon on October 11 when he was stopped by a Penn police officer. After an exchange with the officer, he was pepper-sprayed and arrested for disorderly conduct—a charge that was later dropped.
DaSilva, a student at Temple University, is married to Dr. Ann Farnsworth-Alvear, faculty master of Spruce College House, associate professor of history, and director of Latin American and Latino Studies. A U.S. citizen, DaSilva was born in Angola.
In a letter to The Daily Pennsylvanian, Faculty Senate Chair Lance Donaldson-Evans requested “an indepth and impartial review of the events of Oct. 11 [and] that the policy regarding profiling and race-based stops be made known to all community members.” In response, President Judith Rodin asked Dr. Dennis Culhane, professor of social welfare policy and psychology in the School of Social Work, to head up a subcommittee of the Public Safety Advisory Board, which he chairs, to look into the matter.
Maureen Rush, vice president for public safety, stresses that race played no role in the stop. “No one in the Division of Public Safety is in any way going out and profiling any group. If they are, they won’t be here, because that’s not what the Division will stand for.”
Rush says the officer who arrested DaSilva was in her patrol car when she came across him walking east on Spruce, between 36th and 37th streets. “He had one bike on his shoulder and was wheeling a second bike in the company of another male, who had a third bike.” The officer was concerned about recent bike thefts in the area and knew that in one case the perpetrators had been carrying loaded semi-automatic weapons.
When DaSilva did not respond to the officer’s questions about the bikes, she radioed for police back up and tried to get both men to put the bikes down, Rush says. DaSilva did not, and “after about three minutes of dialogue back and forth, the officer elevates her use of force” and peppersprays him. He was treated at the hospital.
DaSilva says he noticed the police car, but wasn’t aware that the officer inside it was trying to communicate with him until he and his friend headed to the security portal at the entrance to the Quad, where he lives, to swipe their ID cards. Before they could do this, the officer got out of her car to confront them.
“She said, ‘Yo! I want to talk to you. How come you didn’t stop?’”
DaSilva says he repeatedly asked, “Is there anything wrong, officer?”
When the officer told him and his friend to drop the bikes and put their hands on the wall, DaSilva recalls thinking, ‘This is crazy … She’s thinking I’m a criminal.’” His friend eventually complied with the order, while DaSilva says he kept trying to find out what was wrong. He says he did not move toward the officer, knowing that any movement could be misconstrued as threatening.
“I said, ‘Before you pepper-spray me I can explain.’ I don’t think she heard.” DaSilva dropped to the ground after the spray hit him. “It’s hurting my eyes and my skin is burning like hell,” he recalls.
According to Rush, Penn Police has a directive against bias-based profiling and posts guidelines on its Website (http://www.publicsafety.upenn.edu/) that must be met in order to justify a pedestrian or vehicle stop. After every stop, a form must be completed stating probable cause as well as the individual’s gender and race. In addition, any use of force by a police officer must be documented and reviewed.
The department also uses a training program created by Dr. Elijah Anderson, Charles and William Day Distinguished Professor of Social Science, that focuses on relationships between a minority community and police departments.
“There has always been a strong commitment from myself on down to fairness and treating people from all walks of life with respect and dignity,” says Rush, “and that has been institutionalized from everything that’s done in training to operational procedures and protocols.”
DaSilva thinks the episode could have been avoided if the officer had used common sense. “She never asked for my ID, my name, or what I was doing here.”
While Rush didn’t comment on the officer’s use of force, “because that’s being examined,” she put the incident in the context of the department’s overall effort to “keep the crime rate down.”
“We hope the members of the community realize we have a tough job to do,” she says, “but it’s a job we’re up to accomplishing if we have the support of the entire community. And that may mean from time to time that some member of the community may in fact be stopped by Penn police to inquire about certain behavior.”
The subcommittee, made up of nine other faculty members, students, and staff members, will report its findings to the president. Until then its proceedings will be confidential, Culhane says.
“Racial profiling is a matter of serious concern to our community, to the city, and to the country,” Rodin wrote in a letter published in the November 19 Almanac, the University’s journal of record. “I believe it is important that we continue to address community concerns about public safety and race, openly and forthrightly, to ensure that all members of our community feel safe.”