There are a few times of day you can routinely expect people to look “agitated:” heading to work is definitely one of them.
But, typically, most people don’t have the cops called on them as they’re heading to work—regardless of how stressed out they look. That wasn’t the case for University of Massachusetts Amherst employee Reg Andrade, who says he was racially profiled on the way to his job last Friday.
According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, an anonymous caller dialed a tip line to report Andrade, who is black, describing him as as a “gentleman, African-American, bald” and looking “very agitated.” The caller also reported Andrade’s whereabouts and belongings: he was headed to the Whitmore Administration building, the caller said, with a “large duffel bag … hanging off a strap, very heavy hanging on the ground.”
Andrade, who has worked at UMass for the past 14 years as a disabilities services case manager, typically exercises in the morning before heading to work, and was leaving the campus rec center. The bag in question was his gym bag.
As a result of the call, writes the Gazette, police shut down the building and searched for Andrade. He “returned from a bathroom break to find two plainclothes police officers waiting to question him — about what he did the night before, when he got to campus, whether he was upset walking into the building.”
Andrade told the Gazette that the whole experience left him shaken up.
“How can somebody just walk by me, not even speaking, and try to discern that I was agitated?” He said.
“This is when it becomes dangerous, when people know how to push the buttons of law enforcement … Those were those strong key buzzwords: agitated black man dragging a heavy bag.”
Simultaneously the saddest and the least surprising detail of this story: Andrade confirms he’s been profiled before, both as a student of the university and as an employee.
From the Gazette:
One summer, when he was a student at the university, someone called the police on him while he sat in an empty classroom listening to an audio book. Later, as an employee, someone again called the police on him after he finished working at a new student orientation.
“I always have to have my ID card on me, always, no matter where I go,” he said.
The repeated acts of racism have left their mark on him, he says, likening each act an injury happening in the same location.
“Each time it gets deeper and deeper and more intense,” he said. “And psychologically, emotionally and physically, it’s just draining.”
Coincidentally, this latest wound comes just a couple weeks after an office retreat to Smith College was relocated because Andrade said he felt uncomfortable with the location. This summer, Smith College sophomore Oumou Kanoute had police called on her while she was eating her lunch and relaxing in a common area. The caller told campus police the 21-year-old seemed “out of place.”
In a recent interview with The Boston Globe, Kanoute says she’s become more withdrawn since the incident, no longer running alone, joining campus celebrations, and preferring to eat in her room.
“I have to watch how I act,” she told the paper. “It’s hard to maneuver. It’s hard to tell who’s being disingenuous, who’s being opportunistic, who wants to be your friend for who you are, and who wants to know the Oumou that this happened to.”
UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy sent an email to the campus community about the incident, calling what happened to Andrade “a difficult matter.”
“We are living at the intersection of two very trying issues. We must all do our part to respond quickly to perceived threats of potential violence on campus, and we must build an inclusive community that respects everyone and rejects profiling,” he wrote.