Bates students received email notifications from Bates security last summer about burglary suspects in the local community. The suspect description: black males in hoodies. If I were an African American male, I can say with confidence (as I stare at my wardrobe) that I would have been suspect number one.
Jourdan Fanning described his experience being on campus this summer as a time when he “tried to walk around and be as approachable as possible so that people wouldn’t assume that he was the suspect.”
Such vague alerts, delivered to the entire community, make any student of color on the Bates campus feel uncomfortable going about their daily lives. Someone always thinks that they’re a suspect, and is ready to accuse them of causing trouble in the community. On a day-to-day basis, these students “suck it up” and go about their daily lives hoping that community members will treat them in accordance with our school’s implied moral code.
Recently at Bates, four African American students ordered a pizza for a relaxing weekend night, and were quickly roped into a racially charged incident involving Papa John’s pizza delivery, Lewiston Police Department, Bates security and the Bates Deans Office. Jourdan Fanning described that “This situation brought to light a composite of larger negative experiences that students of color have on this campus. This one situation wasn’t that big but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back…It’s a lot larger than the administration is giving it credit for.”
When an event involves a variety of figures from the Bates and local community, there are a variety of perspectives that could be presented and explored. Today, however, this story serves as the crucial medium through which the students will make their story known to the Bates community. With a verse common to the “Law and Order” TV show, I preface this portrayal of events, which was told to me by the students involved, as ‘their story’.
Two weekends ago, Thomas Koshi, Leroy Barnes, Jourdan Fanning, and Matthew Duca were hanging out in Room 34 in Webb House when they decided to order a Papa John’s pizza. Papa Johns’ chip promotion meant that with their six chips, given to them by the delivery car driver over the last few months, they had earned a free pizza.
When the pizza came, Thomas Koshi handed over six Papa John’s poker chips to a new deliveryman. Unfortunately, the deliveryman believed that since some of the chips were unmarked, the men were cheating him out of paying for their pizza. Instead of refusing to accept the chips, however, the deliveryman accepted the men’s payment of $2.97 for the delivery fee and got in his car. He drove away, thus symbolizing an end to their brief miscommunication.
Minutes later, the four friends are sitting in the same room in Webb when they hear a loud knock. When Fanning opened his door, Lewiston police walk in (accompanied by Bates security man Paul) and ask if anyone has ordered a pizza. When he finally realizes the large pizza box sitting in the middle of floor, he exclaims “Aha!” (well done, Sherlock) and in Barnes’ words; “immediately accuses us of the crime.”
LPD explained that Papa John’s called them to retrieve money from this location; however, that the pizza deliveryman didn’t demand that the men pay in monetary form. He had already accepted the chips and driven away.
The police officer then presented his ultimatum: pay for the pizza, or go to jail. Koshi, Barnes Duca and Fanning chose to pay for the pizza, but none had cash and all were dumbfounded by the situation. Duca volunteered to pay with his credit card, but when he called Papa John’s the line was busy. The police officer believed the students were lying and started calling them “idiots” for not calling the store to pay.
When the police officer finally reached Papa John’s by phone, a worker told him that the transaction had been closed.
Still the cop did not believe that the men were telling the truth. He wanted to know whose room they were in. He continued, “Did you burglarize this room?” Bates security man Paul, who is standing next to the LPD officer at the scene, knows Fanning and has opened his door for him in Webb when Fanning has lost his keys. Instead of telling the police officer that the room belongs to one of the men, he remains silent. “He didn’t come to our defense at any instance,” Fanning added disappointedly. Only when the LPD officer took the men into the hall to scan their IDs and check for warrants does Paul announce that an official report will be sent to the Deans Office, and that the room is indeed Jourdan’s.
The police officer, immediately realizing that he was in the wrong, expresses his profound guilt by being uncommonly friendly. He quickly shares with the men the name of the deliveryman who made the call to the police department, even though that information probably shouldn’t be shared with fellow citizens.
Five days later, the men had a meeting with Ted Goundie and Crystal Williams; however, the meeting was focused on the verification of their story rather than a discussion of the campus environment toward African American students. The Deans themselves may have been dumbfounded by the situation, but according to Barnes and Fanning, Dean Williams and Dean Goundie were hesitant to confront the Lewiston Police Department on behalf of the students.
Apparently, confronting the LPD regarding this social justice incident would discourage LPD from being as lenient with students partying on Frye Street on the weekends. In other words, we wouldn’t want to bite the hand that feeds us our Friday night fun even if it meant garnering some justice for previous race-related incidents.
Fanning eloquently summarized his and his friends’ experience on that night; “The reason that we have qualms with Bates as an institution right now is because on that night in particular, and experiences beyond that night as well, it is well known especially within the black community that security is not necessarily on our side, per se. There have been so many situations in which students of color, particularly African American males on this campus, are treated in a way that starkly contrasts the morals and ideals that the school holds itself up to, and also the promise that was made to us by security when we decided to come to this institution.” Fanning recalled that all freshman during orientation walk past a table set up by security and are told, “‘we’re here to protect you all.’ But on that particular night,” Fanning continued, “he (Paul) stood there and left us hanging. We watched him, as he didn’t do anything. That situation could have progressed in so many different ways.”
There are many conclusions that can be derived from this scenario. Perhaps the feeling of discomfort that African American males in particular frequently feel on the Bates campus could be different if Bates security made an effort to back up their students when they were innocent. Perhaps Bates administration and Bates security should apologize to the students for their misconduct in this situation. Perhaps Papa Johns should end their pizza promotions because they cause more disagreements over paying than they do enjoyable experiences (I grew up in New York City, so frankly I’m appalled that people classify what Papa John’s makes as pizza…).
Bates United, a club started by Jourdan Fanning himself, has been incredibly supportive by discussing these events and brainstorming ways to educate the Bates and national community. They have started a “boycott Papa John’s” trend at Bates, and in the coming days, students will see signs requesting those ordering pizza to pick from a variety of other local options (Lewiston House of Pizza is a fantastic choice).
This is one story in a long chain of events that comprises the experience of African American students at Bates College. As an institution, Bates prominently advertises its abolitionist roots as the cause of our friendly and engaging community. What our institution should remember is that the impressive quality of abolitionists was truly their ability to engage in challenging conversations and confront harrowing situations.