Students demand #jSUtice after Ackerman Assault
Early Saturday morning around 12:40 AM on February 9th, three students of color were attacked by three white men and a white woman on 814 Ackerman Ave. Students were leaving a birthday celebration when the white woman struck three students in the head as the men attacked them as well. After the white woman threatened to shoot the students, the assailants fled the scene in their car shortly after.
On February 10th, a post titled “Statement for Syracuse Student Body” began circulating among the student population. This post criticized the manner in which the Department of Public Safety and the Syracuse Police Department handled the racially-motivated crime. The official statement from SPD, in contrast to the student statement, failed to include the race of the suspects as well as the racial slurs the assailants used against the victims. The statement was signed “Your Fellow Students”, and warned all students “especially, students of color… to be cautious” after the incident.
The incident caused a wave of fear regarding the safety of campus as well as the neighborhoods surrounding campus. Victoria Payne, a second year SU student told the Daily Orange in an interview that DPS should have stated the racially-charged motivations “because it’s important to know if people are going after students of color”.
On the 12th, the SPD said in a statement: “At this point in the investigation, after speaking with victims and witnesses, it does not appear that this incident was motivated by race.”
The Student Association also spoke up on the matter, posting their own statement on Instagram on the 11th. In the post, they called the assault “racially charged” and “condemn[ed] them for their lack of transparency when notifying the student body”.
Ghufran Salih, SA president, also stated in an interview: “I don’t agree with what happened, the way DPS handled this, and I’m very disheartened by it. And so that’s why we’re trying to get DPS to talk to the students and to tell the truth about what happened.”
On the 11th, SA held a meeting in which a bill was presented for the purpose of “urging DPS to recognize the racial implications of this crime”. The bill also stated that DPS “refused to categorize this criminal act as a hate crime”.
On Monday the 18th, students were able to speak on the subject at a forum based around the topic of the Ackerman assault organized by SA as well as the Student African American Society. Passionate students were able to use their voices to fight for justice and safety in SU.
The next day, SU News sent a campus-wide email acknowledging the racist language used and outlining seven steps “to ensure that all members of the community feel safe, valued, supported and empowered”. Some of these steps include possibly installing security cameras in neighborhoods where students live, seeking more options for student late-night transportation, and creating a color advisory committee.
Nearly a month after the assault, there is uncertainty as to what progress, if any, has been made regarding the investigation of the assault.
Students have been increasingly weary about the safety of our community. All students should feel safe on and around campus, and many are working with resources to ensure that students don’t live in fear at their own school. But they shouldn’t have to. Rather than ignoring the topic of race altogether, it’s necessary that we as a community acknowledges the racism that weighs down on this campus and work to combat it rather than dismiss it as a non-issue.
The way that DPS and SPD handled the situation brought attention to an even larger issue regarding racism: For many institutions, it is easier to ignore racism than to deal with it. Racism not only isolates huge groups of people on this campus, it creates fear within minorities and people of color.
Fortunately, enough students at Syracuse cared enough to bring the racism into attention and condemn the institutions that attempted to dismiss it.
While not every student may have to deal with the consequences of racism, the Theta Tau video that went viral last year definitely shone a spotlight on the ugly racism that is still so prevalent on campus. However, bringing attention to a topic is only the first step in combating it. We must not only acknowledge it as an issue, but also make further efforts to fight it both within the system and individually.
The effects of the Ackerman assault hit all corners of campus. When first hearing about the incident, a wave of disgust, fear sadness, and anger struck so many members of the community. When something as hateful and scary as the Ackerman assault happens on your own campus, it’s not longer something that’s separated from you. It affects so many people, our own peers, so deeply and sharply.
Syracuse is known for being a diverse and progressive school. But racism is still extremely present, even if not everyone experiences it firsthand. It’s not removed from us. It’s not something we only have to witness in the news or hear is happening at other schools. It’s in our dorms, in our dining halls, and in our classrooms.
The students who demanded change after the Ackerman assault showed us how to start effective change. We must shout. We must scream until they hear us. The administration needs to hear our voices. And if we’re loud enough, we might just create change.