Columnist Charles Blow tweeted that he was angry when his son was wrongfully detained at Yale
Son described to his father, Blow writes, that an officer brandished his gun
Yale confirmed that police were looking for a "tall, African-American, college-aged student"
As a noted memoirist and New York Times columnist who writes often about race, Charles Blow has spoken about the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, deaths that sparked a national debate over how police treat African-American men.
On Monday, Blow wrote about another young black man’s encounter with police – his son, who was allegedly held at gunpoint on the Yale University campus where he’s a student.
Blow took to Twitter on Sunday, writing that he was “fuming” after his son called to tell him what happened Saturday – that he was walking out of the library when university police “accosted” him and drew their weapons. Blow tweeted that his son was detained because he “fit the description” of a suspect.
Blow’s son was released, and Yale has said that the real suspect was found and arrested later.
The columnist’s son was shaken. On Monday, Blow told CNN that his son is back in class and feeling better.
“He’s a good kid, and just wants to go to school. But one thing that he told me was really astute and worth sharing: he doesn’t want this story to only be about him,” Blow said. “He realizes that there are other young people who have fewer privileges, less access and endure even greater traumas, but whose stories go unreported until something truly tragic happens. He wants the focus to remain on them. I couldn’t be prouder of him for having the wisdom to recognize that.”
Sunday night, the columnist was incredibly angry after he says his son called him to explain what happened.
“#I can’t breathe and #blacklives matter,” Blow posted in a series of tweets. “This is exactly why I have NO PATIENCE for ppl trying to convince me that the fear these young blk men feel isn’t real #RacialBattleFatigue,” the columnist wrote in tweets that were shared hundreds of thousands of times.
Yale released a statement Monday that said Blow’s son was detained in the vicinity of a reported crime, and that he closely matched the physical description of the suspect.
“Let us be clear: we have great faith in the Yale Police Department and admire the professionalism that its officers display on a daily basis to keep our campus safe. What happened … is not a replay of what happened in Ferguson; Staten Island; Cleveland; or so many other places in our time and over time in the United States. The officer, who himself is African American, was responding to a specific description relayed by individuals who had reported a crime in progress,” it read.
The statement continued: “Even though the officer’s decision to stop and detain the student may have been reasonable, the fact that he drew his weapon during the stop requires a careful review.”
The school promised to share the results of that investigation with the broader community.
On Sunday, Yale spokeswoman Karen Peart wrote in email that Yale police responded to an emergency call from undergraduates in a residential community on campus, saying that someone had “entered their rooms under false pretenses, pretending to be looking for someone.”
Students in the same community had been burglarized that week, Peart explained, and the police were looking for someone who was “a tall, African-American, college-aged student wearing a black jacket and a red and white hat.”
The real suspect was later found on an adjacent residential community, was arrested and is expected to face felony burglary charges, according to Peart.
Blow declined Sunday to talk to CNN about the incident, but he gave a detailed account in his Times column of what his son said happened.
When his son was leaving the Yale library around 5:45 p.m. Saturday, he saw an officer “jogging” toward the entrance of another building across the grounds. Blow’s son recounted to his father that he started walking back to his dorm when he noticed a police officer following him and then speaking into his radio, saying, “I got him.”
The officer shouted, “Hey, turn around!” according to Blow’s recounting of his son’s story.
The officer raised his gun and told the college student to get on the ground. Blow’s son, the columnist writes, dropped to his knees, raised his hand and laid down on his stomach. He was then asked for his name and where he went to school.
The student answered, according to the columnist. Then the officer told him to get up, gave the student his name and told the student to call him the next day, according to the column’s retelling. Then Blow’s son said he got up and started to walk back to his dorm.
According to Blow, his son told him: “‘I was scared. My legs were shaking slightly. After a few more paces, the officer, ‘Hey, my man. Can you step off to the side?’ “
The student did as he was told. Then one officer asked him to turn around to get a better view of the jacket the student was wearing. The officer asked for the student’s name again and his ID. Blow’s son complied, according to the columnist. Then the officer held him longer, asking more questions, Blow writes.
“Now, don’t get me wrong: If indeed my son matched the description of a suspect, I would have had no problem with him being questioned appropriately,” Blow wrote in the Times.”School is his community, his home away from home, and he would have appreciated reasonable efforts to keep it safe. The stop is not the problem; the method of the stop is the problem.”
Blow wrote that the dean of Yale and the university police chief have apologized to him.
But he wants answers.
“Why was a gun drawn first? Why was he not immediately told why he was being detained? Why not ask for ID first? What if my son had panicked under the stress, having never had a gun pointed at him before, and made what the officer considered a ‘suspicious’ movement? Had I come close to losing him?
“Triggers cannot be unpulled. Bullets cannot be called back,” Blow wrote.
“This is the scenario I have always dreaded: my son at the wrong end of a gun barrel, face down on the concrete,” he added. “I had always dreaded the moment that we would share stories about encounters with the police in which our lives hung in the balance, intergenerational stories of joining the inglorious ‘club.’ “