Video: Cops' felony stop on NJ campus sparks controversy
Officers stopped the car because it matched the description of a car belonging to an armed suspect, but the video has sparked viral controversy
By Jan Hefler
The Philadelphia Inquirer
GLASSBORO, NJ — Controversy gripped Rowan University on Tuesday, one day after two African American students were stopped on campus by police and ordered out of their car as several officers drew their weapons. The black Charger that the two friends were riding in matched the description of a vehicle that police were looking for after someone had reported seeing a man with a gun.
A nearly four-minute video snippet of the police stop, which occurred in a parking lot by Mimosa Hall and the student recreation center on the Glassboro campus, was posted on Facebook and racked up more than 160,000 views on Tuesday. Hundreds of comments from outraged students were also posted.
Altaif Hassan, a senior from Trenton, and Giavanna Roberson, a freshman from Cherry Hill, said in an interview that they feared for their lives. "The cop cars came up behind us, turned on their sirens and I thought it was for someone else. They pulled guns out and said to throw the keys out of the car and to get out," said Roberson, a nursing student, as her voice quivered. "I was praying Taif didn't trip or anything because anything could have happened."
Hassan said he too was frightened, even while he obeyed every order. In a Facebook post Monday night he said, "I realized today that my worse fear is to die on camera, for the world to play over and over and over again."
Glassboro police did not respond to calls for comment.
Mike Kantner, who heads campus security, said that three Glassboro police cars were on the scene and that two campus police vehicles came to assist after the car was stopped, around 4:45 p.m. "The students were very cooperative. …There was no weapon and they were sent on their way," he said.
But several students witnessed the stop as they passed by on their way to the student center or to class and were upset at the police action. "As president of the Student Government Association, I am deeply concerned about the incident. … It happened in the middle of the day and a lot of students want answers as to what led up to that situation," said Rbrey Singleton, before he and the two students in the car met with Kantner and the dean of students on Tuesday afternoon. "You don't expect this to happen to you while you're on campus."
A town hall will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the student center to air student concerns, he said. "Right now the investigation into what happened is still open," he said. "But work needs to be done on this."
Rowan has 19,500 students and about 30 percent are minorities.
In an alert sent to all students on campus that evening, Rowan University reported the incident and said, "Being that it was believed that one of the occupants of the vehicle had a gun, police followed procedures and drew their weapons until all the occupants existed the vehicle and were searched."
In the video that was posted to Facebook, the police can be heard yelling to the two students to get out of their car. One officer is seen holding what appears to be a rifle while another is gripping a handgun while they crouch behind their police vehicles. Hassan gets out, puts his hands above his head, and walks backward toward the police car, as he is instructed to do. He is told to kneel down and is handcuffed by an officer while two other officers keep a gun pointed at him.
A minute or so later, Roberson, his friend, gets out, similarly raises her hands and walks backward to the police car. She too was handcuffed.
"I've been pulled over countless times by Glassboro police," said Hassan, a biology major from Trenton who aspires to be a pediatrician. "But this was the worst. There were six guns drawn on me."
Hassan said that he was stopped frivolously as many as 20 times by Glassboro police in his sophomore year, and that he was never charged. He said that this incident shook him and he was worried that things might spiral out of control. He said that he kept asking why he was detained and that no one apologized afterward or explained that a mistake was made.
While he sat in the backseat of a police vehicle and watched the police escort Roberson to another police vehicle, his fear intensified. "I was like, oh Lord, please don't let her die in front of me, and have this on camera, being played for years."
Jermey Brown, a senior and a friend of Hassan, said that he had learned of the incident from other friends who witnessed it as it was happening. He said several students took videos with their phones. "I was worried about his safety," he said. "Within the black community there is a lot of concern when these things happen. … Even when they were complying with the officers, they were still being treated poorly."