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'All I did was be black': Police are called on Smith College student who was eating lunch in a campus common room by school employee who said she looked 'out of place'

Oumou Kanoute, the student, shared the video on Facebook  


Smith College’s president apologized this week after a campus employee called the police on a black student who “seemed to be out of place” as she ate lunch and read in a common area.
The student, Oumou Kanoute, was on a break from her on-campus job on Tuesday when she was approached by a campus police officer responding to the call, the college said in a statement. The officer found nothing suspicious about her.
“I did nothing wrong, I wasn’t making any noise or bothering anyone,” she wrote on Facebook. “All I did was be black.”
The encounter was the latest example of a black person encountering unwarranted police scrutiny in recent months. 

Each incident shared a catalyst: Someone considered black people going about their everyday lives to be suspicious or dangerous enough to call the police. On Facebook, Ms. Kanoute noted that the person who called the police did not approach her first.
“I am blown away at the fact that I cannot even sit down and eat lunch peacefully,” she wrote.
In a statement on Thursday, Kathleen McCartney, Smith’s president, apologized to Ms. Kanoute and said that “we continue to fall short even as we continue to make progress.”
“This painful incident reminds us of the ongoing legacy of racism and bias in which people of color are targeted while simply going about the business of their daily lives,” Ms. McCartney said. “It is a powerful reminder that building an inclusive, diverse and sustainable community is urgent and ongoing work.”
Amy Hunter, the college’s interim director of inclusion, diversity and equity, said that she had reached out to Ms. Kanoute and was investigating the incident along with human resources and the campus police.
“Smith College does not tolerate race- or gender-based discrimination in any form,” she said. “Such behavior can contribute to a climate of fear, hostility and exclusion that has no place in our community.”

Ms. Kanoute, who did not respond to a Facebook message on Thursday, wrote that the person who called the police was a white college employee. She appealed to Smith to identify the caller, which the college has declined to do, citing campus policy.
She said the person had reported her as a “suspicious black male sitting in the common room.” In audio snippets that she posted on Facebook, she speaks cordially to the officer.
“We were wondering why you were here,” the officer says.
“I was eating lunch,” she responds. “I’m working the summer program so I was just relaxing on the couch.”
She wrote that the officer apologized on behalf of the caller, whom she described as “the racist punk who called the police on me for absolutely nothing.”
“From the doorway he didn’t know who it was,” the officer says in the audio.
“It’s O.K.,” she responds. “It’s just like, kind of stuff like this happens way too often, where people just feel, like, threatened.”
She wrote that she was “very nervous, and had a complete meltdown after this incident.”
“No student of color should have to explain why they belong at prestigious white institutions,” she wrote. “I worked my hardest to get into Smith, and I deserve to feel safe on my campus.”

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