By Christina Butan
Additional reporting by Denise Verriello
On Wednesday, Nov. 30, resident assistant Julienne Dorceus, also known as RA Juju, was asked to take down a bulletin board she created in Fort Awesome. The bulletin board, titled “Killed by Police,” listed the names, races, and ages of people killed by police this year from website killedbypolice.net.
Dorceus, 23, posted the bulletin board on Nov. 9, following the election. She included a disclaimer amongst the list of names that stated the following:
“This is NOT, I repeat NOT, an attack on those who have given their word to serve and protect. This isn’t even an attack on America. What this is, is a REALITY CHECK for the problem with mankind…These unfortunate events have always occurred and are continuing to happen because as a race, the HUMAN RACE that is, we HAVE NOT been able to see that behind the gradation of MELANIN in someone’s skin lies a heart…CHANGE can only come when you realize the source of the problem. The problem isn’t RACE, the PROBLEM is the SELF.”
The board, which was approved by the Office of Community Engagement (OCE), got backlash from a parent within two weeks. Dorceus wasn’t informed until later, but was told the issue was resolved. Mario Rapetti, the Director of Community Engagement, and the rest of the OCE staff determined that nothing was wrong with the board.
However, Dorceus received a phone call on Nov. 30 from her supervisor, Shereen Bourne, who let her know the issue had not gone away and more parents had gotten involved. To diffuse tensions, she was told to remove the board.
“The bulletin board was misinterpreted, but not from our student population as it was available in the building for all of November,” Rapetti told The Beat in an email.
More than just parents had something to say about the board: Purchase President Thomas J. Schwarz received phone calls from the governor and chancellor’s offices, as well as Assemblyman Dean Murray. Murray represents the 3rd Assembly District, which compromises parts of Suffolk County in Long Island, including Medford and Mastic Beach.
“Recently, it has come to my attention about a so called ‘police killing’ wall constructed in a dormitory at SUNY Purchase. My colleague Assemblyman Al Graf and I immediately got on the phone with the chancellor’s office and SUNY Purchase President Thomas Schwartz,” Murray wrote on Facebook.
“I used the platform of the police because it’s one of the most talked about issues that is happening right now…and it was to show that it doesn’t matter the color of your skin, you can fall victim to police violence,” Dorceus told The Beat.
“Not saying that all of these victims were right in the middle of their situations, that wasn’t the point of the board. If people wanted to go and research what exactly was the point behind [their deaths], then that’s fine,” she continued. “But they were killed by police—that’s how they died. If you go on to their coroner’s reports, what was the method of death? By gun. From whom? A police officer. That was just a straight fact that was on public record that I printed out.”
Murray, Graf, and parents saw a different message, one that was an attack on the police.
“If your loved one is raped, shot, stabbed, robbed, assaulted, their house is broken into, what would you suggest we do with the perpetrator?” Graf (5th District) commented on the post. “Try Googling the names. The false narrative is the cops are out there gunning people down for no reason. That’s garbage. The purpose of the bulletin board was to inflame an already volatile anti-cop environment. ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ was a lie.”
Murray also posted an excerpt of an email Schwarz sent to him, in which he stated: “I was not aware that the names listed included many who were killed during the course of crimes and proper police conduct…We are a campus that embraces diversity; however, we do not condone the promotion of misleading information. We will be working with our Resident Advisors and Coordinators to capitalize on this issue. The content on the bulletin board will be promptly removed.”
Schwarz released a statement to the campus community on Monday, Dec. 5, when a town hall meeting about the board was held at the Multicultural Center. The discussion, led by Daisy Baez-Torres, the Coordinator of Diversity Programs for OCE, invited students to express their thoughts on the issue and what the campus could do as a whole to improve on diversity issues. Schwarz took a few moments to give his side of the story and stated several times that the removal of the board was not his doing.
The woman whose Facebook post and photo of the board went viral, Bonnie F. Kelly Buckley, isn’t a parent of a Purchase student, but is friends with one. In her post, she explained that her friend’s daughter attends Purchase, and expressed her own anger towards the board.
“It is not hung in a classroom to further dialogue or to inspire conversation. The board is insensitive, inflammatory, one sided and disrespectful of the THOUSANDS of police officers across the country doing the right thing every single day. Please spread the word and please contact SUNY Purchase and demand it be removed,” Buckley wrote.
She later stated in a comment on Murray’s Facebook post that the board offended her because her husband is a police officer, and for the past 31 years, has never fired his weapon.
“I do not believe this is a violation of anyone’s First Amendment rights,” her comment said. “That would be actually silencing you which hasn’t happened. Censored, yes, silenced, no.”
Schwarz explained that his standard procedure is to forward emails and calls he receives over to the appropriate department to handle them, and that he had been forwarding things to OCE until he was told a decision was made about the board coming down. When Murray contacted him, Schwarz said, the board was already taken down, or in the process of being removed.
“I didn’t make the decision, you need to understand that,” he said. “In 15 years, I have never censored anything on this campus; I don’t intend to censor anything on this campus. If you want to put the board back up, I don’t really care, put it back up.”
“It was being perceived as being an attack on the police for doing their duty—and I do believe that police do their duty and sometimes have to kill somebody, like they did at Ohio State recently,” he continued. “The response from our own police…was that it was an attack on them as well. So, while I’m not in charge of what gets posted anywhere, I think it has to be clear what the message is.”
Students had their own discussions on Facebook group SUNY Purchase Open Forum, where they made several posts to express their anger about the removal of the board.
“Funny, our congressman DOES know SUNY Purchase exists, and while a great number of our living spaces fail code, they choose to pay attention NOW over a peaceful reminder on a bulletin board in said dorms. Odd, isn’t it?” wrote Beth Moffitt.
The board is in the process of being redone by three students (Meahgan Barrett, Mikaela J. Harris, and Amduda Kozlek) with the assistance of Jean Kim, the Interim Vice President for Student Affairs. They hope to post the list of names around areas on campus that everyone can see, like Campus Center North and the library. Some students have even recreated segments of the board on their own dorm doors.
“If it’s being put back up, why was it taken down in the first place?” Dorceus said. “My service is to bring education to the campus community. I was just an RA doing my job, that’s all.”