“Walking While Black”

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As a journalism student at the University of North Texas, I am troubled by the current controversial incident involving the dean of our department.  The timeliness and proximity of this issue couldn’t be more appropriate for this week’s blog.  On October 24, Dean Dorothy Bland was walking down the street when she was stopped by two Caucasian police officers in her neighborhood of Corinth.  The police informed Bland she was walking down the wrong side of the street and advised her to move to the other side for safety purposes.  Before reading any commentary on the incident, I watched the video in order to form my own perception of the event.  I was intrigued to see how this four minute ordeal has become a Public Relations crisis for the University and its dean.

The stop itself raised no issue with me.  Police officers are public servants trained to protect citizens.  If the officers felt Bland was in danger, then requesting she move to the other side of the street is perfectly acceptable.  I’m not certain of police policy, but shouldn’t the encounter cease at that point.  Why ask for the deans identification? Why even get out of the patrol car?  Wouldn’t simply rolling the window down and asking Bland to move across the street suffice?  I don’t blame Bland for her reaction or for taking pictures of the scene.  As journalists, taking photos is part of our job.  She may have decided during the stop to write an article about it, in which case, she would need a photo.

The dean did in fact write an article, and the aftermath has sparked a PR crisis for the school and the journalism department.  Surely, she knew her article was going to have consequences based on its tone and context.  I’m proud to be a member of the Mayborn School of Journalism, and this article has diminished the school’s reputation.  If Bland wanted to write an objective article of the incident and express a thoughtful concern for our nation’s racial tension, I see no issue.  However, comparing the stop to the Travon Martin case, and conveying an outcry of racial profiling is unnecessary.  Now, the school’s reputation is being questioned and its image diminished.  As a future PR professional I would consider two options.  Do nothing and hope this blows over with no severe damage to the school’s reputation, or ask the dean to release a statement of remorse.

Sources

Bland, D. (n.d.). Dorothy Bland: I was caught ‘walking while black.’ Police chief: No, officers were doing their jobs. Retrieved November 4, 2015.

Dean outraged by police stop gets rebuttal, blowback. (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2015.

Dean’s column sparks debate. (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2015.

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