Black Princeton Professor Says She Was Mistreated by White Officers Because of her Race, Handcuffed to Table Over Parking Ticket

Imani Perry, a Princeton University professor, in a video image from YouTube. Credit YouTube
Imani Perry, a Princeton University professor, in a video image from YouTube. Credit YouTube

A black Princeton professor is protesting her arrest during a traffic stop last week, saying she was mistreated because of her race by two white police officers who searched her and handcuffed her to a table.

The police chief in Princeton, N.J., however, said the officers had followed department policy in arresting the professor, Imani Perry.

The arrest of Dr. Perry, a professor of African-American studies, and the divergent views of how it was handled have reignited a debate on social media over police tactics and racial profiling.

The arrest came after officers stopped Dr. Perry around 9:30 a.m. on Saturday for driving 67 miles per hour in a 45 m.p.h. zone, Capt. Nicholas K. Sutter, the department chief, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

While Dr. Perry said in a message posted online that she was arrested over “a single parking ticket,” Captain Sutter said that the officers who stopped her — a man and a woman — learned during a routine check that her driving privileges had been suspended and a warrant had been issued for her arrest over two unpaid parking violations from 2013.

“The warrant commands the officer to take the person into custody,” Captain Sutter said.

The officers searched, handcuffed and placed Dr. Perry into a squad car, the captain said. At the police station, she was handcuffed to a workstation and booked. After paying outstanding fines totaling $130, he said, she was released.

Dr. Perry, who declined to comment via email on Tuesday, wrote about the episode on Twitter and Facebook on Monday, saying it had left her humiliated and frightened.

She said the male officer had performed a “body search” despite the presence of a female officer, and that she had not been allowed to make a phone call before being placed in the squad car. She was handcuffed to a table at the police station, she said.

Dr. Perry said that her accounts of the arrest had drawn abusive comments and suggestions that she had brought it on herself. At the same time, she said, she had also attracted supporters who questioned whether a white suspect would have been treated the same way.

She wrote: “There are a number of commentators online who have repeated to me an all-too-common formulation: ‘Well, if you hadn’t done anything wrong, this wouldn’t have happened.’ But this demand for behavioral perfection from Black people in response to disproportionate policing and punishment is a terrible red herring.”

Police departments across the country have drawn scrutiny over what critics have called the harsh treatment of minority suspects. Episodes including the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a white officer in Ferguson, Mo., and the chokehold death of Eric Garner on Staten Island have led to protests, lawsuits and inquiries by the Justice Department.

Another case that captured the national spotlight was the 2015 arrest of Sandra Bland, a black woman from Illinois who was pulled over in Texas in a routine traffic stop that escalated into a confrontation. Ms. Bland spent three days in a county jail before she was found hanging in a cell.

Princeton has been the scene of racial unrest for other reasons in recent months, with students staging a sit-in at the university president’s office in an effort to combat what they said were racial tensions on campus.

Captain Sutter, who said he had watched dashboard camera footage of Dr. Perry’s arrest, said it did not show anything unusual. He said the male officer had checked the “exterior portion of her clothing,” meaning Dr. Perry’s jacket pockets and the areas around her shoes.

Asked whether the female officer should have searched Dr. Perry, Captain Sutter said department policy did not require that female officers search female suspects. He said it would not be practical because the department had only eight female officers. “When we can, we should,” he added. “We will look at the policy.”

Dr. Perry, who joined Princeton in 2009, is also an author who reviewed a book about race for The New York Times.

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SOURCE: N.Y. Times – Christine Hauser