Ten Black incoming students at Washington University were racially profiled while walking back from an IHOP restaurant when police stopped and accused them of skipping out on their bill.
Several of the students still had their receipts and presented them to the officers. But this wasn’t enough. The authorities forced the students to walk back to the restaurant, followed by six police cars, to talk to IHOP employees and confirm that they were not the suspects they were looking for.
The Clayton Police Department appeared to deflect blame from its officers in its statement. The IHOP in question has dealt with a few dozen dine and dash incidents this year alone, the police reported. CPD also described the students’ experience as “collateral damage” of the high volume of dine and dash incidents affecting the community.
Police Chief Kevin Murphy denied that six squad cars followed the students and said it was “more likely four patrol cars,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Murphy also said the suspects were described as four Black people (not ten, the number of students in the group police stopped) who had skipped out on a $62 bill.
“Our department has and will continue to study what could have been done better in this and in all incidents where we have complaints,” the department said. “Even without any apparent policy or legal violations, we look for ways to improve and make our officers even more effective in positive interactions.”
The students have not been identified by name but are all Black and incoming freshmen at the university. They are staying on the campus as part of a summer program focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), according to the Post-Dispatch.
The school’s Association of Black Students issued a statement, reported by KMOV, calling out the department for its lack of accountability:
The comments of Police Chief Murphy minimize the impact of his officers’ conduct, thus invalidating the experience of those affected. Murphy characterizes this misconduct as a mere inconvenience — this indicates that there is likely a significant failure on his part to understand the responsibility of law enforcement to ensure that civilians are treated with dignity and respect. The officers involved in this incident, a false accusation against ten Black Washington University students claiming that they left a restaurant without paying, engaged in the most dangerous form of racial profiling by relying solely on the race of the incoming students when stopping them.
The university as a whole expressed grave disappointment that the students endured such an experience while living on their campus and preparing to call their school “home.”
“They were recruited from all over the United States and, as high-school students, worked tremendously hard with an eye toward attending an institution like ours,” the university said in a statement. “We, and many of our peer institutions, competed head-to-head to recruit them. The community in which they would learn, live, socialize and engage was a very important factor in deciding which school they would attend. We won their confidence and they chose to join our student body because they believed they would have an exceptional experience at Washington University and here in St. Louis.”