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DeCafé Anti-Theft Rules Mirror Stop-and-Frisk Policies

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In 2013, former United States District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York Shira Scheindlin ruled that New York City’s stop-and-frisk practice was unconstitutional. Specifically, she ruled that it violated the equal protection clause under the Fourteenth Amendment.

What exactly was New York City’s stop-and-frisk? It was a New York Police Department policy that allowed officers to detain, question, and search pedestrians under the auspices of “reasonable suspicion” that the pedestrian was involved or implicated in a crime.

Did it reduce crime? Unlikely. There’s little evidence suggesting that stop-and-frisk policing tactics affect crime rates. While New York City has gotten safer since 2002, there are several existing variables that muddle any argument of stop-and-frisk’s effectiveness. Smarter usage of targeted response data and citywide efforts to remove lead from homes — thereby improving childhood brain development — is much more likely to be responsible for a safer NYC than stop-and-frisk policies.

In short, stop-and-frisk perpetuates systemic racism by affirming the criminalization of Black and brown bodies. Between 2004 and 2012, 54 percent of NYPD stops were executed on Black people, 31.8 percent on Latinx people, and a mere, distressing 10 percent on white people. Every year, no fewer than 80 percent of people stopped were found to be innocent of wrongdoing, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio reported.

Why does any of this matter? Well, for one, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Never forget that. With relevance to our campus, stop-and-frisk policy has made its way to Oberlin College by way of DeCafé. It’s no surprise that people steal from DeCafé; many probably know someone that does so frequently. Ease and opportunity, mixed with entitlement and a profound display of privilege, allows people to disassociate themselves from the very real effects of theft on an operation. This is bad, and I obviously vehemently object to stealing. However, the new anti-theft policy reminiscent of stop-and-frisk in DeCafé is not the solution.

How does this new anti-theft policy work? Students will now be issued a receipt with all purchases from DeCafé. Students will then — allegedly, at random — be required to present their items and receipt to a policy enforcer. Students found with items not on their receipt or lacking a receipt altogether will then be referred to the College for disciplinary action.

This is a terrible move for Oberlin. While it may seem reasonable at first glance, NYC’s experience with stop-and-frisk demonstrates clear faults with such a system. These types of discretionary policies are bound to be plagued by the nature of racism, which criminalizes POC while simultaneously facilitating a culture in which white people are distanced from criminality.

I don’t know whose idea this was, but, in blunt terms, it was a poor one and needs to be reconsidered immediately. One of the most damaging effects of stop-and-frisk in NYC was the fact that it alienated people from law enforcement and forced wedges into communities.

Stealing by some Obies is a really bratty move. The New York Times reports that 70 percent of Oberlin families exist in the top 20 percent, meaning that most Obies can purchase their items without issue. Theft ultimately hurts DeCafé’s bottom line, and the effects of a hurt bottom line are often felt by DeCafé’s staff. For Obies with the means to make purchases from DeCafé, to steal is ultimately harmful to the institution and, as of recently, is beginning to put students of color at risk.

Stop stealing, and stop stop-and-frisk too.

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8 Responses to “DeCafé Anti-Theft Rules Mirror Stop-and-Frisk Policies”

  1. Amy Rothstein on April 22nd, 2018 11:07 AM

    When I shop at Costco, I’m given a receipt for my purchases. Before exiting the store, each shopper is required to show the receipt to an employee hired to make sure there is nothing in the person’s shopping cart that isn’t on the receipt. I have no problem with this procedure because EVERY shopper is required to do this. Could the same procedure work for DeCafe? Of course, it’s possible for people to slip an item(s) into a backpack, purse etc., but I would hope nobody would be accused of stealing unless theft is actually seen. Racial profiling targets too many people innocent of wrongdoing. As an old white woman, I’m not a target for profiling, but too many young people of color have experienced the humiliating and often frightening instance of being stopped and frisked. I would hate to see such a procedure instituted at DeCafe. If checking each person’s purchases could at least cut down on thefts, would this be an approach to try?

  2. Sam on April 24th, 2018 11:01 AM

    In one of his Huffington Post articles, this columnist describes Oberlin students as “incredibly thoughtful” and “critical thinkers with a profound reach for idealism and a genuine desire for justice.”

    Now we learn that these Oberlin students are thoughtfully stealing so much from DeCafe that it is economical for the college to buy receipt-printing equipment and hire guards to attempt to stem the losses.

    When I was a student, my friends and I didn’t know any fellow students who were thieves. Today, Dunbar writes that he and probably many others know habitual robbers. Isn’t this shocking?

    Dunbar, after making a rather tortured comparison to New York City’s former stop-and-frisk policy, is against checking receipts, claiming that this would “[criminalize] POC while simultaneously facilitating a culture in which white people are distanced from criminality.” It is not clear whether he thinks that it is a law of nature that any guards employed by Oberlin would be racist against non-whites, or whether he thinks that only non-whites steal. Either possibility is quite problematical.

    Although Dunbar states that he “vehemently object[s] to stealing”, he then later takes this back, stating that “stealing BY SOME Obies is a really bratty move” (emphasis added), and that stealing is only harmful “for Obies with the means to make purchases”. Are we to believe that Oberlin students, whose dining hall brags that it only uses ground chuck for its hamburgers, and which offers numerous student jobs, can only save themselves from starving or freezing to death by stealing from DeCafe?

    This is extremely insulting to anyone who has ever had any experience or knowledge of poverty. For example, when I was in graduate school one of my housemates was considered by her hometown to be one of their successes. Why? Because she was a professional stripper. You see, by that time half of her former elementary-school classmates were either dead or in jail, whereas she had a reasonably-paid job. My housemate earned more money by creating her own costumes and dances, which she used to pay for a college education in fashion design. She did not steal. It is reprehensible for Oberlin students, who claim to be striving for justice, to excuse themselves for being crooks.

    Finally, Dunbar states that stealing “is beginning to put students of color at risk.” This is clearly a reference to the Aladin-et al incident, where three Oberlin students, according to their own confessions, decided to steal wine from a local store. When a store employee caught one of them, the three students physically attacked the employee, who had to receive hospital treatment for his injuries. The violent thieves were found guilty and given a very light sentence: a small fine without jail time. Since the only person “at risk” in this incident was the store employee, one might think that said employee was a non-white student which Dunbar was concerned for. Unfortunately, this is incorrect: the employee was white, and it was the violent criminals who were “students of color”. Why Dunbar is concerned about the welfare of the robbers and not their victim is unclear. Does this reflect the “desire for justice” that Dunbar claimed?

    Apparently, the college’s new slogan is “Oberlin students: changing the world one theft at a time.”

  3. lua stamos on April 27th, 2018 2:12 AM


    You are the same person masked in a different screenname who comes to comment on every article about Gibson’s.

    You know nothing about what happened that day.

    You were also not present at any of the public hearings, so kindly stfu and reformulate your arguments. You’re clearly unable to see the irony in your colored conceptualization of violence and theft saran wrapped in a deliciously thoughtless characterization of people you do not know based on your limited critical thinking skills when reading poorly written Chronicle-Telegram articles.

    Your statements are mildly insulting, at best, given that you can’t move past generalizations long enough to articulate a clear point that seems riddled in bitterness and acrimony.

    Who denied you admission to the postsecondary institution of your choice? With so much time spent vocalizing your stress about young adults under the ageof 25, I’d surely hope you’re generating all of that goodwill by volunteering at Oberlin Community Services, the Boys and Girls Club and Kendal. Ultimately, I wish you well and send you so much love and compassion. I hope that you are able to share, process, and address whatever negative experiences have convinced you to take precious time out of your day to wax poetic about the injustices of talking about injustice.

    After all, you’re doing more to change the world and encourage positive discourse in this comment section than the students attending courses taught by phDs more than four times a week and actively engaging in community centers, internships, global fellowships, and postbaccalaureate studies, yes?

    Good for you, Sam: influencing global peace, one bitter trollpost at a time.

  4. Steven Kennedy on April 27th, 2018 4:37 PM

    Sam’s criticisms of the column and Obie attitudes are analytical and persuasive. Your childish ad hominem rant, not so much.

  5. webmaster on April 29th, 2018 5:28 PM

    Hi, Sam is not the person you’re referring to.

  6. John on April 27th, 2018 11:17 AM

    Another (recent) alum perspective:

    When I was in school the people I know who stole from DeCafe did so mostly because they felt justified in doing so due to Oberlin’s excessively high tuition costs. Furthermore, it wasn’t hard to discern that DeCafe sold goods at prices substantially above market rates while providing a service that was essentially no better than your standard neighborhood bodega. The attitude I saw was more one of “I’m already paying ridiculous amounts of money and will probably have student debt until my 60s, so I might as well get my money’s worth.” From that vantage point, it’s hard to feel bad about “the very real effects of theft on an operation” when that operation is underwritten by a school with 9 figure endowment that’s ripping you off already.

    That said, if the concern here is that random checks aren’t actually random (a valid concern), the author could do better by advocating for an objectively impartial policy that is codified in some way (i.e., the policy enforcer will only check every 3 students exiting during non-peak hours, and every 5 students during peak hours) rather than criticizing the current policy without providing any alternatives other than stating that it “needs to be reconsidered”.

  7. Brian McDonough on October 5th, 2018 8:10 PM

    everyone shows their receipt

    alleged problem solved

  8. Alumnus on October 21st, 2018 10:48 PM

    I remember some people stealing smoothies from Decafe. I also remember many people complaining about Gibson’s (before the incident) because their prices were noticeably higher than IGA/Walmart and complaining about Gibson’s “ripping them off”, although the campus sentiment was also overwhelmingly anti-Walmart for shutting down local businesses.

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