What crime alert e-mails didn't say about Miquan Boyd

By Quinn Ford

Quinn Ford

I made the conscious decision to leave my wallet in the car, but I changed my mind after a couple of steps toward Lincoln Square Mall. I went back and grabbed it. I hesitated for a second, then took out my debit card and put the wallet in my back pocket. Did that make me racist or just cautious?

I thought about it as I walked toward our meeting point, the tables in the front of the mall. For the past year, I had been receiving crime alerts about young, local kids beating up other kids--usually students walking alone--for seemingly no reason. I had read the words “victim” and “black offender” too many times not to be at least a little nervous. Did that make me racist or just cautious?

A few days before this meeting, I had contacted Miquan Boyd, a 19-year-old kid from Urbana. I was covering the justice beat for my reporting class and had a profile story due in a few weeks. I read an article in The News-Gazette about how he had been charged with mob action and aggravated battery for beating up a 20-year-old kid on Green Street. The incident seemed to fit the “crime trend” that University Police had been warning the campus community about since August.

To my surprise, Miquan responded to my message on Facebook. He said that he would love to talk to me.

And so, on a Tuesday afternoon, I found myself walking toward a stranger in an empty mall. He was sitting hunched over his cell phone. I remember his leg tapping. Maybe he was as nervous as I was. We made eye contact and smiled. We shook hands. I sat down.

Miquan is skinny. He’s probably 5 feet 9 inches, weighing in at around 150 pounds. His friends I spoke with after the interview said he’s shy. He is, but he’s also quick to smile, and he is pretty engaging once he starts talking. He prides himself on his sense of style. He was well dressed that day. His shirt matched his Nike shoes. He wore a trendy wooden cross around his neck, the kind that I liked but wouldn’t necessarily have the confidence to wear.

We spoke mostly about his recent brush with the law. There were two articles on The News-Gazette website. Essentially, they described the incident as follows: On September 12, a 20-year-old man and his girlfriend were walking down the 500 block of East Green Street when they were approached by a group of approximately five black males. The group made racial comments about the couple (the man was Polynesian and the woman was black). The couple responded and an argument ensued. It quickly became violent. Undercover officers arrived on the scene; Miquan was the only one they were able to catch.

Miquan told a different story. He said he was walking on Green Street when he saw a girl he knew from Urbana. He and friends stopped to say hello. He said the victim, whom I found out later through my reporting was around 6 feet and weighed considerably more than Miquan, was offended the group didn’t acknowledge him. Miquan said it was clear the man was drunk. The group started arguing, and a fight ensued. Miquan said he never touched the man.

I spent the next couple of weeks looking into the story. I was able to get the police records and the court file. I came to the conclusion that the truth was somewhere in the middle. While it was unclear if Miquan actually threw a punch, he was definitely involved. It was also unclear how the verbal exchange took place. In the police report, the victim’s girlfriend said that while she is a friend of Miquan, she did not see him on the street that night. That contradicts a video taken by a witness that puts Miquan on the scene.

Although the facts of that night will always be unclear, what happened afterward is not. Miquan spent the next 47 days in jail awaiting trial. His bond was set at $20,000, and he couldn’t raise the “two stacks” necessary to get him out. On Oct. 29, Miquan was sentenced to two years probation and time served.

On Sept. 13, the Division of Public Safety sent out a “crime alert update” reporting that Miquan had been arrested and charged with mob action and aggravated battery. It was the only alert University Police have sent out to notify the campus community that an arrest had been made in an incident similar to the ones described in other crime alerts.

In the course of this semester, I have interviewed five people from the Division of Public Safety, including the deputy chief and the patrol lieutenant. All have told me crime alerts are meant to notify campus of “imminent threats” to students and faculty, meaning violent crimes in which the offender or offenders were not caught. I never asked why they chose to tell everyone they had arrested Miquan. I wish I had. I do know Miquan was the only one who was arrested in connection with a crime alert this semester.

I have no doubt the Division of Public Safety has the community’s best interests at heart. Chief Barbara O’Connor made a good decision when she decided to implement the crime alert system in January of 2009. She and DPS made another good decision to go beyond what they are required to do by the Clery Act. Technically, University Police did not have to send out at least seven of the 13 crime alerts this semester because they fell outside of Clery Act guidelines.

Unfortunately for the Division of Public Safety, an increase in violent crime has coincided with the division’s mission to become more transparent. Some are saying that the crime alerts increase the perception of violence on this campus. Since 2007, aggravated assaults and batteries have doubled. Robberies have increased by roughly 22 percent in the same time period according to university crime map data. Although not unprecedented, the increase is not perception; it’s fact.

And due to this fact, there is a perception the University Police Department is not doing its job. I think that is why the authorities sent out the crime alert update on Miquan. They want to let people know they’re working hard, so they told the community they arrested a kid who looks like what everybody is afraid of right now: a young, local, black male.

What University Police didn’t tell you was that Miquan was a good student at Urbana High School, where he was graduated last year. They didn’t tell you his baby sister and 12-year-old brother look up to him like a father because his dad passed away when Miquan was two, and they didn’t tell you Miquan was planning to study accounting at Parkland College before all this aggravated battery stuff happened to him.

I am not claiming Miquan is innocent. I am not claiming he was not in the wrong that night. I am claiming that what happened to him did not fit his crime. Google “Miquan Boyd” and the first two hits are links to his arrest. The stories don’t describe the person I met or the person his family and friends say they know. Instead, they slap his name on the type of person this campus has come to fear. I don’t know how many times I’ve been out drinking and seen someone--one of my friends even--start a fight for almost no reason. And yet, I was scared to meet Miquan because he fit the description of someone police said was dangerous.

Doesn’t that make me racist?