Discussion of police relations with Princeton residents reveals racial divide

By Maria Gonzalez
Mattawa, WA

In Princeton, N.J., the conversation on police brutality falls along the same racial divides as the national one: White residents have more positive views of police, while for the most part, black residents say they have been unfairly targeted.

The uptick of attention to police brutality around the country concerns Princeton residents. In recent interviews, some said they’ve never had a run-in with police, while others claimed that cops are surveilling neighborhoods with more diverse populations.

“I don’t really know if I feel protected,” said a 27-year-old African-American woman who works at Princeton University and who asked that her name not be used. If she were in trouble, she said, she “definitely wouldn’t go to the police first.”

Compared to other small cities, there’s very little crime, residents said. “You see more of the police than the actual crime,” said the University employee.

But when people in her neighborhood need help, the woman said, the cops are often slow to respond. And incidents of police violence nationwide left her feeling hopeless. “The police brutality in the country is insane,” she said, her voice rising in anger.

Erika Del Ciel, a cook from Guatemala who’s lived in Princeton for 12 years, said she doesn’t harbor any ill will toward the police. But one time, officers “got inside my apartment by force”—they kicked in her door. “One asks oneself, ‘With what permission?’ ” she said. “It did scare me because now, I think, ‘If they can enter like that, imagine what they can do to us.’”

Teenagers in the city’s diverse neighborhoods often clash with officers, said a 19-year-old African-American man who attends Northwestern University, outside Chicago. One night, he said, he was racially profiled by cops who pulled him over in nearby Millbrook.

“I wasn’t speeding. I had my lights on. I was buckled up,” said the student, who asked that his name not be used. “It was a random stop.”

He felt lucky to walk away from the interaction unharmed, he said, and hurt when he saw police turn violent against other young Americans.

However, not all residents shared his concerns. Adrienne Stanley, a 35-year-old teacher who is white, said she felt safe because “the Princeton police are very interactive and reassuring. They typically show up very quickly if anything happens.”

John Bailey, 66, lives in Denver, but he grew up in Princeton and returns to his hometown every summer. He said there isn’t much criminal activity, and that the police and the community have a good relationship. Bailey, who is black, said that’s partly because of the diversity of the police force.

Despite the national bloodshed, many people remain optimistic about the relationship between Princeton and its officers. Though N.G., a 70-year-old white woman who asked that only her initials be used, said she was “very concerned” about law enforcement tensions, she added: “I’m very hopeful.”

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