Black campus officers allege they suffered 'unbearable' racism at University of Washington

Black campus officers allege they suffered 'unbearable' racism at University of Washington
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Several Black police officers say they faced racism from colleagues during their time at the University of Washington (UW), The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Five Black officers in the campus police department filed an $8 million lawsuit against the university, alleging a culture rooted in racism, racial slurs and vile comments made toward Black people, calling it "unbearable."

UW officers Russell Ellis, Karinn Young and Gabriel Golden described to the Times racial abuse they said they experienced, including Young being referred to as a “monkey” and having bananas placed in front of her locker and Ellis being offered a watermelon-flavored energy drink by a colleague who allegedly said, “I thought all you guys like watermelon and Popeyes chicken.”

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“I can’t sleep sometimes,” Ellis told the newspaper. “This has affected me in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.”

Golden also said he heard a white colleague referring to a Black officer who was placed on leave using a racial slur, adding that some officers criticized the police chief for hiring too many Black people.

“It progressively got worse and worse,” Golden told the Times. “I went from loving my job, loving going to work every day, to starting to dread going into work because I didn’t know what would happen next.” 

Ellis mentioned that he joined the university’s force in 2007, only to find out a year later that current and former employees filed a civil rights lawsuit against the department, citing discrimination toward Black, Jewish and female officers.

The officer left in 2012 before returning a few years later when the department made changes, the Times noted.

UW spokesman Victor Balta told The Hill that officials were "stunned" by the allegations, adding that the administration was not previously aware of the claims. 

“The UW is committed to maintaining a fair, equitable and inclusive environment and provides employees with many avenues for reporting inappropriate or discriminatory behavior so they can be addressed immediately,” Balta said.

Seattle, where one of the UW campuses is located, has been a focal point of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the campus police force there touts its efforts to combat racism, the Times noted.

The allegations come as various police departments have dealt with issues of racism, with officers in Maryland and Ohio filing discrimination lawsuits against their forces.

Updated: 4:13 p.m.