WEST LAFAYETTE — In the aftermath of a now-viral video showing a Purdue police officer struggling with a Black student, hundreds attended a Black Student Union-hosted town hall Thursday night to discuss a plan of action.
Those gathered expressed wanting to change how Purdue treats its students of color.
The video, posted on Instagram Live, involves student Adonis Tuggle accusing Purdue police Officer Jon Selke of elbowing him in the face and smothering his face in the snow, as well as choking him, during Tuggle's arrest on Feb. 4.
Tuggle, 24, was later booked into the Tippecanoe County Jail on suspicion of resisting law enforcement. He posted a $250 bond and was released.
“The hope of this event was to, of course, hear from the people here as well as those on the Zoom to figure out," said Carey Walls, the former President of the Black Student Union. "Yes, of course, we want to make sure that justice is served in the best way possible, but we are also looking for what the Purdue community is wanting out of this as well.
"Because, yes, it affected one person in that moment, but in the long run it affects us as a Purdue community. So, we want to hear from each individual what exactly they want to see in regards to change.”
The event attracted hundreds of students cramming into Room 1-105 of Lilly Hall, as well as thousands who logged on via Zoom to attend the town hall.
A few local leaders also attended, including State Representatives Chris Campbell and Sheila Klinker, as well as Sadie Harper Scott, president of the Lafayette/West Lafayette branch of the NAACP.
For over an hour, Purdue students ranging from freshmen to Ph.D. candidates shared their opinions regarding the altercation, offering ideas of how to create lasting change at Purdue and expressed their frustration that these sorts of situations continue to occur.
“This event is just the start," said Nigel Taylor, vice president of the Black Student Union and chair of the Social Action Committee Black Student Union. "It’s a formal declaration that we are coming together as a community to make a list of demands, a list of action items that we do plan to send to the appropriate institution, whether that be the Purdue Police Department, Purdue University itself or even as mentioned higher-ups in terms of the government structure.”
“This event makes me extremely embarrassed to be a Boilermaker. It's sad and it's honestly embarrassing and if I’m not more embarrassed by the event, I’m embarrassed that the system has not handled it proper,” said Matthew Wilford, a sophomore at Purdue.
One student highlighted a common criticism from the night, which was the lack of training within the Purdue police.
Zion Moss, a junior at Purdue University, criticized the time it takes for someone to become a certified officer and recommended a few changes he’d like to see implemented.
Moss also said he’d like to see all Purdue officers receive crisis intervention training, and for a counseling and psychological services representative to be required to show up for issues that are non-violent or relate to mental health, domestic issues, or situations of a similar matter.
Beyond the criticism of police training, students emphasized their discomfort with the idea that the Purdue Police Department and the Indiana State Police Department were leading the investigation regarding the incident with the Purdue officer. Many in the crowd felt that a third party should be in charge of the investigation, not another police agency.
“We need someone outside of the system to report on the system. Because of what happens with body cams and all that, it’s like the left hand reporting on the right hand – which is the police reporting on the police. It doesn’t work,” said Jesse, a senior international student at Purdue.
Another major idea that was echoed at the town hall Thursday night was holding President Mitch Daniels accountable and making sure he follows through with whatever promises he makes with the students.
“My demand is that we hold Mitch Daniels accountable. For those who aren’t aware, as a result of the task force — you know how he receives that bonus at the end of the year for doing what he says he’s going to do? They added this year, so for his next performance review that he has to increase the enrollment and retention of Black students at Purdue," said Tammy, a Ph.D. candidate, "which is huge because that’s never been acknowledged, but what I want is actual steps of what that looks like. What does increased retention look like?
"I don’t want retention to just be like the same Black people in the seat, but that Black students feel safe and welcomed on this campus. So, I want to come up with a strategic plan on how we’re going to hold Mitch accountable for that bonus he gets at the end of the year,”
Other topics included an increase in history and civic courses that delve into the topics of race and racism, an increase in transparency regarding how police are trained to handle these kinds of situations, and a call to action amongst the students to not let the energy for change from Thursday night’s town hall to fizzle and die out.
“I would like to see change. Change in the way that we are actually asking for it, direct change, change that’s easily seen and easily impacted. A lot of time there’s a certain initiative that kind of happens in the background and they promote briefly and then leave off to the side. And a lot of the time those initiatives haven’t really seen success. They’re not well promoted; they don’t necessarily have the resources that Purdue says they do have. So really just seeing Purdue stand on by its words,” said Taylor.
Daniels: 'swift and thorough' investigation
On Thursday, Daniels announced an inquiry, saying in a statement the Feb. 4 incident the investigation would be headed by Purdue University and the Indiana State Police. The findings and evidence, including footage from body-worn and in-car video would be released.
The Journal & Courier had requested that information Thursday morning.
“There are no subjects Purdue takes more seriously than campus safety, student well-being, and proper police conduct," wrote President Mitch Daniels in the Feb 10 statement, asking for patience.
Officer in video placed on leave
The Purdue police officer seen in the video has been put on leave, the university announced Thursday night, due to receiving death threats.
Both the officer and the department, said Purdue Police Chief John Cox, have received death threats. Those threats will be investigated, the release stated.
Noe Padilla is a reporter for the Journal & Courier. Email him at Npadilla@jconline.com and follow him on Twitter at 1NoePadilla.