UNCW chemistry professor’s wife claims husband was racially profiled on campus

A UNCW professor believes he was racially profiled after someone called police to report a suspicious person while he was sitting outside waiting on his lab to begin (WECT)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – A UNCW chemistry professor’s wife claims her husband was racially profiled on campus Tuesday.

Dr. Rajan Juniku’s wife took to Facebook after the incident to post her husband’s account of what happened. Alicia Juniku wrote that while waiting on a lab to begin, her husband went outside to sit in the sun.

“He’s been sick the last two days and was trying to warm up,” Juniku wrote. “He had on his jacket, jeans, and a sweater.”

Soon after, she said someone called UNCW campus police, who approached her husband and asked him to remove his hands from his pockets “very slowly, with no sudden movements,” then “ordered him to remove his jacket and proceeded to search it thoroughly.”

“Someone thought he looked less like a university lecturer and more like a terrorist (olive skinned man with too many clothes on….must be hiding an arsenal),” Juniku noted. “My husband’s gorgeous olive skin, dark hair and chestnut eyes do not make him a terrorist, and neither does him sitting in the sun. His students were around, his colleagues…..a great injustice has been done to my husband today, and we are fuming.”

Dr. Juniku corroborated his wife’s post in an interview Wednesday, and said while he was shocked at what happened, he doesn’t think it was the school’s fault, but he does believe the responding officer overstepped his bounds.

“I don’t blame the school for this incident,” Juniku explained. “I understand at the present time a lot of bad things are happening, but they should be more careful with how they deal with this. I am a faculty and if he knew that he never would have done what he did. I would never hurt anyone.”

The professor said he asked the officer if he stopped him because he looked Middle-Eastern and the officer said no, he was responding to a call of a suspicious person and was following orders.

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Juniku said, embarrassed, he went back to his office and sat quietly.

“I felt so sad after this event and I’ve never felt like this before” Juniku said. “When I went to catch the shuttle, I felt I was being stared at by people on campus. I felt someone may show up at the bus station to interrogate me again because they think I look suspicious.”

A university official said the school is in the process of reviewing the situation, but did release this statement Wednesday afternoon:

The University’s police department was contacted by an employee at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28. The caller expressed concern that a man was seated on a bench behind Cameron Hall wearing a zipped-up jacket that did not seem congruent with the warm weather conditions. There was no mention of race by the caller until he was asked by the dispatcher to provide routine descriptive information so that the man could be efficiently located by police personnel. A UPD officer was dispatched to the location and upon arrival, there was an interaction of less than 2 minutes between the officer and the man, who self-identified as a faculty member. 

During this time, the officer introduced himself and explained that UPD had received a call which obligated their response, regarding the fact that he was wearing a jacket that seemed inappropriate for the warm weather, and there was concern he might be concealing weapons. The officer explained that the easiest way to dispel the concern was for the faculty member to take the jacket off, so the officer could see that there was no weapon present. The faculty member removed the jacket and handed it to the officer, who quickly confirmed there was no weapon and placed the jacket on the bench.

The officer emphatically indicated, when asked by the faculty member if he was questioning him based on his ethnicity, that this was not the case, and again stated that he was obligated to respond to the call of concern. The interaction did not include any physical contact or “frisking,” nor a request for the man to identify himself or his purpose for being on campus. During this interaction, the officer indicated repeatedly that he did not believe the faculty member had done anything wrong, and apologized for the fact that he was obligated to follow up on the call received by UPD.

The university immediately initiated a review of this exchange yesterday afternoon, and UPD reached out to the faculty member (via telephone and email) for his account of the exchange. This morning UNCW’s provost/chief academic officer reached out to the faculty member to express her concern and to encourage him to respond to UPD’s outreach to him. The dashcam video has been very closely reviewed to confirm our understanding of the facts of the exchange. We are eager to quickly proceed and finalize our review and will be able to do so upon receiving a response from the faculty member involved. We have taken this accusation of “profiling” very seriously and will review how we can ensure that those approached by UPD will not feel that they are being singled out for their ethnicity, but we also must recognize an obligation to respond to an employee’s concern about campus safety.

Copyright 2017 WECT. All rights reserved.

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