WCC gun range targets incite outrage among students, staff
As an African-American male, Harold Coleman has experienced bigotry throughout his life. So when the employee at Washtenaw Community College’s Student Connection was shown a photograph of the school’s gun range at the police academy, he was appalled when he saw that he had more in common with the photographic targets than he would ever hope.
All of the targets at the ends of the 10 lanes at the range when reporters from The Washtenaw Voice were granted access to it on two recent occasions about a week apart sported the same photograph of a young, African-American male pointing a revolver.
“That (above photo) is reprehensible,” Coleman said. “That’s basically teaching them to profile. I’ve been a victim of profiling and that can be very difficult. Things like that are just really stupid and very disturbing. I’d like to think that’s not happening here.”
After seeing the photo, some students, disturbed by the image, accused the range of bigotry.
“This makes them look racist,” said Shayla Robinson, 16, of Ypsilanti, majoring in social science and law. “It does seem like a stereotype because they are all black.”
Officials at the police academy, however, denied that race is a factor. Director Larry Jackson said multiple denominations are present in the targets used on his range. It is that very diversity, Jackson said, that is essential to law enforcement education.
“I’ve never thought of it that way. No one has ever directly asked for African-American targets,” Jackson said. “There are several different types out there and you’re trying to get people experience dealing with different situations and people.”
The targets, specially developed and certified by the state of Michigan for law enforcement training feature the likenesses of multiple different genders and nationalities, according to Mark Baker, the firearms range master at WCC. Baker asserts that any similarity between targets from visit to visit holds no bearing or preference for the school or the law enforcement program.
“If you saw that twice, it was a coincidence,” Baker said. “The targets are packaged with a variety and they’ve been trying to vary them more. It’d be absolutely ludicrous to think that any law enforcement agency would be targeting specific people.”
The photographs of people, Baker believes, better help with target practice by bringing realism into the exercises.
“It’s not symbolic,” he said. “It’s for bullet placement.”
But school administrators were nonetheless disturbed by the picture. Damon Flowers, vice president of Facilities Management, has worked closely with the police academy to maintain the gun range’s high safety standards, such as lead levels and noise reduction, but was surprised at what he saw being fired on upon the range.
“It’s a little discomforting, personally, somewhat of a stereotype,” Flowers said. “All the gun ranges I’ve seen had targets that were non-person. I had no idea they had these.”
The school does not provide the photographs used in the range, Flowers said, adding that he was disturbed by the implications brought on by any actual images of real people being used for that purpose.
“Do they have to use a photograph at all?” Flowers said. “Why an African-American, young looking male? It looks like in law enforcement there is a perception that criminals will be an African-American male. I find it hard to rationalize the use of that photograph.”
Vice President of Student Services Linda Blakey was also dismayed by the human element of the academy’s targets. Blakey did not like the image the targets create, in her mind, of the school.
“I thought they just used silhouettes. I didn’t know they had targets like these on campus,” Blakey said. “This doesn’t look good for us.”
Blakey understands the importance of realism in law enforcement training, but asks for more diversity in the targets as they are presented for drills.
“You could argue that when they’re in real-life, they might freeze at having to shoot at something that’s looking back at them,” Blakey said. “They should expand the diversity of the targets to include more ages, ethnicities and genders.”
An expansion of that nature is essential in the eyes of Daniel and Michael Combs. The 16-year-old twin brothers agree that different targets should be used to avoid negative implications.
“Maybe they could have more different types of targets,” Daniel said.
“This makes them seem ignorant,” Michael said.
However, Eric Walls, a 30-year-old culinary arts student from Ypsilanti, doesn’t see the problem. African-American himself, Walls sees accusations of racial tension resulting from the targets as overtly sensitive and dismissive of the purpose of the range itself.
“Sometimes you gotta lighten up, they’re trying to put someone in a real situation,” Walls said. “I don’t find it that bad. After all, they’re just practicing. It’s not racial profiling if they’ve got black officers shooting at these targets.”
Jackson agrees with the need for life-like targets in practice. He argues that the targets used by his program have been getting more and more progressive over the years to include a wider range of potential assailants.
“In the last 30 years they’ve really been adding more women,” Jackson said. “What happens when people train on just a round bulls-eye target of some kind, is that they may be unprepared of real-life.”
Various companies print and ship the certified TCQ targets, according to Baker, for different situations and decisions. Jackson named two companies that supply the targets for his range: Law Enforcement Targets Inc. (Minn.) and US Target Online.