Bardo: 'There's a pattern'
CHAMPAIGN — When Stephen Bardo was attending the University of Illinois in the late 1980s, he says he and some of his Flyin’ Illini teammates, most of whom were black, were racially profiled by campus and city police.
“We used to get stopped walking down the street because it was nighttime,” Bardo told The News-Gazette on Thursday.
What's your take? Write a Letter to the Editor here
Earlier that afternoon, the former ESPN and current Big Ten Network college basketball analyst took to Twitter to voice his opinion on the situation involving current Illini Darius Paul, who was arrested early Tuesday morning for underage drinking and resisting a peace officer.
Among Bardo’s tweets on Thursday was this one: “I loved my time there but the community of Champaign is stuck in the 60’s. Racism is overt there. Needs to change.”
UI police Capt. Roy Acree said officers noticed Paul and another unidentified man walking across a parking lot shortly after 3 a.m. Tuesday and they “appeared to be acting suspiciously.”
That struck a chord with Bardo, who was reminded of his days at the school from 1986 to ’90.
“We used to get picked out of a group if there was a big brawl outside of a campus bar and we would always get singled out. It was constant back then,” Bardo said.
There has been some progress, Bardo said, but issues between young black men and law enforcement at the UI and in Champaign and Urbana are still prevalent. Bardo’s older son, Stephen Paul Bardo, who will graduate from the UI next month, has experienced racial profiling during his time here.
“I don’t think it’s as constant now, but it’s still there because my son was pulled off a bus before because some other black kids were fighting in the dorm and he was the only black kid on the bus so he got pulled off the bus and detained,” Bardo said. “It happens far more than people really know about because a lot of this stuff goes undocumented.
“I think the gap has closed. It’s much better now, but that community still supports racist activity. I’m in touch with black people who have worked there, grown up there, and there are examples of people that have been stopped, arrested, harassed for no reason.”
While Bardo didn’t excuse Paul’s behavior on the morning in question, he does question why he was targeted by police in the first place. “It sounds a little shaky, just doesn’t seem right,” he said.
“Do I condone him being out that late, drinking or whatever? No, I don’t. But he’s also 20 years old, he’s going to make mistakes. I think Darius’ father is a cop, so for Darius to run from a police officer, that indicates to me: 1. He was scared. 2. There was something he was trying to avoid and 3. He probably didn’t want to get in trouble with the team,” Bardo said.
“For a young man who is as bright as Darius is, coming from a two-parent household with a father being a police officer, for him to be in that situation, there’s more to that than we know or are being told.”
The incident involving Paul prompted Bardo to strike up a conversation on social media, and it elicited plenty of reaction, some supporting Bardo’s claims and others rejecting them.
“It hits home. When it happened to me, no big deal. When it happens to your son and you see it happening to other black males like that, there’s a pattern,” Bardo said. “I took to Twitter because I’ve got a little bit of say-so on Twitter and people don’t like hearing about past athletes pulling out the warts of a place.
“I don’t really care about that because I think for the University of Illinois to attract the top student-athletes, the top students, those students and athletes include people of color, and if they can’t feel comfortable in Champaign, if they don’t feel like they can go out without being harassed, that’s going to hurt the university’s ability to attract the top talent. So it all goes hand in hand.”
Paul, a transfer from Western Michigan who sat out the 2013-14 season, is the younger brother of former Illini star Brandon Paul. Brandon took to Twitter himself on Thursday to address the situation, initially saying he kept quiet about it because people have turned it into something bigger than it is. But then he made a statement.
“I understand my brother shouldn’t have been out that late drinking. Let’s not forget it’s a college campus, what underage kid isn’t out past curfew drinking? No excuses, there will be consequences for his actions,” Brandon Paul said. “I also understand that law enforcement must do their jobs, but their jobs don’t entail them to follow someone & then pursue them for no reason. Why did they feel the need to stop him in the first place? Reports say he ‘acted suspicious’ & ‘appeared to be trying to avoid contact with police.’ Even if true, I don’t know many kids (inebriated or not) that wouldn’t try to avoid contact with the police? (Some) of these cops look for reasons to get into these types of situations and it’s not right.”