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Brooklyn College doesn’t deny it wants cops to use far-off, unsanitary restroom

Student newspaper editor publishes her own fake news while accusing others

Does Brooklyn College hate cops?

Not explicitly. But you could fairly say it’s not keen on having them relieve themselves in the same building as students, for dubious reasons.

Campus newspaper The Excelsior published a curious 226-word report last week that said the school had given “permission” to the New York Police Department to use “all of the comfort stations” at the college, but it “prefers” for them to use restrooms in the West End Building.

The announcement was credited to the public safety chief, Donald Wenz. Apparently this is what qualifies as news on this City University of New York campus.

In the same report, the newspaper noted an earlier campus screening of a short documentary about the NYPD “surveilling Muslim students” on campus:

One student shared that he believes the NYPD should not be allowed to be on campus, regardless of whether or not it’s just to use the bathroom.

“I disagree with them being on campus,” the student said. “Especially allowing them to use the building where student groups are held.”

The student also said he was in the midst of drafting a petition to BC President Michelle Anderson, urging her to make a statement, “that we do not want the NYPD on campus in any respect even if it’s just to take breaks and use bathroom,” he said.

The New York Post took this head-scratching Excelsior report, which indeed implied there was a student movement in the works to block police from campus, and interpreted it as “kowtowing to cop-hating students.”

Wenz insisted to the Post that the college simply wanted to prevent students from thinking there was “an emergency going on” if they saw police officers crossing the quad to use the restroom. (Are cops rarely seen on campus? Unanswered by The Excelsior.)

A Post reporter visited the first-floor men’s room in the cop-preferred building “on the far edge of campus” and said it had a “broken toilet with a hideously stained seat and an ‘OUT OF ORDER’ sign taped to the door of its stall,” as well as “a total lack of soap and paper towels.”

The Post interviewed a student who called that restroom “horrendous” and the worst such facility on campus. It also quoted an NYPD union chief who encouraged anti-police students to “go take classes abroad — where they can have their bathrooms all to themselves.”

A followup report noted that the police commissioner and Mayor Bill de Blasio had publicly agreed the police should not be told where they can and can’t go on campus. De Blasio said: “But even if it’s a student group [that wants cops banned], I think it’s misguided.”

MORE: At ‘disinvitation dinner,’ NYPD commish gives speech students shut down

As the Post story went viral and got picked up by other right-leaning outlets, The Excelsior become indignant that its original, poorly executed report had been twisted into “FAKE NEWS.”

Editor Zainab Iqbal, who also authored the original “news” about cops having “permission” to relieve themselves on campus, penned a “letter from the editor” scolding the Post for an “exaggerated story insinuating that Brooklyn College hates cops.”

Her own “fake news” story, however, ignores what she plainly conveyed in her original: The Brooklyn College administration was being pressured to keep cops off campus, even if they just wanted to use a restroom.

Iqbal published a lengthy statement from President Michelle Anderson that called the Post article “misleading” but conveniently ignored her own public safety chief’s request for police to use the building with a dingy restroom on the edge of campus, so as to avoid students:

Brooklyn College does, in fact, welcome police to use its campus bathrooms. No policy has changed. We have always allowed public servants to use our facilities …

Iqbal is right that the Post made a leap about the administration’s view based on her original report, and that the quoted but unnamed anti-cop student activist “does not define nor speak to the perspective of the entire student body, which consists of about 17,000 students.”

She also scolded the Post for not investigating other campus restrooms, at which point it would see most restrooms look like the West End hellhole the NYPD was asked to use by Wenz.

But it’s awfully disingenuous for this young editor to pretend like she had no role in this kerfuffle.

Judging by her awkward segue between the “permission” given to the NYPD – reported as news, not longtime Brooklyn College policy – and the NYPD surveillance documentary, I’m guessing Iqbal does not have anyone else read her copy.

Any competent editor would have pointed out Iqbal was insinuating there was a campus movement against any police presence by connecting Wenz’s “permission” announcement with the earlier screening of the documentary.

It could have been clarified by revising her story to make explicit the documentary and police urination privileges were unrelated, or by gathering more information.

When a public safety chief says cops have permission to take a leak on campus, the obvious followup question is “wait, they weren’t allowed to use the restrooms until now?”

Wenz then either would have clarified this is longstanding policy, and he’s just reiterating it, or that the college is making a new request for cops to use a particular building so they don’t set off alarms for police-panicked students.

Iqbal seems to take it as self-evident that cops make students nervous. She didn’t give any indication that she asked Wenz why cops shouldn’t walk across the quad (perhaps in search of a nicer restroom).

And by publishing a confusing, more-questions-than-answers report, she practically invited click-hungry ideological outfits to rush to publish a salacious story based on incomplete information: Brooklyn College hates cops. (More accurately: It fears their presence being misunderstood.)

This is one reason I drill into our student writers that they need to provide context for readers. Don’t assume they are steeped in the subject like you. Anticipate what will confuse readers, and ask the questions they might ask.

Iqbal didn’t do that, and then got self-righteous when other outlets took advantage of her muddled report on something that is apparently not news.

Read the Excelsior report and Iqbal’s letter, as well as the original and followup Post reports.

MORE: Students compare NYPD to Klan, Nazi SS in campus protest

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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