Campus police officer fired over old photo of him wearing blackface for a Flava Flav costume

Kristine Solomon
Style and Beauty Writer
An image of University of Missouri police officer Marcus Collins resurfaced Tuesday and led to the officer’s firing. (Photo: Courtesy of the Columbia Tribune)

Authorities at the University of Missouri fired a campus police officer after a photo of him wearing blackface emerged.

The photo shows Marcus Collins of the MU Police Department wearing blackface as part of a costume of rapper Flava Flav. It was taken before Collins started working for the department, according to ABC 17 News. The image, which was reportedly hared on social media, was sent to MU on Tuesday morning. When confronted with the photo, Collins admitted it was him — and hours later, he was terminated, according to MU police spokesman Christian Basi. 

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“This type of behavior is not tolerated at Mizzou, and we understand how this impacts our entire community profoundly,” MU chancellor Alexander Cartwright said in a press release. “Racism, hate and insensitive behavior have no place on our campus. We are committed to our values of respect, responsibility, discovery and excellence, and to making our campus a place where everyone feels welcome and protected.”

Basi confirmed that Collins started working for the MUPD in January 2018, and said he was treated just as any other university employee would be when dealing with such a transgression.

“The personal conduct at all times of any employees of the University shall be of such a nature as not to bring discredit upon the institution,” Basi said in a statement. “Conduct contrary to this policy will result in the termination of such employees’ connection with the University.”

Stephen Graves, director of undergraduate studies in the MU Black Studies Department, told the Columbia Daily Tribune he questioned whether the university knew the whole story when it made an informed decision to terminate Collins. He suggested they should have first conducted a more thorough investigation and let the officer tell his side of the story first. 

“Any time you have gotten a photo by 9 a.m. and by 11:30 that person is fired, it had to have been a hell of a conversation,” he said. “I think you do society a disservice when you don’t allow for conversation and the police officer involved to explain himself. That person needs to step in front of a camera and explain the behavior, the who, what, where, why and when.”

Graves said he believes the reason Collins’s situation and other blackface scandals have been seeing such swift justice is that black people in the U.S. have more political and economic power now. He said the proliferation of media on social networks and the internet compound the phenomenon — and he feels that’s not always a good thing. 

“You are always going to go back and find something that someone did wrong,” he said. “How good or bad it is for our society, I am not 100% sure. It is going to be hard to find perfect angels to do this job.” 

But to local activist group Race Matters, Friends (RMF), the action taken to fire Collins was just the tip of the iceberg. Spokesperson Traci Wilson-Kleekamp told ABC 17 that Collins’s situation is “a demonstration of anti-black culture that resides not only in their organization but also in CPD [Columbia Police Department], as recently exemplified by the case of Lt. Brian Tate.”

Wilson-Kleekamo was referring to an 18-year veteran of the Columbia Police Department who was caught making “controversial and derogatory statements on Twitter, exhibiting angst about police reform groups and denigrating people for their demographics” in January, according to the Columbia Tribune. Tate was placed on paid leave following the scandal, and afterward was reassigned to a position with “limited public interaction.” He has since set his Twitter account to private.

“Race Matters, Friends says bravo to MUPD for firing [Collins],” Wilson-Kleekamo said. “But a loud boo hiss to CPD for harboring and continuing to keep Tate on the payroll, despite his display of blatantly racist ideology using social media.” Another commenter from RMF added, “The offenses by both officers are both abhorrent. To say the departments need to do better is an understatement. In order for any kind of policing to be transformative, the leadership must take up an explicit organizational philosophy that is grounded in anti-racist values and practices.”

Collins’s social media accounts have reportedly been deleted, and he could not be reached for comment. Yahoo Lifestyle has reached out to the MUPD.

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