A UNC-Wilmington lecturer and his wife claim he was racially profiled while sitting outside his classroom Tuesday.
Rajan Juniku, 42, a chemistry lecturer who was born in Kosovo, said he was on a campus bench drinking water. He said he had been sick and was wearing a sweater with a jacket over it and a pair of jeans.
University police were contacted by a campus employee who expressed concern that a man was sitting on a bench with a zipped-up jacket, which was considered strange given the warm weather, said Janine Iamunno, executive director of university relations, in a statement. The caller made no mention of the man’s race until the dispatcher asked the caller to provide routine descriptive information about the man, Iamunno said.
Juniku said when the UNCW officer approached him, “I never expected him to ask me to remove my hands from my jacket and take my jacket off.”
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He said he asked the officer, who did not pull out a weapon, whether he was being singled out because he looked Middle Eastern, even though he is of Serbian descent.
“He said no, ‘I am doing this just because somebody notified me, and we have to double check.’ So he was just doing his job,” Juniku said.
Iamunno said that during the 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.”
The encounter left Juniku feeling that police were suspicious of him, he said.
“When I left the campus yesterday, I felt like everybody was looking at me, and I felt really, really uncomfortable,” he said. “If I see police there, I will always be uncomfortable. I think it will take some time for it to disappear.”
Juniku’s wife, who is pregnant with the couple’s second child, took to Facebook to express her outrage about the encounter.
“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 wife, Alicia Juniku, wrote in a Facebook post that had more than 500 shares and nearly 1,000 reactions Wednesday. “His students were around, his colleagues; a great injustice has been done to my husband today, and we are fuming.”
Juniku came to UNCW from Oregon State University in 2014 after earning a doctorate in organic chemistry. He has lived in the United States since 2002.
He said that his colleagues and some of his students have reached out to apologize for the police’s behavior.
The university has initiated a review of the exchange, and both police and administrators reached out to Juniku to get his account of what happened, Iamunno said.
Juniku’s wife said filed a formal complaint has been filed in response to the incident, and the family is seeking legal advice before giving a statement.
“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,” Iamunno said.