Campus “police:” opportunistic thugs

Check it out:  UC Davis campus “police” pepper spray a cowering line of about a dozen students and drag them away.  Check out their SWAT-team gear.  I bet they’ve been waiting all year to play dressup and have some fun.

This video only confirms my already very low opinion of college and university campus “police.”  My personal experience on two different campuses is that they are thugs who hassle only people who are sure to pose no threat to them whatsoever, and that they leave the real miscreants alone.  I was working alone in my campus office one late Sunday afternoon at a former university when an amped up campus police officer with a billy club burst into my office without knocking and threatened me.  (He assumed that only a thief would have the light on on a Sunday night.  I assured him it was my own office and that I was working there legally, showing him my keys.)  At another former university, I was pulled over and ordered out of my car for mistakenly driving the wrong way an exit-only parking lot egress.  (There was no danger to anyone else–there were no other cars trolling around that parking lot anyway.)

But these are far from the worst stories I’ve heard.  A former student of mine–a truly gentle and inquiring spirit of small- to medium build who spent several years after graduation riding his bike through Mexico, Central, and South America–told me a truly horrifying story about being stopped and arrested for drunk walking across the Baa Ram U. campus.  He had gone to the bars with some friends, and being responsible young men, they walked downtown.  On their way back to campus, his friends went one direction and as he continued walking quietly by himself he was stopped by campus police who accused him (rightly) of being drunk.  He explained that he was 21 and just walking home, as he understood he should do when inebriated, and showed them his I.D.  These campus “police” officers illegally detained him and transported him to an off-campus drunk tank. 

Meanwhile, of course, I’m assuming that there were rowdy parties and all kinds of underage drinking going on, large parties where people were probably being sexually assaulted, but busting up those parties would be difficult and potentially dangerous.  It was much easier to harass and detain the solo drunk guy who wasn’t doing anything illegal or any threat to anyone.  I encouraged him to lawyer up and sue, but being a gentle soul I don’t think he did anything.

I saw a former colleague last night who left Baa Ram U. for the University of Chicago.  He informs me reliably that the UC campus police now patrol much of Hyde Park, not just the campus within its own boundaries.  This is what the modern police state looks like:  private police forces, accountable to no one, not looking for trouble but rather just looking for low-risk opportunities to remind the non-criminal majority who’s really in charge.

60 thoughts on “Campus “police:” opportunistic thugs

  1. Great points, That’s Grantastic.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue of campus space versus non-campus space, and the ways in which those of us on campuses as well as off-campus see campus space as different from non-campus public space. On the one hand, I take your point that “It’s not okay to beat or spray students or bust them for small drugs or drunk walking. But I’m not sure why the rest of us are supposed to put up with that, either.” On the other, it’s clear that campus space *is* different, in part because it’s dedicated non-commercial space.

    For example, at my university on sunny afternoons (which is pretty much every afternoon), we have at least one if not 2 or 3 of the local religious crazies and storefront church pastors standing on boulders in the central plaza preaching to the students, attracting onlookers, and engaging in debates with the passers-by. Because we’re a university, we believe in an open exchange of ideas, so we let them scream and harangue us. I don’t know for sure, but I’m pretty sure that attempting to preach in a mall or in a public space surrounded by commercial development, shops, and businesses would get shut down pretty quickly.

    Another argument that people see campus space is different: students regularly use sidewalk chalk to advertise student events. Now off campus, that would be considered vandalism, I’m pretty sure, and the offending chalk would be washed away and the offending chalkers at least ticketed if not arrested.

    So, I guess I’m arguing here that people both on- and off-campus recognize that campus space *is* different. These nutty “pastors” come to Baa Ram U. because they recognize that they can preach without incident, and the students chalk the walks because they can. So I understand why most people–students and non-students–have different expectations for sitting on a campus sidewalk (as in the UCD pepper spray incident) versus sitting on a public sidewalk off-campus. Whether or not it’s an appropriate difference is another question, I guess, but I can understand quite well why UCD students felt a proprietary interest in their own campus, and I think the reason that video went viral is that most people recognize that campus-space is just different from non-campus public space.


  2. This all seems rather bizarre to me. Here at York (the British, not the Canadian university) campus security keep a rather low profile – I’ve never seen them on patrol even at night, and they’re largely staffed by affable older gentlemen who are more likely to greet you good morning than pepper-spray you.

    Then again, we are one of the quieter provincial institutions. It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a much greater security presence at, say, Nottingham or the London universities.

    Also, Historiann’s anecdote about the student arrested for ‘drunk walking’ is frankly disturbing. Unless someone is committing acts of violence, vandalism or serious public disorder, I can’t see how simply being inebriated on campus qualifies as a criminal offence. If such a policy was enforced here, I imagine there’d be at least a hundred arrests every night.


  3. I’m all for maintaining our (rapidly-disappearing) dedicated non-commercial space, with its greater freedoms – but public parks used to be such things, too. Are pastors arrested for yelling there? Is sidewalk blockage likely to be more tolerated there than in a commercial district thoroughfare?

    FYI, sidewalk chalk is expressly permitted (and regulated) on most college campuses, making them like city streets – you can deface in the time, place, and manner the authorities permit, such as to impermanently announce a community festival.

    I do want to protect university property as a space with free speech and without policing. It’s simply vital.

    I just can’t help but marvel that only the people who are of university social status have any access to this. Meanwhile, an entire generation of public K-12 students has been raised with the expectation that having armed cops inside their schools is normal and desirable and even safe.

    And seemingly nobody else, anywhere else, has a meaningful right to assembly or speech.


  4. These nutty “pastors” come to Baa Ram U. because they recognize that they can preach without incident

    Genuine conviction calls people to do all manner of things without regard to consequence.

    Street preachers go where there is an audience and where the likelihood of being run off is low. The sidewalk is public space regulated by regional government and I suppose whether or not the mayor sends the police after the skinny guy yelling “blessed are the peacemakers” depends on who is complaining. I used to engage in amplified free expression on the public right-of-way and was quite ready to go to court to defend my right to do so (though it never came to that). The time may come when I feel the need to do so again and central to my thinking will certainly be where I can find an audience.

    Exercising your first amendment rights in the public square is an important component of retaining those rights. This is, imho, part of what is essential in the Occupy movement. All the grumpy old people telling the occupiers that they need to stop camping and get a message seem to be missing this point. And those street preachers, whether we like their particular message or not, are by claiming them, defending those same rights.


  5. I think that’s the right way to look at it, truffula, and I agree that the nutty “pastors” should have the right to speak. But, for me it gets tricky when they start demonizing the gays. (Clearly, they should be more concerned with heterosexual fornication!) I wonder if (for example) a street preacher who was openly anti-Semitic or racist or a Holocaust-denier would be permitted to speak for very long. I always wonder what the young gay & lesbian students who are fearful of coming out must be thinking to hear that kind of stuff hollered at them.

    The great thing about my campus is that these guys are rarely permitted to go unchallenged, especially when they start preaching against homosexuality. Baa Ram U. students of all political stripes are just not into hatin’ on the gays, which I think speaks well of their generation.


  6. “Living in dorms that were on the National Register was all very nice, but because they were insulated with newspaper and horse hair, they were potential fire traps. I remember a lot of dorm rules organized around the principle of not setting the dorm on fire.”

    Oh man. The one thing could get your ass kicked off campus for sure and quick was lighting candles in your room in Parrish Hall. The place had already burned down twice. Deal drugs? No problem until the state police picked you up in West Philly. Be a drunk townie h.s. kid who snuck into a party and drank wayyyyy too much? Get escorted to the phone to call your folks and pay the cleaning bill when you threw up all over the cruiser (I swear I threw that kid out of the party three times before I finally called security to haul his sorry drunk ass away), need a ride to the hospital for emergency appendectomy? Got it covered. But light one fucking candle in the flammable dorm and poof… your ass was gone.


  7. I take the point about free speech haters. Part of public action has to be willingness to be held accountable for what you say or do. That’s what I find offensive about many of the extreme haters–they deny their role in whatever comes next.

    I used to walk by a storefront preacher who also had a sidewalk routine. He certainly thought I was going to hell in a handbasket but I can’t say I found his message any more offensive than the hundred other ways I was put in my sex-class place every day. In the public square I have the opportunity to dissent. On billboards, not so much.


  8. Pingback: The Ron Swanson Scholarship in Women’s Studies | Historiann

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