Friday, December 12, 2014

Give the campus cops de-escalation training, not guns

Should the campus cops be armed?

As a pacifist, I Just Say No.

As a member of a peace team, I oppose all violence and all threats of violence. Carrying a gun is a threat of violence.
Where I teach, Portland State University, has just decided to arm up the campus cops. These 'security officers' can't even manage to handle their current duties, which include unlocking doors. For more than a year I've been unable to walk into the stairwell that is closest to my office. I have to take the long way around, often several times per day, because suddenly they stopped opening those doors. And when I teach weekend classes, it's totally dysfunctional. These folks can't manage to open buildings or the connecting walkways between them for the whole weekend, even though students are paying full tuition for weekend classes, same as any other class day, and deserve a functioning campus, or at least unlocked doors to buildings and classrooms. It's pathetic.

Give 'em guns? So when I argue with them, as I frequently do, about unlocking doors, they can bark an order and, when I'm not compliant, take me down or tase me or just shoot me? A (now retired) cop running buddy of mine told me years ago, "You know what the two favorite words are for any cop? Resisting arrest. Then we get to do whatever we want to you." Of course, no actual resistance is necessary; just irritate the sworn officer and they do what they want, say what they want, and usually get away with murder, if that's what they feel like doing.

"Sworn" should mean that everything they say or write in the course of their employment should be tantamount to sworn testimony, thus punishable like perjury would be if it's false, which is fairly common. Beat 'em, lie about it, and you are good to go if you are a 'sworn' officer.

Oh, come on. Campus cops wouldn't be like that. Actually, they would. My university's Board of Trustees, without the benefit of a great deal of germane data and research, voted last night to make them "sworn officers." This makes them actual cops, not friendly campus security any more. Strapped with big guns and big attitudes. Dominating. Racial profiling with serious and potentially lethal consequences at the other end of the very different process. Hands up, don't shoot. I can't breathe.

As the US convulses in the wake of more and more murders of unarmed people of color and people with diagnosed mental health issues, my university ignores the facts, the trends, and just decides to join the bad guys. It is shameful. The intersection of armed cops, escalation of crime classification, racist cop aggression, and Grand Jury malfunction is a tragedy-producing confluence.

What I tell my students is that during my years as a community organizer I learned a number of life lessons, many having to do with resiliency and persistence. Never. Give. Up.

We were defeated year in and year out in our efforts to shut down a military base. We had legal defeats in both civil and criminal courts. I was in the first group to get arrested in nonviolent civil resistance, I was the first one to commit a nonviolent felony in civil resistance to it, I was the only one to repeat that and earned a three-year prison sentence my second time around. Lose-lose-lose-lose, with more than 100 years incarceration amongst dozens of nonviolent resisters. Senator Feingold and Congressman Obey tried for years to get the base closed and failed. How many losses do you swallow before you give up?

As many as it takes. We won. That base is shut down and dismantled, even though the US thermonuclear Navy said very publicly that they intended to keep it open until at least 2030. Never. Give. Up.

We may see our campus cops sporting heavy lethal firepower, but if we never quit challenging it, and if we get enough creativity and nonviolent persistence on our side, we will disarm them again.

Never. Give. Up.

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