Posted May 31, 2017 by Cooper Point Journal in Letters & Opinion

Campus Police: Not ‘Just Here to Help’

By Jasmine Kozak-Gilroy

Police, on or off campus, are positioned as protectors of the safety of all citizens, an illusion that comes in conflict with the reality of violence routinely committed against protesters, regardless of the tactics protesters choose to employ. Instances of police aggression against protestors in the form of pepper spray, flash bangs, and body to body violence is not just seen during so-called riots, but experienced during marches and peaceful occupations of space.

Critiques of the institution of policing are often brushed off as extremist or fantastic exaggerations, but problems with the police are based in the very logic of policing. Police are commissioned to maintain order, the current order of the world, and thus always inherently work in favor of the status quo. Police are peace keepers, but the kind of peace they keep is not peace as an end to structural violence, but a peace based in non disruption of the status quo. If you are a member of a group that the status quo does not favor, if you are among other things not white, not wealthy, not straight, or not cisgender, then the cops do not and can not work in your favor. Because police are inherently pro status quo, no matter what individual members of the police force say policing, as an institution will always work against protest and change, as protest functions as disruption of the status quo, and the actions of cops reflect that.

I began thinking about this opinion piece as a reactions to a pattern I saw in conversations surrounding the cops being present while students argued with vocal anti-abortion rights advocates who frequent our campus. Students often implied or flat out said that the police were watching out for the safety of students in particular, or at least, were there for the safety of everyone involved. In the specific case of the confrontations between anti-abortion rights protesters and students, it is important to note that the cops do not show up when the anti abortion rights advocates show up or start screaming at students, but instead arrive when students engage with anti abortion rights protesters, and a sign of imminent conflict arises.

For the police, it seems, it is not a safety concern that anti-abortion rights protesters are screaming at students, but it is that students are screaming back. This logic comes from an administration wide fear of riots and a fear of loss of control, as Chief of Police Stacy Brown herself discussed when I interviewed her back in January saying, “sometimes, that crowd mentality, you can have people that are there to be peaceful, but sometimes something happens and then there’s that crowd mentality that changes. And there’s also studies on that, too. And then, some bad choices are made.” The administration seems to fear that when students express dissatisfaction or gather and organize together those students will become a threat.

The insinuation that student protests are something that need to be protected against is condescending and dangerous.

Recently, during student demonstration that featured students confronting Bret Weinstein, Evergreen police Officer O’Dell shoved through students who were serving as a screen between the police and other students who were talking to Weinstein, injuring protesters who did not pose anything but a theoretical threat is one of many instances in which this fear is expressed.

In the wake of recent campus protests and the demand that the police be disarmed, it is important that we recommit ourselves to a mindful examination of what the administration, and other institutional organizations like the police, stand for in the context of student rights and safety. In our interview, when discussing protest as a concept, Brown stated, “a lot of great work has been done in this country through protest. And a lot of great work has been done through peaceful protest;” but followed that statement saying, “it is peaceful until it’s not, and then it’s too late.” These two statements cannot co-exist. If all peaceful protest is “peaceful until it is not”, and if, as Brown insinuated in other parts of our interview, the only valid protest is peaceful protest, then there is no room for protest at all. If the status quo at the Evergreen State College is institutional racism, and the police are here the protect the institution that shelters that form of institutional violence, they are a white supremacist threat.