Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fort Campus

Today University of Cincinnati campus cop Ray Tensing was indicted for the murder of Samuel DuBose, an unarmed African American man that he shot in the head during a traffic stop.  The continued litany of black people killed by the police, whether directly like DuBose or more indirectly like Sandra Bland, is this nation's greatest shame.

Strikingly, this killing was done by a campus police officer off campus.  It reminded me of college campuses I've been affiliated with that had a heavy police presence, where the school seemed to relate to the surrounding neighborhoods like a fortress in hostile territory.  For example, my undergraduate institution sat right between downtown Omaha and the city's north side ghetto.  The police presence on campus was very apparent, although I mostly saw the cops issuing parking tickets.  Nevertheless, I felt like the school was very deliberately trying keep the mostly black local population from setting foot on campus.

The show of force was even greater when I was at the University of Chicago for my master's degree.  I would commonly see UChicago police patrolling off campus, and had heard through the grapevine that most of them were off-duty CPD cops earning extra money.  While there was a high level of street crime in Hyde Park when I lived there (I know multiple people who were threatened with knives and guns during robberies), I've seen robust campus police in the sleepiest of locations.  Campus cops were everywhere when I taught in a small East Texas town, and as faculty salaries were frozen, the massive police force maintained its outsize position.

The fact that so many college campuses feel like fortresses is telling.  It is part of a larger trend in America where social inequality is accepted and dealt with through force and violence.  Rather than trying to increase the life chances for all, our society builds walls and arms sentinels to keep what were once called the "dangerous classes" in the Gilded Age from getting inside the havens of the more fortunate.  Ray Tensing felt so empowered in this role that he pulled over Samuel DuBose even though he was off campus, and tried to make an arrest for what should have been simple traffic citations.  Yes, he appears to be a particularly violent and murderous officer, but our system apparently finds it fit to employ such people to defend college campuses.  As long as white America persists in building its fortresses and arming them to the teeth, more tragedies like this will keep happening.

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