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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Police should remember their real role on campus

    Every student knows the routine. You’re at a party, dancing a bit, chatting with friends, having a good time. Nothing too scandalous, most likely: No matter what your mother warned you, most college parties do not really resemble the Fellini-esque orgies you occasionally see in those anti-drug commercials.

    Suddenly, the party’s over. The local police have arrived. They’ve ordered everyone out of the house within two minutes. So you walk home – or, if you live too far away, you drive. How many broken-up parties result in drunk drivers getting behind the wheel?

    The last time I left a party like this, avoiding the ominous stare of the policeman who stood with his arms folded near the gate, I asked myself, “”Am I supposed to be feeling bad? What exactly did we do wrong?””

    The UA is a small city unto itself, and students need the guarantee of protection from each other just as citizens need that guarantee. If carefully wielded, the power of the police is essential to a safe and thriving community.

    But when keeping people in line, not protecting them, becomes the primary purpose of the police, the honorable nature of their duty becomes corrupted.

    The reason the police would likely give for breaking up harmless house parties, besides the uselessly vague charge of “”disturbing the peace,”” is that the parties likely contain one or two students under the age of 21. Do the police possess an absolute right to invade a random house to ensure that its inhabitants are not breaking the law? Not by the lights of the Constitution – last I checked, still the highest authority in the land.

    We’ve all got stories like this. I talked to another student the other day who told me she’s seen police watching placidly as tipsy sorority girls reach their houses, only to catch them and cite them for intoxication before they can open the door.

    What lesson are these girls supposed to learn from experiences like this? That authority is arbitrary and vindictive? If they’re supposed to be learning that drinking is wrong, one wonders why, since it is not illegal or even particularly frowned upon for adults to drink. I suppose the real lesson is that students should be careful not to enjoy themselves too much.

    The University of Arizona Police Department’s official Web site is filled with stories of the police raiding dorm rooms to nab pot-smoking students, citing weary, stumbling students for “”public intoxication,”” and the like. It contains rather fewer stories of police rescuing students from rapists or even preventing cars from being broken into.

    The UA itself isn’t without blame. Just look at its red-tag policy, passed earlier this year, which allows students who receive warnings for off-campus “”unruly gatherings”” to be punished a second time by the Dean of Students Office.

    This absurd measure, which punishes independent students – adults, in short – living on their own, is an appalling invasion of privacy and an insult to personal dignity. It gives the police an additional weapon with which to batter the studentry, all in “”the not particularly fair name,”” to steal a phrase from J.D. Salinger, of teaching them to be better members of the community.

    These relatively harmless infringements of liberty – most of them more small humiliations than anything else – add up to something truly disturbing: a pervasive attempt to check the liberty of students and make them into obedient, compliant “”members of the community.”” That deceptively placid phrase, which the university administration fed us at the time, is tyranny clad in a velvet glove.

    Learning to endure this at college, of course, is necessary to prepare you to accept it in the real world. This summer, the city police went into a frenzy over drunken drivers, throwing up ominous roadblocks and “”check points”” around town, flagging down thousands of drivers and making hundreds of arrests.

    Never mind that the roads were not made a whit safer by this “”shock and awe”” display; according to the Arizona Department of Transportation, the roads are actually less menaced by drunken drivers than ever before. It was only an empty gesture designed to intimidate the people of Tucson, to impress them with the sheer power of the police to do whatever they want.

    Don’t get me wrong: One shouldn’t blame the police for doing their job. The blame, if anything, lies with our attitude toward them.

    We ought to have respect for the police, and they ought to have respect for us. The more we openly flaunt the law and declare our contempt for them, the more contempt they’ll have for us. It’s a two-way street.

    Respect for the law is one of the most important elements in any society. But tyrannical and arbitrary use of power does not create respect for law. It fosters resentment and anger – and disrespect for the law.

    In short, it creates the atmosphere I see among my fellow students: not respect for the police, but fear of them. And that’s a real shame, because it doesn’t have to be like that.

    Justyn Dillingham is a senior majoring in history and political science. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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