Police should promote equality

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September 7, 2010

12:55 AM

The Princeton Review 2011 has rated College William & Mary students as the 12th happiest in the country. Although this does reflect our general attitude, it is unclear whether the study took into account police harassment. Relative to other schools, especially the College’s academic peers, the enormity of monitoring by the James City County, City of Williamsburg, and campus police departments is striking. I was on campus during the summer session, and there were virtually no police to be found. But ever since the majority of students returned to Williamsburg, the areas on and around campus have returned to a veritable police state. We have college police, why do the City of Williamsburg’s cars patrol our campus?

According to the city’s crime statistics, there were no reported rapes or homicides, 5 robberies and 5 burglaries in Williamsburg in 2009. There were, however, undercover cops stationed at Wawa, the three delis, Bloom, and the ABC store. The police presence in Williamsburg in no way reflects its crime statistics. James City County’s 2008 report shows most citizen calls for police service are made during the summer months when students aren’t at the College. I therefore ask the departments to stop focusing on reprimanding students for socializing, and instead focus their attention on the city’s 20% increase in assaults from 2008 to 2009. We have three bars, a particularly docile student body and some of the most authoritarian noise ordinances and residential rules in the country; we do not require constant supervision.

The mission provided by the James City County Police Department involves, “Providing police services so that it improves the quality of life for all citizens.” Apparently, the department does not consider students to be citizens (even those of us who are over 21), for it systematically targets, monitors and harasses us. In the eyes of Williamsburg Police Department, students are second-class citizens who deserve not protection, but continual, decidedly unconstitutional torment. Rather than to “protect and serve,” when it comes to students, the force’s aim — it seems— is to “find and harass.”

There have been multiple instances of patrol cars slowly following students down the street – despite the fact that those students are not breaking any laws. This is both frightening and insulting. We, too, are citizens — and we are also residents. We deserve the same treatment as older, full-time residents, and we deserve some semblance of protection. Walking home is not a crime.

Yet profiling appears to be a central policy of the Williamsburg police force. An officer recently pulled over my friend, who is black, and gave him no explanation, other than that he has a GPS in his car. Bloom gives keg receipts to the police, officers conduct warrantless, illegal walk-throughs of off-campus homes, and patrol cars circle students’ blocks while ignoring those of other residents. This systematic targeting is not only unlawful, but it is directly harmful to students – replacing the fear of criminals with the fear of being followed, questioned and harassed without reason by our own police.

We have the same rights as other Americans, and we deserve to have them honored, especially by the police. When our college administration stops sanctioning this obvious degradation of its students, we may be able to live in a community where I can walk home alone without the fear of being stalked or harassed by an officer of the law. We are not criminals; we are students. We are not prisoners; we are decent and productive citizens. We ought to be treated as such, now and in the future.

Students have long been an integral part of the Williamsburg community, and we deserve some semblance of respect. The administration needs to support us, and the Williamsburg police need to stop the absolutist policy of assuming all young people to be guilty, and using this prejudice to persecute and harass, rather than perform more appropriate duties. It is past time for the Student Assembly and the College administration to recognize this substantial breach of students’ rights, especially since there are an inordinate amount of criminal records coming out of an esteemed, highly-ranked, and supposedly happy college.

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