by BREANA BACON
In light of the recent deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of law enforcement officers around the country, many people have taken to protests and activism, namely by teens and young adults. Specifically at the University of Maryland, the civil unrest and brutality of police officers has caused an sense uneasiness in some students toward authorities on campus.
UMD students expressed outrage about the immoral acts of police and issues of racial profiling and violence within the past year, following the deaths of Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland and countless others. Through education on the history of police brutality against people of color and reading news articles and discussing the harsh realities of racism and violence in the police force, some students have developed interesting perspectives on those called to protect and serve.
“I feel like more students are aware of police presence now. I know before all of these deaths happened, I didn’t think twice about the police, but now, I actively try to avoid them because I know things like what happened to Freddie Gray are happening everyday and it could easily happen to me,” Jade Hackley, junior French and community health double major, said.
One incident that left UMD students concerned about the possible violent nature of UMPD was the 2010 beating of Jack McKenna after students caused chaos in College Park after a men’s basketball victory against Duke. James Harrison, now retired, was originally convicted of second-degree assault and was given a one year suspended sentence, but the conviction was overturned in 2014.
In an article with ABC7 News, McKenna said “It sends a message that they (the police) can do whatever they want. If they can get away with beating me up on national TV for doing nothing, it really makes me scared for what’s going to happen to those in a dark alley when the cameras aren’t shining.”
Last year, preceding the decision not to indict Ferguson Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, UMD students marched from Stamp Student Union to the Main Administration building demanding the demilitarization of campus police.
There was also a panel discussion held in the days following the protest on the issue of police activity on campus, where students were given an open forum to ask questions of scholars involved in research on police brutality and of UMPD chief David Mitchell.
Although there are students who have sided against the police, some, such as junior government and politics major Greg Brown, feel that the anger toward officers on the county and state levels is misdirected toward UMD campus police.
Brown explained that he believes the police on campus are “very reasonable” and student hostility toward them is often unnecessary.
“The police here are okay, a lot of times students here are standing against them for no reason at all. I think people should stay skeptical about all law enforcement, though,” Brown said.
Although there was much excitement surround the protests on campus and the student organized sit-in called Occupy Stamp, there have not been many such activities widely publicized to come up with solutions since, with the exception of town hall meetings and a solution-based panel discussion called Truth & Solutions Baltimore: What They Don’t Want to Talk About, organized by UMD alumnus Lamontre Randall and the Black Male Initiative.
Dr. Joseph Richardson, associate professor of the African American studies department, who has had unpleasant encounters with UMD campus police, says students do have strong activist mentalities, but do not know how to direct their energy to make change.
“It may take people who have actually been involved with activism to show students how to direct their anger towards these situations and change the society they live in. I think there need to be more courses at the school on activism, whether formal or informal, to show students, who have this passion to change the world, how to do it effectively,” Richardson said.