Increased security can be harmful for black and brown students
Student safety has been the topic on everyone’s mind these last few weeks. From an armed robbery to carjackings, there have been too many cases that jeopardize student safety for Washington University to respond with the same urgency professors respond to your emails. While I agree that safety needs to be addressed around campus, increasing police presence will cause a greater sense of anxiety for students of color and could easily end with police harming black and brown students.
First, I want to acknowledge the safety concerns around campus. While there is always a chance of being the victim of a crime commuting between on and off campus, this year has been particularly troubling. The closure of the Overpass has forced students to extend their walk to campus through an unfamiliar and poorly lit neighborhood, while also pushing the Green Line to capacity many times over. Last year, I encountered a full bus fewer than five times during the entire year. Now I can be left waiting for a bus for more than an hour. The Wash. U. administration was woefully incompetent in seeing how closing the major route for its large off-campus population would affect other transportation options.
But this shooting at the Delmar Loop Metro Station has nothing to do with Wash. U., and students are blowing it out of proportion. It was not on campus property, it involved no one affiliated with the school and there was nothing Wash. U. could have even done about it. Students who have been sheltered their entire lives are grasping at straws in an attempt to justify their fear. St. Louis is a city that is consistently among the most dangerous in the country by yearly rankings. But luckily for the majority of Wash. U. students, it won’t affect you since you don’t venture far into the city at all. You sit in this bubble completely separate from the city that supports the University and when the effects of the decades of racist policing, education and housing policies are too close for your comfort, your first instinct is to increase the practices that created the problem in the first place? I am not surprised by the immediate response from Wash. U. students; I am just reminded who they really are.
Many have called for an increased police presence to patrol the neighborhoods to make students feel safe. But which students would actually feel safer? I don’t have to delve into the long history of the police brutality and the mistreatment that black and brown people face on a daily basis. Even though I have had less contact with law enforcement than fingers on one hand, I instantly get anxious whenever I know that they are around me. Go ask one of those three black students in your class how they feel about this plan and this feeling will inevitably come up.
Increasing police presence in response to safety concerns leads to them being overzealous in making sure the problems stop and don’t start again. Because St. Louis is a majority black city and the previously mentioned extreme racism is present, black people are constantly under the eye of the police. How long will it be until a black student is walking home and is asked by one of these officers (now working more than ever to appease helicopter parents) about whether they belong? How long until one is asked for an ID to prove they are not the dangerous criminal this cop believes them to be because they want to play hero? How long until a gun is drawn on a student because they refuse to comply with ridiculous demands that would have never been asked if they had a different skin color?
Safety will continue to be a concern of students as long as there are off-campus living options. There are concrete steps the University can and should take to decrease the possibility of crimes that occur around off-campus student housing, and so far they have failed in the most Wash. U. way possible. Increasing police presence without guaranteeing the safety of black and brown students from those officers would only be pushing the problem on students who are already stretched incredibly thin. Don’t put your fellow students in danger because you overreact out of fear. Keep the right people accountable and take a second to consider how your demands will impact others.