On April 12, the Students for a Democratic Society student group staged a protest advocating for the disarming of the University of Minnesota Police Department. The students gathered next to the department’s headquarters in support of a nationwide movement to disarm all campus police departments.
Demilitarization of United States police is not an unpopular sentiment. In fact, it’s not one I disagree with. However, this protest is extremely misguided. The group preaches for carving a progressive path in society, but its cause feels fruitless. This is because guns in the hands of the UMPD is a nonissue.
A UMPD officer has shot a gun only once in the last decade. And no, it wasn’t shot at a student, or person at all — it was shot in 2012 to put a dying raccoon out of its misery on the St. Paul campus. Despite this apparent lack of reason for the demonstration, students still felt the need to gather in the cold and promote the complete dismantling of the UMPD. This is not only incredulous, but is also completely out of touch with reality.
As college students, we often tout a 'save-the-world' mentality and feel compelled to take on a myriad of worldly issues. This is by no means a bad thing; college campuses have a history with kick-starting causes that translate to society more broadly. The protestors' cause, however, has no realistic footing and disregards the vital role our police department plays.
As much as I’d like to say that I feel safe walking home from night classes on campus, I definitely do not. I walk quickly, clutching my pepper spray that's disguised as a tube of lipstick. Our University continues to experience an uptick in crime, both on campus and in surrounding neighborhoods. We’ve experienced everything from stolen laptops, to stolen cars, to a 38-hour standoff and hostage situation. Why would we want to dissolve the institution whose sole purpose is keeping us safe?
While I find the argument that the UMPD should be demolished ridiculous, this group isn’t alone in arguing that campus police should be disarmed. While instances of campus police opening fire on students are few and far between, two shootings at University of Chicago and Georgia Tech have gained significant attention. Both instances spurred outrage and begged questions of use of force by campus police.
In Chicago, the student who was injured charged at officers with a metal pipe that he had been using to smash windows when police arrived. In Georgia, the student who was killed by police reportedly yelled “shoot me” while wielding a knife. It makes sense to question force used by police, but not in this context.
Instead of sinking into extremism, a more productive conversation would be advocating for the adoption of non-lethal weapons by campus police. Neither officers at the University of Chicago nor at Georgia Tech were equipped with Tasers, which undoubtedly would’ve been an asset in deescalating the situations. However, UMPD officers do carry Tasers.
Former Minneapolis mayoral candidate and Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, made similar semi-outlandish remarks about disarming police in Minneapolis. While the Twin Cities have been at the center of the debate surrounding police use of force, his proposals still didn’t sit well with the public. This is because an unarmed police is simply impractical. We should spend our time, as students, advocating for issues that are really pertinent on our own campus.