From the family network comes news of hubbub from the formerly peaceful campus of Brown University where my niece Theresa is piping up.
Theresa McGowan '08 was among those who led the group around the Main Green and Wriston Quadrangle. Outside Wayland Arch, McGowan addressed the crowd and referred to Street's allegations. "He was assaulted on this campus. … He was attacked from behind. … He cried for help," she said to the group of protestors and onlookers.
McGowan then touched on the issue of race as she addressed the marchers, who were mostly students of color.
"We don't want no racism on Brown's campus, we don't want no police stopping us because they think we can't go to Brown. … Brown is brown," McGowan said.
"This doesn't end today. This is ongoing until we get change," she said.
The marchers then returned to the Main Green, where McGowan again addressed the crowd, saying: "They claim they don't know what a Brown student looks like - lets show them what a Brown student looks like.
Sounds like chin music from the Coalition of the Damned, but then again, we don't know what we know until we know it. What is change? The Brown Daily Herald reports that so far the Chief of Police is working to cooperate.
But the [Brown U.] administration still has work to do as it begins to investigate students' specific claims. Making sure the larger Brown community has access to as much information as possible regarding the proceedings is the most effective way to prevent rash reactions from students who might otherwise perceive that their concerns aren't being heard. We are encouraged by [Brown President Ruth] Simmons' assurance that administrators will "work hard to get information out to the public" without compromising investigators' work or violating legal guidelines. We encourage Chief of Police Mark Porter - who has thus far handled the situation remarkably well, appearing at yesterday's BUCC meeting and addressing a crowd of protesters outside Department of Public Safety Headquarters earlier in the afternoon - to publicize details of the investigation as they materialize. A large portion of the student body is now invested in the ordeal, and their legitimate concerns about on-campus safety and police conduct won't go away with time.
No one can dispute that students must feel secure on campus. They must also perceive law enforcement officials - whether DPS officers or those from the Providence Police Department - as assets in creating a safe atmosphere on College Hill. If students come to fear and distrust these officials, they will almost certainly be less likely to collaborate with officers in preventing and solving crimes.
This represents a divide that is becoming a bit too familiar in our nation in which political hay is made to highlight the failures of those assigned to protect us. Some of that noise has to be made, otherwise how would we know? Watchdogs who don't bark are worse than useless. But there also has to be responsible reciprocity. This is a contract of trust between ourselves, and quite frankly, ourselves.
If there's anything that divides college campuses over realworld existentials, it's the difference between kids who grow up in the streets and those sheltered from them. The student whose allegations are under review was obviously one comfortable walking across campus at 3am in the morning. I also happen to be from the ranks of the streetwise and liked to shock my NYC yuppie colleagues about how I would hang out the video arcades of Times Square past midnight to engage in virtual fighting with 'dem yout'. On GP, people in hoodies don't frighten me. But I'm also from Los Angeles and have been detained by LAPD officers some 27 times in my own youth. Only three of those encounters resulted in actual citations, and the process starts, whether you like it or not, by handing over your ID. I don't know where young Mr. Street grew up, but everywhere I've lived, the law has been clear. When the PD demand your ID, you produce it. Here in Los Angeles, not having an ID immediately translates in a well-understood street knowledge shared by cops and youth alike into "I have a warrant" and/or "I'm a banger" and/or "I'll illegal" as in illegal alien. Providence, Rhode Island, who knows?
But we're all going to know sooner or later because the process, by the looks of things, is going to be made expressly manifest. 200 college students is a significant force to provide the learning of a lesson, and hopefully this will be a lesson well learned.
I expect that Miss McGowan who is tall and proud and will not be silenced, will advocate well on behalf of her friend. But one wonders what choices are cruising through her head. After all, college is the place to make such choices and there are politics to choose. On the one hand nobody on the planet in their right mind gives a damn about the inconveniences suffered by Ivy League undergraduates enjoying the most privileged of privilges in the most privileged place on Earth. As we all should well know, in most places in the world and too many right here in the US, getting on the wrong side of the wrong cop can get you on the wrong end of a bullet. Be thankful your friends are wearing bandaids and not carrying your casket. On the other hand, there is no better way of beginning a lifetime of advocacy for the wretched of the Earth than under the crystalline prism of Ivy League campus politics. This stuff matters forever. Where ever you go in life, you'll always be living up to (or living down) ideals you set for yourself in college.
The attractions of advocacy for the downtrodden are obvious. To support the dignity of the weak is honorable, noble even. And there was a time in our society when any race but white was unalterably bound to weakness. Old symbols die hard, but we know better, and we are better. So what irks me is that the tall and strong and unquiet would seek to wear the colors of their skin as a symbol of that old weakness. I hope that's not what's going on here, at least not in my family. Not that I'm in control or would seek to be. Theresa McGowan will be the author of her own fate, no doubt.
So the question that falls to us now is whether Mr. Street and the officers involved conflicted over a matter of humiliation and pride, or weakness and strength. I think it is more of the former than the latter. I suppose we should say there is a small question of law and order involved, but that's really just a technicality here. Street's no criminal, and the cops weren't stopping any crime. But he has been humiliated and subdued, and now the shoe is on the other foot heading for some cop's ass. And don't tell me any town cop doesn't wish snot-nosed college kids would just behave. And in this case, you can best believe that the wrong finding can cost somebody their entire livelihood. That means one cop (or two) out of a job. Now who's downtrodden and weak? It's hardly likely that Street will be suspended or expelled from school, unless of course these are felony charges and they stick, and felons cannot attend Brown. Facts? Anyone?
So things hang in the balance for the parties directly invovled and activism on either side ratchets up the attention given. Depending on which way this thing goes, I may have to worry about my niece making a bad name for herself among the cop fraternities of Providence. Sounds like 1966.
If I had my way, I'd just call the whole thing off. Cop families wouldn't have to worry about whether dad has a job, student families wouldn't have to worry about whether son has an education. Everybody gets chewed out and humiliated and all parties recognize how much they need mutual respect. Humiliation this time, fortitude next time.
Oh, but then there's that little technicality about law and order. That means somebody has to pay. All because what.. everybody has something to prove at 3am in the morning. Me? I sleep well.