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A Tale Of Two Worlds: America’s Police State Vs. College Campuses 

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

America is a police state. 2.3 million people are held in prison. People go to jail 11 million times a year. People go to jail most often without conviction of a crime. Many cannot afford to post bail and are caught in jail until their trial. 1 in 5 incarcerated people are in jail for a drug offense. 1 in 37 US adults are under correctional supervision. The U.S. has 21% of the world’s prisoners, with 34% of them being African American. These prisoners are often treated as slave labor, with few to no laws protecting their rights.

American police are highly militarized and very willing to shoot first and ask questions later. They constantly harass and bully a very segregated America. They use excessive force and arrest without reason. They act as occupying forces for America’s poor neighborhoods, not unlike the American military abroad. If one lives in America and is poor, especially black and poor, the police are your oppressor, not your protector.

Encountering a police officer, let alone confronting one for their injustice, is a dangerous activity for many in this country. The poor have been abandoned by our government yet they are arrested for petty and necessary crimes done to survive. Once in the system it is even harder to make a legal living and people have no choice but to turn to alternative methods of survival. The police in this country consistently use a call to them as an excuse to hit the victim with a crime of their own. The right to protest is considered a criminal offense, as evidenced by Standing Rock and the protests against President Trump. ICE is becoming an increasingly insidious force that obtains people in extraordinarily inhumane conditions.

On the other hand, you have elite college campuses that aim to protect their students of crimes at all costs. Private colleges can set their own rules, independent of police. While they are supposed to report serious crimes to the police, the agreement of separate spheres remains in practice thanks to the discretion expected of all parties. While it is clear that the demilitarized spaces on college campuses are a privilege, rich students can act without consequence and this can create a dangerous environment. Most notably is the issue of sexual assault. Colleges consistently underreport sexual assault on their campuses because they are concerned about their ranking and reputation. These schools fight it out for the most elite and wealthy students, who are most likely to give back to the school they attend after they graduate. Reports of sexual assault then are often not stated publicly and instead handled internally. The number one goal for colleges is not the safety of the students, but the reputation of the college. The Hunting Ground is an important documentary that covers this issue.

The college I go to, Gustavus Adolphus College, is evidence of the enormous failings of these private institutions. A student was found guilty of sexual assault and their total punishment was a 500 word essay.  An adult has been punished with an essay after being convicted of sexual assault. That’s a sentence you could only hear at a rich college campus. Gustavus refused to comment after the case went public, insisting on privacy laws. Colleges break Title IX when they pressure victims into remaining silent, but this remains a common occurrence. Because the college fails to punish the rapists, the only option for students is to go public. The victim from Gustavus said: “I write this not for attention, pity or sympathy but out of concern that a school I love so much is allowing perpetrators of rape to walk around with minimal punishment and with a disregard for the safety of the other students who go here.”

Hazing remains another practice that goes unpunished on college campuses. The hazing stories I have heard are at times not so distant from torture. Animal murder and torture is also much more common than we would like to think, but it rarely gets reported. Hazing ranges from sexual humiliation, starvation, drinking to near death, burning, eating live animals. Despite the often extreme ends hazing goes to, it still happens in form or another within the majority of clubs, Greek organizations and sports teams. For consistent reporting on the issue see the Huffington Post, who seems to be the only publication to consistently take on crimes at elite college campuses. As for the college administrations themselves? No one wants to get their own school into trouble.

College students essentially buy their way out of the law enforcement channel. Given the horrors of our police state, this is certainly a privilege. But the alternative leaves students at risk and allows a lawlessness to pervade. The money one pays for this privilege too is increasingly one that students cannot afford. An entire generation of people from middle class families are now in debt. Of course it is also true that victims of these crimes are taken even less seriously in poor communities. The difference is that college students can be caught doing crimes and get away with it. Putting a person in prison has never taught any good lesson about morality. But buying one’s way out of punishment is hardly a better lesson for a young person.

The common thread through both extremes is a complete lack of accountability for officials in charge. Police murder, assault and harass communities without consequence. They arrest absurd numbers of people and jail them without trial. There is no accountability for our boys in blue. But who is to hold the college administrations responsible for their neglect? Like the police, their number one goal is to cover their asses. Both the failures of police and college administrations can be linked to capitalism. Prisons run for profit and police are under pressure to make undue arrests (although many of course are just racist psychopaths). Likewise, colleges are under pressure to reel in huge donations and seek to cover up any crimes by their students.

The overlap of these two worlds can be seen at Yale, where police were called on a black student who was napping in her own common room. Police were called, not campus safety, who often are the ones who deal with even the most heinous of offenses on elite college campuses. A tale of two worlds indeed. Where the rich can be lawless and the black people can’t even nap. Many of the students from elite universities go on to be the largest of criminals on Wall St., in corporations, or in The Pentagon. They take the sadism they learned in college and apply it to the real world. Meanwhile, the underclass remains the underclass and their very existence is criminal.

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Nick Pemberton is a student at Gustavus Adolphus College. He is currently employed by Gustavus Dining Services. Nick was born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. He can be reached at pemberton.nick@gmail.com

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