Initially, I was conflicted with which injustice to write about: a very personal injustice that solely affected me, or an injustice that affected me, but also represents a global issue. After recent events in Baltimore, Maryland, following the death of Freddy Gray and the ensuing riots, the decision was clear.
Attending the University of Baltimore, which is a midtown campus, can be complicated. Students aren’t sheltered with definitive campus boundaries as some traditional universities are. The University Police must be vigilant to protect the students, but when they stop protecting us and start policing us as if we are suspects, it’s time to stop, reflect, and address the issue. While the University proudly states that the safety of its students is paramount, I sometimes wonder if respect, dignity, and our rights as citizens are often disregarded under the guise of safety.
I’m Editor-in-Chief Emeritus for the school’s newspaper The UB Post. In my official capacity, I’ve had two negative experiences with the fully-sworn campus police officers. However, I am aware of several other negative student and faculty experiences as well.
For the purpose of this essay, I’m going to discuss my second incident only. In February of this year, having recently sprained my ankle and wearing a walking boot, I required handicapped accommodations. Unable to find parking in the handicapped area of campus that day, I parked in a garage and took the school’s shuttle several blocks to campus. The shuttle service ends at 11 p.m., the same time when the building that houses our UB Post office closes.
At that time, our Business Manager and I were working on Post business and decided to finish over pizza at a restaurant within the radius of campus. After eating, we walked across the street to a campus police officer sitting in his squad car, smoking a cigarette, and asked him for a courtesy ride. He asked where we were going. I responded that we were at separate garages, but he could just drive us to mine and I would drive my coworker to her’s. He said we needed to call for a ride; I told him our phones were dead. He asked where we were coming from and we pointed to the restaurant across the street. He told us we needed to call from a building on campus and we replied the buildings were closed. He gestured to the law school; I told him we were not law students and explained why we were at the restau- rant. He restated we needed to call from a house phone for a courtesy ride.
At that point, I decided to inform him that I was disabled and lifted my pant leg to show him my walking boot. He looked down at it and said that because we were leaving a bar, he had no way of telling whether we had been drinking. I offered to take a breathalyzer test. He started to explain the liability he would face if he drove us to our cars and we were to get into an accident while driving home “drunk.” I reiterated we hadn’t been drinking and offered to submit to a field sobriety test.
He continued to make excuses and interrogate us, and I asked if he was really not going to take us to our cars . After defending myself and all but screaming discrimination, I felt that I had stood up to the injustice as much as I had energy for at that late hour (I needed to drive an hour home and wake up at 5 a.m. for work the next day and it was now after midnight). I said, “Thanks anyway, we’ll just walk,” and began walking to the garage, which was four city blocks away, certainly further than my doctor’s orders would allow at that time.
We walked about a half block and incurred a female campus security guard. I briefly explained our encounter with the police officer and asked if there was a supervisor on duty. She informed me that the officer we just encountered was the supervisor.
I asked for his name and she pointed to him and said, “He’s right there, you can go ask him.”
I reiterated that I was handicapped and couldn’t do the extra walking and again asked his name.
She said, “Well, he’s the only supervisor, so you can call tomorrow and get it.”
I responded, “You’re not going to give me his name? He’s your supervisor; you have to know his name!”
She again replied, “He’s right there.” I facetiously thanked her and we continued to walk to the garage.
We considered running a story about the incident, especially since this was not the first negative interaction a member of the Post had with campus police, but we were too close to the deadline to research what the policies were or to identity the unnamed officer. I later inquired with a source that has intimate knowledge of the campus police policies and was told no such policy existed and that the officer’s refusal to give us a ride was completely unacceptable. He advised that I bring it to the Chief of Police’s attention. Having had a negative experience with the handling of my first negative encounter with campus police, I was hesitant.
I let the situation stay dormant, until now. After witnessing the climate in Baltimore surrounding the homicide of Freddie Gray, and the riots that ensued after his death, the city being set on fire in protest of the rampant racism and brutality perpetuated against African Americans, I decided that I cannot stand dormant as this “guilty before proven innocent” treatment continues, even in the confines of a campus police department. It is no longer acceptable, nor should it ever have been, to treat our students as criminals, deny them their rights, and excuse the behavior as “officers that were once on the beat in the worst part of town struggling with the difficult transition to a campus environment.”
To take the first step in the right direction, I’ve decided to publish this editorial in the first issue of the fall semester’s Post as Editor-in-Chief Emeritus to educate the student body, administration, staff, and faculty about one of the major issues that needs attention on campus. Hopefully, this will serve a three-fold purpose: to educate, to start or continue a very necessary conversation, and to reassure those who have had similar experiences whose complaints have either gone ignored or assuaged that they are not alone in their struggle.
While I feel lucky to have these experienced and qualified officers protecting our campus, they too need to respect the policies and laws that govern our campus, our state, and our country.
Editor’s Note: This event referred to in this article occurred shortly after midnight on February 4, 2015. The officer and the security guard mentioned are still unknown to the Post staff. The previous incident mentioned occurred roughly a year earlier in the Spring 2014 semester and were fully reported to campus police and the administration. It is my opinion and the opinion of the others involved in the first incident that the University of Baltimore Police did not address our concerns appropriately, rather excusing the behavior as I reference in this article.