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Police and their childishness to blame as Kent State incident gets out of hand

‘When I was young, times were hard/when I got older it was worse.’ First words I ever heard/’Nobody move, nobody gets hurt.” In 1989, Warren Zevon released his chilling vision of the future, the album ‘Transverse City.’ Facets of modern American life were explored with alarming accuracy on the album, including environmental degradation, mass consumerism, gridlocked traffic and a police state. Last weekend, the annual ‘College Fest’ end-of-the year party at Kent State University ended in rioting and 64 arrests. Most reports placed some blame on both sides, partiers and police officers, and have suggested the situation simply spiraled out of hand. While it would be completely unreasonable to suggest the students were totally innocent (they were, after all, lighting furniture on fire in the street – there is video of this), much of the blame can be placed on police. This is a case where pursuit of the law trumped any reasonable solution. The incident allegedly started when police arrested a girl at the massive party for underage consumption of alcohol. Precise details of her arrest are not available, but word-of-mouth from friends at Kent suggests a friend of the arrestee was slammed to the ground by police after approaching them to ask why her friend was arrested. From there, partygoers allegedly began pelting officers with beer bottles and rocks.’ Officers responded by firing rubber bullets. The police are easy to criticize until suddenly there is a need for them – then, critics complain they don’t do enough. At the same time, there are appropriate instances in which to defend the law and there are instances when it is less dangerous to let the situation be.’ This was almost certainly the case with the Kent State debacle last weekend. What the whole incident essentially boils down to is students wanting to be left alone and law enforcement being preoccupied with enforcing the law.’ When students began pelting the officers trying to be left alone, the law responded the way the law always does – with brute force. Reports of students involved in the incident almost all describe police brutality.’ According to Ben Wolford, an editor at the school’s newspaper, ‘when one student stayed on his lawn, two officers sprinted at him and just kind of grabbed him forcefully and arrested him.’ The message police officers were sending to the Kent State students is, ‘We are in charge.’ They went as far as announcing through megaphones the threat of arrest to anyone who didn’t go inside.’ One thing American society seems to have forgotten is that the burden of proof lies on authority to demonstrate why their authority is legitimate.’ Badges alone are not enough. Police in this instance, as far as I can discern, behaved childishly. They responded to the taunts and wishes of students to be left alone with violence, which, as we all learned in first grade, never solves anything. Law is not a reflection of justice, morality or even right and wrong. Laws are put in place from above (bureaucratically speaking; God never ordained ‘Thou shalt not commit a rolling stop’) and they are put in place to maintain some sort of order in the people below. Nobody needs constant reminder of this fact more than police officers themselves. Most of them have intentions which are very much in the right place and in the public’s best interest. However, they need to realize their ultimate goal is not in upholding the law – it’s in keeping citizens safe. The manner with which police conducted themselves at Kent State over the weekend did not work toward that end. Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured (although one report did indicate a police officer suffered a fatal heart attack later in the night), unlike another Kent State incident that immediately comes to mind upon hearing about riots. Wolford also told the media, ‘I think if they just blocked off the street, let kids have that road to party on for that night, it would’ve just been a party and people would’ve gone home.” In all likelihood, he is right. Surely a large number of the partiers there were underage, and all manner of minor crimes would probably have been committed if the party continued. But that seems preferable to the streets erupting in flames.

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