Students and faculty at Northeastern University are protesting the Northeastern University Police Department’s recent decision to equip officers with semi-automatic rifles, despite widespread controversy and opposition from the Boston police.
The Boston Globe reported last week that the NUPD had forged ahead with plans to deploy such weapons during high-level threats in light of recent mass shooting events. “Watch CNN for five minutes,” NUPD Chief Michael A. Davis told the Globe. “There are things that are happening around the country that cause us to pay attention.”
College campuses across the U.S. are, indeed, grappling with an increasing sense of vulnerability in the midst of a mass shooting epidemic; there have been 23 shootings on college campuses in 2015 alone, which has led some campuses and individuals to call for more guns in the hands of students, a terrifying prospect for most rational people. The increased prevalence of militarized campus police forces holds its own risks—namely, as the New York Times recently pointed out, alienating and intimidating the communities they are meant to protect, while not actually significantly increasing their chances of stopping a mass shooting.
Davis stressed that the campus police needed to be equipped to handle such situations because they would be closer in proximity to any active situation than city police; however, the Globe points out that the Northeastern campus is half a mile from Boston police headquarters. According to Lieutenant Michael McCarthy with the Boston Police Department, “I’m not sure I see the need to arm inner-city college campuses with these long guns when their officers already have firearms. As a matter of getting resources to the school, that can be done in a matter of minutes.”
Northeastern University’s Students Against Institutional Discrimination has released a statement condemning the NUPD’s decision:
NUPD has not been transparent in its actions to militarize an already undertrained campus policing body in the name of “protection.”
As Northeastern University Students Against Institutional Discrimination, we are dedicated to accountability and transparency in all campus policy. We strongly oppose the notion that semiautomatic weapons have any place on a college campus. As a coalition centered on inclusion and diversity, we recognize the complex sociopolitical relationship between police forces and communities of color. Limited training in cultural competency and racial sensitivity in conjunction with the excessive use of force by police departments negatively impact Black and brown individuals.
NU SAID’s statement includes a petition launched by third-year student Marley Kimelman to remove all semi-automatic rifles from the NUPD, which has so fair obtained over 1,300 signatures. City councilors Tito Jackson and Josh Zakim wrote to Northeastern president Joseph Aoun that the move “encourages mistrust and fear” between students and the university police; a group of about 60 faculty members have also written to the president denouncing the decision, writing:
“We are uneasy about statements made to the press that not only fail to advance an appropriately measured public safety response commensurate with a rational assessment of the threat, but also run the risk of making some members of the Northeastern community feel less safe.”
The Boston Globe reports that at least four other Boston universities (Boston University, MIT, Tufts, and University of Massachusetts Boston) have equipped their campus officers with semi-automatic weapons in recent years.
The decision at Northeastern has made national headlines and garnered criticism from Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, who joked: “Hm, so now students can go to a place where they live for years, eating shit meals, spending most of the time sharing a tiny room with a stranger, experimenting with same-sex relationships, all while a group of guards patrol with AR-15s. You guys have officially turned college into prison.”
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