Robert Lucido ’15, the president of Amherst College Republicans, writes responding to the controversy surrounding the “All Lives Matter” campaign.
Last week, a new student group on campus called Black Lives Matter showed great initiative by organizing a series of events highlighting police brutality against persons of color. Not only was it encouraging to see such activism, but their events and corresponding social media efforts also garnered attention for a troubling issue that disproportionately affects individuals of color.
Over the past decade, there has been a clear trend of the police becoming increasingly militarized. In 1996, under President Clinton, the federal government distributed $4.3 billion worth of equipment to police departments throughout the country in an effort to combat drug-related crime. In 2001, following the attacks on Sept. 11, the Pentagon again extended billions of dollars of surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, as a part of Department of Defense’s 1033 Program, according to an article on RT.com.
While such a program seems reasonable — even logical — there are considerable differences between a law enforcement officer and a soldier in the military. First, a police officer’s responsibilities in an American city are different from those of a soldier on a foreign battlefield. The two respond to different scenarios with different tactics, and their equipment and training should reflect that difference. A soldier in the military is trained in the de-escalation of force, namely to only point a weapon at an individual when prepared to fire, yet officers in Ferguson were repeatedly photographed pointing their weapons at unarmed individuals who had their hands in the air. Second, One is tasked with upholding the laws of our country and protecting the rights of our citizens, while the other is commissioned to guard against external threats and to dispatch those who present such threats. Therefore, while these programs were implemented in good faith and have since produced positive effects (such as the capture of the Boston Marathon bombers), they also give cause for concern, especially if you are a Republican, as they place the party’s tough-on-crime stances and habitual fear of “big government” at odds with each other.
Senator Rand Paul, who has been amongst the most active on Capitol Hill regarding police brutality, called the police response in Ferguson “thoroughly un-American.” In his op-ed for TIME magazine, he insisted, “there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.” His partner in the House, Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) tweeted, “Is this a war zone or a US city?” Even the CATO Institute, the well- known conservative think tank, asked, “Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors? …Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that ‘We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone’?” Thus, contrary to the mainstream narrative, Republicans have been active on issues surrounding police brutality.
Like Senator Paul and Representative Amash, the Amherst College Republicans believe many issues raised by Black Lives Matter Awareness Week ought to be addressed; however, we strongly condemn many things that its organizers did last week, particularly their reaction to the “All Lives Matter” posters.
First, the Black Lives Matter group was originally titled “F— the Police.” The organizers of the Awareness week claimed that every 28 hours a black man is killed by a law enforcement officer, but they never mentioned that a law enforcement officer is killed every 48 hours in the line of duty. The organizers may have thought it clever, but such a title is utterly shameful.
Second, while the Amherst College Republicans did not sponsor the “All Lives Matter” posters, I have since learned the identities of the individuals who did. Since hanging their posters, the students have been subjected to baseless accusations and subsequent condemnations for offenses that they never committed. Their peers’ hateful comments —both on social media and in person — were unacceptable, but expected; however, the emails from the various academic departments, which referred to these students as “poster vandals and internet trolls,” and which condemned them for the “tearing down, defacing or covering of posters” were not anticipated and are an utter disgrace. The Anthropology and Sociology department even accused them of racism in reducing their pro-life posters to a reminder that “people of color, and black students — in particular — continue to experience racism on campus.” I wonder if these students would have received the same backlash if their “All Lives Matter” posters had instead included liberal messaging such as support for gay-marriage. We welcome debate, but decry vandalism and small mindedness.
Furthermore, if academic departments are still in the mood to address injustices committed against minority groups on our campus, the Amherst College Republicans would welcome the support. Over the last two years, our posters for every event we have hosted have been torn down deliberately and repeatedly. We have run numerous tests, with the help of the Amherst College Police Department, and — given the designated location of the posters and quantity removed — it is undeniable that students have actively sought to destroy our posters. Furthermore, every one of our events has also been protested. Our last event was compromised when protestors occupied half of the seats at the venue, only to walk out 20 minutes after the event had started. This resulted in a half-empty auditorium because many students with a genuine interest in the event left having found nowhere to sit. The President’s Office and at least four other departments have sent emails on behalf of the Black Lives Matter group; however, just three weeks ago when the Amherst College Republicans requested such an email, we were denied.
The Amherst College Student Handbook explicitly states, “Every student enjoys the right to full participation in the academic and social life of the college, regardless of…political affiliation and belief.” The Amherst College Republicans support the right of both the Black Lives Matter group and the All Lives Matter women to speak freely and passionately about what they hold dear. Neither party did anything wrong in hanging their posters; however, the Black Lives Matter group and the aforementioned departments ought to, at the very least, reconsider the false allegations and hateful words they have used in response to the All Lives Matter posters.