Let's Start With Disarmament

Yesterday, April 13, the Black Student Union (BSU) called for a college-wide walkout via a message circulated by the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) and on the BSU’s Instagram page. The walkout was planned following the Amherst College Police Department’s (ACPD) refusal to disarm and the killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright by police the weekend prior, just 10 miles north of the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd last summer.

In the email circulated by the AAS, the student government escalated its earlier position on the ACPD — disarmament — to align with the BSU’s current demand, abolition. The AAS also endorsed the BSU’s calls to double the number of counselors available to students at the college and create a policy recognizing the need for extensions and absences following incidents of racial violence.

In the wake of these events and in recognition of our own responsibility to the student body and college community more broadly, the Editorial Board condemns the unjust and anti-Black violence of police brutality and stands in solidarity with the many Black students on campus who fear “Might I be next?” when they see armed ACPD officers. While there are many ways the police could be reformed and these issues can be addressed, disarmament seems like the clearest place to start.

No member of our community should feel endangered by just living life on campus, and the refusal of the ACPD and administration to engage in a mutual and constructive dialogue surrounding these feelings only serves to reinforce student fears that ACPD policy caters to police needs rather than those of the people they are sworn to protect. At the very least, the ACPD should use events like the recent town hall to take constructive criticism rather than defend their own policy position.

Proposals such as community engagement via a department “comfort dog” imply that students uncomfortable with the police should work to get over those fears rather than acknowledging the possibility that police should change their own policy and behavior to mitigate the danger they potentially pose to community members — especially if armed. The idea that a little bit of community engagement could assuage fears, especially those of students who are only on campus for four years, disregards the real and persistent experience of racial profiling and police brutality experienced by Black people within the United States. Even campus police officers have routinely entered the national news for making harmful race-based decisions or intensively handling racially motivated calls.

An article published by the Center for American Progress in response to the murder of George Floyd argued not only that campus police departments should be reformed and disarmed, but that colleges should cut ties with local departments — in our case, the Amherst Police Department (APD) — that were unwilling to make similarly serious reform efforts. The college should absolutely use its influence to try to improve policing in its local neighborhood, but it should also make sure campus policing is tailored to the needs of the college community.

While we believe a team of safety workers specific to the college can better meet the needs of the community than a force like the APD, we have seen no evidence supporting the necessity of weaponry for that duty. None of Smith College, Mount Holyoke College or Hampshire College employ armed police officers, and Amherst should join them in making their students feel safer. As the AAS pointed out in their April 7 statement, “guns make quotidian encounters potentially lethal.”

The recent death of Daunte Wright only reinforces this potential danger. The Brooklyn Center Police have claimed that Kim Potter, the officer involved in the shooting, mistook her gun for her taser and only realized the difference after firing. A chance encounter escalated to the death of a 20-year-old just because a gun was present. If Potter didn’t have a gun, Wright would still be here today, and though it may have been an accident, it cannot be undone. 

We should disarm the ACPD before we have similar regrets. 

Unsigned editorials represent the Editorial Board (assenting: 10; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 5).