Columns

Katzevich ’16: The Spring Weekend police state

By
Guest Columnist
Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spring Weekend is supposed to be a memorable time on campus, devoted to relaxation and a healthy amount of debauchery. But there was a less savory aspect of the weekend that grabbed my attention early and continuously. All too often, the sheer magnitude of the police and security presence made Spring Weekend feel more akin to a university under siege — ruled by arbitrary dictates of control — than a fun, party environment.

The security around Brown during Spring Weekend — Department of Public Safety officers, as well as “Event Staff” with nebulous but practically limitless authority — mirrored in their actions and posturing the unfortunate trends in authoritarian control that have become the new normal across the country.

At this point, it doesn’t matter if someone is in an airport, in a school, in line for a university concert or on the streets of New York City; it has become expected that getting stopped, questioned, scrutinized, inspected, embarrassed, patted down and humiliated and having one’s bag searched are procedures that are not to be questioned, but natural in their own way. There has been nothing in the way of a mass public outcry against the standardization of such procedures. That Brown, a supposed exemplar of free intellectual activity and critical analysis, has followed in mindless lockstep with the prevailing security culture of control is troubling indeed.

Several aspects and actions of security staff this past weekend caught my attention. For one thing, the size of the security presence was startling. It was omnipresent across campus, especially on the Main Green. Officers were at every party, happy and willing to shut these parties down without question. Another distinctive feature was the physical size of some of the guards, standing head and shoulders above most students, with the obvious intent of dissuasion through intimidation.

Moreover, some actions I witnessed left my jaw hanging: a woman pleading with a DPS officer that her bag contained only books and a towel in it, a man being stopped by a large guard because he was dancing too much, an officer walking through the crowd taking particular relish in grabbing the arms of students smoking a joint, taking the joint from them and crushing it into the ground. One girl was kicked out of the concert for smoking, God forbid, a marijuana cigarette — or, as she surely called it, a reefer. For anyone who is outraged by undue exercise of authority, this entire spectacle in security theater is enough to make your blood boil.

What justification could be offered for this massive, and undoubtedly costly, security presence? What threat gives reason to the apparent senselessness of subjugating the entire student body to the yoke of a weighty force of officers and intimidating staff throughout the supposedly carefree and laidback weekend? Several explanations can be put forward, and yet all of them fall by the wayside under any critical examination.

One is to prevent drug and alcohol use at the concerts. But already a strong case can be made that responsible individuals have the right to do with their bodies what they want unless and until they start harming others, and that no governing body can make decrees invalidating that fundamental right. Furthermore, drug use should be a health issue, not a law enforcement issue, and if worse comes to worst, there are few people I’d rather trust than the highly trained and responsible workers of Emergency Medical Services.

The next arguments come straight out of the headlines of paranoid America: Perhaps a rogue shooter or bomb-wielding terrorist will infiltrate the concert. The chances of this happening are so minuscule as to be practically unthinkable, and yet we act as if these things are to be expected. To assume this is the case would be to treat everyone as guilty until proven innocent, and would moreover be entirely ineffective, given the countless ways weapons could be smuggled in if someone were truly determined and thorough enough. The planes on 9/11 were hijacked by terrorists wielding box cutters, after all, not Glocks and Kalashnikovs.

Finally, while security may help keep events under control, there are far less imposing ways of maintaining order while still allowing students to have a good time. For example, groups of students — our peers and friends — can be trained to act as safety patrols, alerting EMS if something is wrong or calling the police only in real cases of emergency.

The Fourth Amendment, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” is not a mere legal technicality that some sophist can argue applies only in certain cases and with wide and far-reaching exemptions. Rather, like freedom of speech, which Brown seems to be enamored with, the Fourth Amendment is a guide by which to govern a society, providing freedoms that are absolutely necessary for the growth and flourishing of humanity.

The right to one’s bodily and human integrity is the right to not be patted down and inspected, harassed and questioned. The right to personal property is the right to not have your bag checked wherever you go, to have to explain your most mundane articles. These rights to what is fundamentally and inalienably you and yours are as crucial as the right to freedom of speech for any democratic society.

Freedom is much like air, as one only notices it by its absence or corruption. Just as bad air — polluted and unhealthful — is harmful to the body, the pollution of the free activity of men and women by unnecessary and onerous authority — backed up by the implicit threat of force — is harmful.

To put it simply, authoritarianism kills the mood, as evidenced by the subdued nature of parties monitored by Event Staff, as well as those constantly broken up as if by clockwork, and the cautious, alert glances of students to make sure security did not see their joint or see them dancing “too hard.” If the point of Spring Weekend is to be carefree, few things do more of a disservice to that noble goal than the ceaseless scrutiny of security.

More broadly, the intensification of Brown’s security only reflects the national trend of amplifying security presence and scope. Police across the country are becoming increasingly militarized without real reason, while revelation after shocking revelation comes out about the domestic spying of the National Security Administration. All these actions are symptomatic of the insane need for total control felt by those tasked with ensuring our “safety.” Any violation of rights — of our fundamental humanity — is justified if it increases that one-in-a-billion chance of actually finding a terrorist, a “bad guy,” and stopping him.

What these “security experts” fail to comprehend is that trying to ensure total security through total control is a Sisyphean task, akin to the construction of the Tower of Babel. For every new measure of control implemented, several loopholes can be found — thus requiring a new means of control, leading to the discovery of new loopholes — all the while trampling human and civil rights.

Eventually, the entire facade becomes too complicated to maintain and inevitably comes crashing down. Furthermore, if such a goal of total security through total control were somehow achieved, one can bet it would feel much like a solitary-confinement cell at a prison: very safe, but a touch far from desirable.

The gifts of freedom are difficult to quantify, but they are surely infinitely more valuable than any extra security handed down to us by imposing instruments of authority. This sort of security is infantilizing, treating responsible adults as if we need our hands held to cross the street, thus limiting the responsibility we can and should take for ourselves. To treat us like this while in the same breath promising us, either explicitly or implicitly, that our Ivy League education will make us the “future leaders of the free world” is beyond absurd.

Onerous authority inherently limits the frame of our mental and emotional capabilities, preventing serious questioning under threat of arbitrary force, substituting conformity for critical inquiry, until we are mere technical, albeit skilled, functionaries instead of mature and developed human beings. A bird in a cage can never understand the desire to fly freely. A horse tied to a plastic chair from youth will remain stationary as an adult when tied to the same chair, even though it is more than powerful enough to break away. Likewise, an excess of authority will tie our minds and hearts to common and therefore forced ideas and values, from which many of us will struggle to ever break away.

For the sake of our education and development, as well as for the sake of having a good time on Spring Weekend, Brown needs to rethink its policy on security and create an atmosphere of critical questioning of all applications of undue authority infecting our nation.

 

David Katzevich ’16 is a radical believer that illegitimate authority must be questioned at every turn, with an unshakable faith in freedom and humanity. He is a member of the Brown United Revolutionary Socialists (URS) and can be reached at david_katzevich@brown.edu.

  • Seriously?

    What a pretentious load of nonsense.

  • You’re forgetting something…

    “One girl was kicked out of the concert for smoking, God forbid, a
    marijuana cigarette — or, as she surely called it, a reefer. For anyone
    who is outraged by undue exercise of authority,”

    Well, weed isn’t legal in RI, so… completely a “due” exercise of authority.

  • ‘`*-.,_,-*’`*~-.,.~*’*~ (2014)

    dude come on, we’re college students. during spring weekend. it’s true that “responsible individuals have the right to do with their bodies what they want unless and until they start harming others” but we are anything but responsible individuals.

    god knows i’m not the only one who, had we not been searched, would’ve brought a bong and a handle of vodka. spring weekend wouldn’t be fun if like 20% of the crowd was vomiting all over the place instead of 5 people or whatever (i actually didn’t see anyone vomiting but i’m sure it happened)

    • Hahahahhaaha “we are anything but responsible individuals”
      You speak the truth. A+. If my alcohol intake weren’t limited to the amount I could hide in my bra, I would have probably died a few times this weekend alone.

      • ‘`*-.,_,-*’`*~-.,.~*’*~ (2014)

        LOL well put. based on my experience, one shot per boob + two in panties = a responsible night of drinking 🙂

  • Just another student…

    Actually, I was very grateful for the police presence at spring weekend this year. Frankly, I was incredibly disappointed by the behavior and overall disrespect shown by many of my fellow students and found my overall Spring Weekend experience to be diminished due to the large amount of illegal substances being consumed around me–especially marijuana. I honestly don’t care what people do in their own space, but I really would prefer to enjoy a concert without having to breathe/have illegal substances indirectly forced into my body. In fact, I was surprised that more action wasn’t being taken in these instances. It is illegal after all, and for some it can be very dangerous (have we considered those with asthma or other health problems?). When it comes down to it, the police are their for students’ safety–ALL students safety. And until people can start to make responsible choices that don’t negatively affect the people around them, I’m certainly in support for the security measures being taken. Spring Weekend should be inclusive of the entire Brown community, not just those who like to engage in “party culture.”

    • OP

      *there

    • ‘`*-.,_,-*’`*~-.,.~*’*~ (2014)

      to be fair tho, cigarettes WERE allowed (and are legal!) and i mind cigarette smoke way more than marijuana smoke. plus it’s way more harmful lol. i know that has little bearing on how much the marijuana smoke annoyed you — i’m just saying i consider the presence of marijuana smoke trivial compared to the presence of cig smoke

      • OP

        Honestly, I don’t think smoking should be allowed at all during these festivities, or perhaps only in a designated area?

        • ‘`*-.,_,-*’`*~-.,.~*’*~ (2014)

          that’s fair. anyway in general i agree w/ you that we can’t be trusted to make good choices, tho my main worry was how we treat our own bodies as opposed to how our conduct affects those around us. thanks for pointing out that smoking joints can be inconsiderate to surrounding folks. i do advise u to learn to enjoy the smell of weed if possible tho 😉 improves the college experience and the concert experience haha

  • Former Greek Council Member

    If the security bothers you that much – then don’t go to the concerts. No one is forcing you. Attending Spring Weekend is not an inalienable right granted to you by the constitution.

    As someone who had to work staff at these events a few years ago I can assure that the security is necessary. Might there be some officers with questionable behavior? Sure, but you seem to have an issue with the whole concept – not a select few people.

    Your comments show that you’ve clearly never run an event with large numbers of people – particularly large numbers of intoxicated people. This isn’t a 1 in a billion terrorist hunt. People trying to break into these events, illegal drug use (whether or not it should be legal isn’t what we’re talking about here), and fights happen at these events with a frequency far, far greater than 1 in a billion.

    Your one concrete example of undue authority (the girl being asked to leave for smoking weed) is absolutely laughable. First off, you pick something that (justifiably or not) is in fact a crime in Rhode Island. I know RI is close to legalizing it – but the fact is it’s not legal yet. The fact that she was only asked to leave the event rather than arrested is something that most students would probably commend the security guard for – rather than call it undue authority.

    • undergrad

      Marijuana has been decriminalized.

      • Joe ’11

        Yeah, but it’s still a civil offense.

      • OP

        OK, fair enough – still not undue authority – Brown’s house, Brown’s rules. My main point still stands though: Katzevich demonstrates he knows absolutely nothing of the practical realities of large scale event planning if he genuinely thinks security patting people down for booze and drugs upon entering and a security presence at a gigantic party with intoxicated students needs to be in the same discussion as NSA terrorist hunting.

  • Some Person

    “Onerous authority inherently limits the frame of our mental and emotional capabilities, preventing serious questioning under threat of arbitrary force, substituting conformity for critical inquiry, until we are mere technical, albeit skilled, functionaries instead of mature and developed human beings. A bird in a cage can never understand the desire to fly freely. A horse tied to a plastic chair from youth will remain stationary as an adult when tied to the same chair, even though it is more than powerful enough to break away. Likewise, an excess of authority will tie our minds and hearts to common and therefore forced ideas and values, from which many of us will struggle to ever break away.”

    I love this paragraph. Outside the box thinking cannot occur when one spends their life inside a box and is taught (or told) that all that lies outside their constraints is wrong. Different ways of thinking are what we need to conquer the problems of the future!

  • This is ridiculous

    Safety at a college is definitely important. I don’t want a bunch of guys who are bigger than me, and full of the idea that they need to be hooking up for all of spring weekend, to be drunk during the concert I’m trying to (and allowed to) enjoy.

    • naughty one

      Crass. This comment reinforces and perpetuates gender norms and stereotypes. While I agree safety is important, no need to comment in this fashion.

      • student

        describing the reality of gender at brown is A-OK, kiddo

        • asdfjkl;

          So its okay to stereotype as long as you agree with it?

          • student

            uh, no?

  • ///\///\

    “The Spring Weekend Police State” – lolzzzz

  • Unhappy Alumni

    People keep talking about the legality of Marijuana in RI — It’s decriminalized, meaning it is about as illegal as parking in front of a fire hydrant. If DPS wanted to walk around and hand out tickets, fine — I might disagree with it and think it is totally ridiculous to try and stop a bunch of college kids from hanging out and smoking pot and enjoying themselves, but from the perspective of the law of the state of Rhode Island, this would be the appropriate response. Taking it, however, is no longer what police officers in the entire state do, making Brown’s punishments actually MORE severe than those doled out by the state. Food for thought.

    The other thing worth noting is that there was no consistent application of policy. My vaporizer was seized and my weed was taken. Some people got to keep their weed but had their joints put out. Some people had to dump their bowls while others got them taken. Some people got thrown out for smoking pot while most people had one of these other options. Given that the device that was taken from me is not illegal, but rather only ticketable in the state of Rhode Island, AND that the application of these policies was so inconsistent, AND that it is an expensive piece of equipment that is actually designed to bother people LESS, the whole thing left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

    Finally, as this was my 5th spring weekend, I have some perspective to offer — not once in the previous 4 years was there this kind of a crackdown on drug use at the concerts. This is clearly and obviously a result of the study that is being conducted at Brown right now about alcohol and drug abuse on campus. Look out — pretty soon RA’s are going to have punishing rights and students are going to be getting punished for drinking in dorms. It is a slippery slope.

  • youdisgustme

    this article is degenerate and worthless, similar to the socialist group you belong to, David Katzevich. your parents ought to ask for a refund on your education.

    • ‘`*-.,_,-*’`*~-.,.~*’*~ (2014)

      chill the fukc out

  • WHATIFIHADASTHMA?

    “Freedom is much like air, as one only notices it by its absence or corruption. Just as bad air — polluted and unhealthful — is harmful to the body, the pollution of the free activity of men and women by unnecessary and onerous authority — backed up by the implicit threat of force — is harmful.”

    Okay…I don’t smoke. People around me were smoking both marijuana (illegal) and tobacco, which made me cough and really irritated my throat. There was literally bad air everywhere at that concert, sir. It was harmful and unhealthful to bodies that wanted nothing to do with it.

  • Morty

    Rickdiculous !!

  • Richard J ’14

    The biggest reason I believe for the increased security presence is a reason that you gloss over–alcohol and drug consumption. Sure, many students use substances responsibly. But one of the school’s biggest fear is having a student get incredibly ill–or die–from over-drinking. It may not be much of a legal liability, but it will certainly harm the reputation of the school as a place that parents can trust to send their school to. It is naive to argue that everyone who encounters substances on any given weekend,especially spring weekend, will use responsibly. The idea is to not have anyone in the student body need Emergency Medical Services.

    While marijuana use was conspicuous throughout the weekend, everyone brought their weed at their own risk. It was a stated policy that people were made aware of after purchasing a ticket and, because Brown is private property, they have as much of a right to kick someone out as I do a right to kick someone out of my house for smoking. It may be decriminalized, but on their turf.

    While the peer patrol idea is noble, and is used across campus in a number of ways, I don’t believe that students volunteering would be prepared to handle a situation as readily as full-time security staff. If a fight breaks out (something more likely than the terrorist scenario you suggest), the student may not be trained to break it up, and it may take too long to get professional help in the area. And, as I learned in high school, if an untrained student gets harmed trying to break up a fight, the institution could be held responsible for negligence.

    It is definitely a buzzkill, but it is is essential.

  • Widya Mum

    What an amazing article! Wow. I could not have written something so insightful, selfless, and mature. This writer must be a student at Brown. This natural born leader just blows me away. He impresses not only himself. He impresses me too. Wowwowwow.

  • Drone Henley

    This is hilarious. Socialists For Stop Harshing My Mellow While I am Trying To Rock Out To Lauren Hill. That $65k/year your parents are paying is so worth it.

    • Chris

      Lauryn*

      This is hilarious — why don’t you just imagine that this is a Bud Light Lime and you are at a NASCAR race and a guy named Jeb, with a mullet of course, tries to take your beer. You protest, telling Jeb that this is “AMERICA, I CAN DRINK A BEER IF I WANT TO GURDDAMNIT”, but Jeb insists that the facility prohibits stupid rednecks (or anyone else really) from drinking Limey’s at the race track. Does this make the story a little more relatable.

      P.S. — If you think this generalization was ridiculous, take a look at yours.
      P.P.S. — Old People For Stop Having Fun While I Am Trying To Complain About The Whippersnappers.

      • Drone Henley

        Classy Classist Privileged Brown Student Response! Awesome!
        Your counter example is terrible. Change the beer to meth and maybe it would be a little more similar.

        btw Lauren (sic) Hill sucks. I am a Harry Pussy man myself.

  • JustStop

    This too utterly trivializes the experience of those living under modern police states. If you think having your joint taken is comparable to having your neighbors disappear, then you’re living in a dream.

  • Former butt sound

    *fart noise*