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Tyler Rosenbaum '11: Entitled naivete remains on College Hill

Over the course of my last five semesters at Brown, I have found that it falls far short of the hype that its ultra-liberal reputation and conservative detractors led me to expect.

Though the general apathy that pervades much of the student body is certainly nothing to cheer about in itself, I certainly believe that the disappearance of activism for the sake of activism has been a positive development.

I'm sure many of you, then, will understand and share the dismay I felt upon reading Simon Liebling's '12 column last week demonizing the Providence Police Department, and police officers generally ("Police brutality comes to College Hill," Feb. 5).

Last October, in the course of apprehending a suspect, Luis Mendonca, the Providence Police were caught on a surveillance camera treating Mendonca roughly. I saw the tape myself — it's not pretty. But neither is it clear cut. Whether Mendonca was innocent or a felon, his treatment appears to be unacceptable. But there is no context, and Liebling's straightforward and vivid portrayal of Mendonca's victimization as if he were present at the time of the incident is unwarranted.

Rather, Liebling takes this incident — one officer (Police Detective Robert DeCarlo) apparently kicking a man and punching him several times — and blows it up into a bitter diatribe against "cops." Reading his column, one gets the impression that the police are some sort of unwelcome invaders, preying relentlessly on a helpless community.

In order to further this offensive and outrageous narrative, Liebling attempts to gloss over the shortcomings of DeCarlo's target. For example, he mentions Mendonca's conviction for assault in a context that insinuates the conviction was an unfair result of the altercation with DeCarlo, instead of punishment for assaulting two RISD officers after attempting to break into a RISD dorm at night.

Liebling also takes issue with Mendonca's imminent deportation, highlighting his status as a legal immigrant. But for non-citizens, residency in the United States is a privilege, not a right. This privilege is (and should be) revoked upon conviction of a violent felony such as assault.

Liebling's column also implies that the incident will go without a fair investigation by the Providence Police Department — after all, not everyone can be as just and fair a judge as Liebling.Of course, the column also neglects to mention that the Attorney General of Rhode Island is also conducting an investigation. But that would spoil the narrative that police always get away scot-free in their relentless crusade to brutalize "innocent" felons who are merely seeking to escape from the scene of their crime.

Amazingly, however, Liebling does not stop there. Later in the column, he laments that "police are often the perpetrators" of violence. Take a minute to let that statement and all of its implications soak in. The men and women who risk their lives every day to enforce our laws and defend us all from murder, rape, theft and other violent crimes are "often" perpetrators as well.

And finally, as if to prove that the column could indeed be more offensive and libelous, Liebling ends with the conclusion that "the Providence Police Department has shown that its officers can beat defenseless citizens with impunity," and therefore "more cops means more situations like this one."

I am not related to anyone who works in law enforcement, and I am not a knee-jerk law-and-order, throw-'em-all-in-jail conservative. I'm simply a law-abiding American. And it is on that simple level that Liebling's article offended me.

People don't sign up to be police officers if they're interested in secretly attacking people. Such people join gangs — you know, the guys police shut down. Neither are officers abusive, paternalistic overlords. Their only duty and concern is to keep the peace and apprehend lawbreakers.

But like everyone else, the police are human. Sometimes in the course of events, an individual can make poor decisions or abuse his authority. This should be investigated and punished, as the DeCarlo incident will be.

But suggesting, as Liebling does, that officers are just as bad as violent criminals and should be kept out of our community, simply because one man might have overstepped the bounds of propriety in the heat of a chase, is akin to saying that Dr. Kevorkian proves that all doctors are deliberate murderers.

Being from a somewhat conservative town, I appreciate Brown's liberal atmosphere as much as anyone. I certainly contribute to it on this page. But the entitled, naive and petulant disrespect that Liebling's column demonstrates brings Brown into disrepute.

Tyler Rosenbaum '11 is reluctant to leave his room for fear of being assaulted by the police.


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