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OP-ED | In CCSU Lockdown our Priorities on Violence are Showing

by Susan Bigelow | Nov 15, 2013 10:47am
(4) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Opinion, Public Safety, New Britain

A few weeks ago a student walked on to the campus of Central Connecticut State University dressed as a ninja, complete with mask and fake sword. This turned out to be a bad idea.

Someone called it in and swarms of police descended upon the campus, locking it down for three hours. The student was arrested, then arrested again after he came back to campus after being told to stay away. He’s no longer a CCSU student as of this writing. There doesn’t seem to be any suggestion anywhere that he intended to frighten or harm anybody, yet he still is going to have to go to court to answer charges of breach of peace and trespassing.

The lesson seems clear enough: don’t bring anything that looks remotely like a weapon onto a college campus, even if it turns out to be a prop.

Clearly, colleges and universities are not going to tolerate any kind of threat of violence to students. “First, you can never be too vigilant nor react too strongly to the threat of violence,” said CCSU President Jack Miller in a statement following the incident. “All potential threats must be taken very seriously, and the response must be a reaction to worst-case scenarios.”

This makes sense for institutions of higher education. There are only so many students of the traditional age graduating high school and heading for college, and if a college or university is perceived as unsafe, students will take their tuition and housing dollars elsewhere. If random, frightening acts of violence happen on campus and if the administration doesn’t react immediately and with overwhelming strength, people will lose faith or go to school somewhere else.

However, if you mix that mindset into a bowl alongside media hype, a number of high-profile mass killings at or around schools and colleges, and a public that is really, really jittery about this kind of school-related violence, you suddenly have a recipe for some serious paranoia. The way we respond to violence and threats of violence is very much informed by culture and conditioning.

It’s very hard to blame the police and the university for reacting the way they did. But on the other hand, if student safety is so important, why did it take Gloria Allred and a high-profile lawsuit to focus attention on sexual assault at the University of Connecticut? Certainly President Herbst says she’s taking sexual assault claims seriously, but if what the plaintiffs in the case say is even remotely true, her administration is hardly backing that up with action. Students ought to be protected from assault and trauma, which is far more common than a single person with a weapon coming on campus looking to shoot people.

And if protecting people from violence is so important, why didn’t an actual shooting in New Haven in October generate this kind of press coverage and this kind of overwhelming police response? Why haven’t Michigan police arrested the man who shot and killed a black woman who came to his house for help after a car accident?

I appreciate the police response in New Britain, I really do. This situation could have turned tragic very fast, and at the time there was no way anyone could have known that the student in question didn’t have real weapons. I just wish we’d dedicate even a fraction of this sort of energy and time to fighting other forms of violence and protecting other victims.

I also wish we’d start seriously addressing the root causes of violence. While we’ve become very good at reacting to a crisis, at least in some cases, we remain abysmal at preventing them. Violence has become so common in this country that it only really captures the public’s attention when it’s excessive. The anniversary of Newtown is coming up, but in that time more than 10,000 people have been reported killed by guns in this country. Mild gun controls promised by Congressional leaders never materialized, and access to mental health services remains as spotty as ever in many parts of the country. The new health care law will change some of that, hopefully, but it will remain a problem.

In the end, the response to a guy with a mask and a fake sword on a college campus says a lot about us and our priorities. We need to place more value on reducing violence in all its forms, and protecting all victims, if we want to live in a healthier, less violent society.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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(4) Comments

posted by: Joebigjoe | November 17, 2013  10:33am

The guy from CCSU should have been expelled for two reasons.

1) He was told not to return until a meeting could be set up and he did.

2) the value of the degree for all is diminished when you have idiots getting the degree. A potential college graduate doesnt go walking around with fake weapons when its not Halloween. A potential college graduate doesnt go away for 3-4 days without a change of clothes and if they do, they come back after 1 day.

posted by: Greg | November 18, 2013  11:40am

Regarding the young man walking through the campus as a ninja/highlander/Navy SEAL my question is: what crime did he commit? Did he threaten anyone? No. Did he harass anyone? No.  Did he steal or otherwise cause harm to property? No. Did he possess deadly weapons, an assault rifle with bayonet lug and flash suppressor, or a high capacity magazine? No.

The only charge after 3 hours of martial law and West Hartford’s IED-proof tank rolling around was a very simple breach of peace charge since law enforcement couldn’t possibly find anything else to charge him with.  HE COMMITTED NO CRIME, NOT ONE, yet he’s been tried and convicted in the press as a terrorist. 

I don’t think the charge will stick since his only “crime” was wearing a costume and “walking with a purpose”, to quote an eyewitness the Courant interviewed. On top of this, perhaps this kid should be thanked for not driving drunk after the alleged Halloween party and killing someone on the road, but that wouldn’t make for hysteria producing headlines quoting college kids’ twitter feeds as journalism.

Lesson learned for anyone in the military, or who dresses as though they are: Don’t walk through a CT college campus with a sense of purpose in cammies or else half the state’s SWAT teams will come for you and twitter will explode with the biggest load of misinformation possible, on top of your reputation ruined for doing nothing wrong.

posted by: Joebigjoe | November 18, 2013  1:29pm

Greg I hae to disagree with you on this and this comes from thinking the exact same thing as you until the rest of the story came out.

A former US Marine who was a student there was one of the 911 callers and followed this person because he couldnt tell the difference between the fake gun and a real one. This is not some leftist whack job who overreacted for sure, but a trained person who had bells and whistles go off for him especially when the guy started running.

You’re right there is no crime other than stupidity but had this guy or someone who saw him in the dorm that knew him, called the police and said “hey I know this guy. He lives here. He’s all dressed up for Halloween and he’s in room such and such”, then there would be no need for that kind of response. No one did that though for a very long time and as a college graduate of CCSU many years ago I expect better from the student and his peers that saw him in the building.

posted by: ASTANVET | November 18, 2013  2:23pm

This is the kind of police state that Susan wants… this young man committed no crime.  He hurt no one - we don’t have thought police (yet), but we can make the assumption that his intent was not to annoy, harass or alarm.  Where are my pro choice people at?  Where are you on the litmus test of freedom?  can you speak freely? can you dress freely?  I find it obscene that you can follow the law yet still be arrested.  The utopian thinking that people like Susan have always seems to have THEM at the helm of decisions of acceptable conduct/behavior (pro choice right).  Remember that socialism is for the people, not the socialist.  There is no need to read between her lines as she is positively giddy with the prospect for forced capitulation to her idea of what is acceptable.  This is not freedom folks… and I can’t believe that I have dedicated my life to support this state, this nation only to have the police state win, and liberty lose.