A couple months ago I published a piece about my experience with Community Standards. This is its precursor, but I’d censored myself from making it public, as I was awaiting a court date. Alas, the charges against me never went that far, as they were dropped by the state. My luck has emboldened me to print this.
I love the police when they break up domestic violence disputes, maintain peace in volatile situations, stop murderers, catch thieves, bring rapists to justice, find a driver who hit and ran from a scene, help old ladies cross the street, punish people who beat their children and so on.
I love the good police, and I have no doubt they exist. I see them on TV shows every day, read about them in the news, hear their stories of great courage, fortitude and sacrifice. I mourn those police officers shot in the line of duty. In fighting to protect the citizens of this country, they died doing noble work.
I love the UConn police who step in and break up gender-based violence, arrest drunk drivers, put an end to out-of-control fights, effectively deal with sexual assault allegations, give warnings for driving with a headlight out and snag lying, stealing employees.
But there is no love for those cops who come to a Carriage or Celeron party when it’s just starting to heat up around 12:45 a.m. – you know, when the playlist really hit its stride, when a couple of your friends are flirting and you grin because you introduced them, when the stressors of college debt, and work, and essays, and exams, and future plans have lifted and you can have an actual prolonged moment of clarity and romance with your significant other without having to rush off to some other obligation of responsibility – and ruin it. Send everyone home. Claim that the apartment tenants were “creating a public disturbance” and issue a $103.00 citation, possibly ruining one of those tenants’ careful design to work for the Peace Corps following graduation. Declare that someone called and complained about it so they had to do it.
“Who called, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“It was anonymous, we can’t say.”
No warning, no “Can you turn the music down?” (an annoying enough question as it is) or “Can you send your friends home?” even though this was the first time they’d approached the apartment. Just a quick quota filler. Just doing my job. Just keeping the peace.
There goes the fun – as fast as it came – out with the cold winter wind, as everyone files into their Ubers or braces themselves for the walk back, the tenants left to contemplate what went wrong: “We’d done this twice before, why now?” The Hawaiian-themed decorations on the walls now sad reminders of what could have been.
This isn’t to say I don’t understand UConn police who break up gigantic parties that spill outside and threaten to turn dangerous. I’m generally against shutting those down too, yet I can comprehend the logic of such an endeavor. But if you have gathered your friends together under your roof for something people do every Friday and Saturday, and they’re all inside, and nothing even remotely menacing is occurring or will occur, why? What good have you done? What is your purpose?
“I hope you’re happy with yourself,” the less respectful of the two tenants says as he walks away from the cop car.
And then the tenant wakes up in the morning and he is alive. He rolls over and kisses his girlfriend on the cheek. He scrolls through Snapchat. He takes a shower. His girlfriend offers to cook breakfast – an omelet with provolone cheese, onions and peppers, a side of avocado and bacon – he does research for something he is going to write and plays Halo. He enjoys his meal with his roommate and his girlfriend; they watch “Master of None” on Netflix. He heads to the library around 1:30 pm and writes this. He is alive.
Philando Castile is not alive. Eric Garner is not alive. Alton Sterling is not alive. Michael Brown is not alive. Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, not alive. How many more? How many more? Imagine if that Celeron tenant was black. Would he have been assaulted like those who attended a pool party in Texas last year? Or like Lawrence Crosby, who was beaten for the crime of “stealing” his own car? Would a black tenant have been treated brutally for talking back to the officers, like the headstrong white tenant did; for questioning their decision?
I am not suggesting that the UConn police are guilty of the American tradition of heinous brutality toward black people, from slavery to Jim Crow to well-documented police violence, although they have been known to be completely tone-deaf regarding the relationship between students of color and themselves. I’m saying that in this country, when dealing with law enforcement, it’s better to be lucky than black.
The national mistreatment of black people in their interactions with the police, be it Stop and Frisk or cold-blooded murder, really puts that white tenant’s ticket into perspective. Maybe that tenant’s dad is a lawyer who can get the ticket thrown out for him and his roommate. This also gives perspective into the UConn Police force, which, to my knowledge, has not been nearly as deplorable as the cruelty bemoaned in newspapers and magazines and watched by millions on their laptop and cellphone screens. Maybe the UConn police are bored, overstaffed, so they break up relatively small parties when the time comes. If you want to dance to music with your friends, you better hope you don’t get caught.
But that’s small. What if, when that Celeron tenant was twelve, he was playing with a toy gun in a public place? Would he have been considered a public disturbance? No. An officer who drove by him, or the nice old people who walked past him, would have said something like: “Look at little Sten. I’ll bet you he’s gonna be a cop some day.”
Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.