Or, Why I Will Not Sign The “Increase Safety Measures On Campus To Prevent Future Attacks” Petition
Recently there was a male-on-female sexual assault in a classroom building at UNC Charlotte. I teach a class in that building this semester, and I frequently use the first-floor ladies room in which the assault happened. I teach most of my classes at night. I am a 5’4” tall (or short!) white woman. So I’m clearly someone whom this petition is intended to “protect.”
I strongly identify as a feminist; I publish in feminist journals and teach courses in feminist philosophy. In fact, I think feminism’s critique of patriarchy is incomplete if it overlooks critiques of white supremacy, cis/heterosexism, homonationalism, ableism, and other forms of oppression. All of these systems of privilege and oppression are related. So, white supremacy supports patriarchy, and vice versa. It is from this perspective that I offer the following set of concerns that ground my refusal to sign the petition that is currently being circulated, titled “Increase Safety Measures On Campus To Prevent Future Attacks.” Here is the full petition, and here are the passages that concern me most:
…What are disturbing to myself and other students are the seemingly lax security measures in place on our campus. Some of these include but are not limited to:
-Numerous places on campus, including in front of Fretwell, where lighting on the walkways is often either off or only partially working after dark. This provides numerous blind spots that need to be addressed…
-A lack of security cameras in the majority of the buildings. This is an upgrade that could easily be considered a far better reason for tuition hikes than to pay off $40.5 million in borrowed money. In addition, there are NUMEROUS grants available for better safety measures on college campuses. One such program, Community Oriented Policing Services/COPS has invested nearly $905 Million in our country’s schools and universities to implement better safety measures….
-Finally, one of the biggest points of discussion has been the lack of a noticeable security presence on campus…An increased foot patrol of either paid security or police would be a welcome and comforting change to the campus at large, as well as a more than justifiable reason for increasing fees.
I certainly laud the efforts of campus activists in attempting to get the university administration to commit more resources to sexual assault awareness and prevention. HOWEVER, I am VERY concerned that increasing security only makes vulnerable populations more vulnerable, and that the (perceived) safety of some campus constituents comes at the expense of the increased vulnerability of other campus constituents to police surveillance and persecution.
I fundamentally question the value of increased police presence and surveillance technology. As many activists of color have noted, for many non-whites, trans people, and other marginalized groups, more police does not always mean more safety. (Ask Rodney King or Amadou Diallo.) For non-white, non-cis, undocumented, etc., people, an intensified police presence actually increases their actual vulnerability and their feelings of vulnerability. Just think about the effects of stop-and-frisk in NYC. It has been established that this practice of allowing police to stop and search anyone who “seems” suspicious disproportionately negatively affects men of color. As Forbes.com (not known as a bastion of liberal or progressive ideology) reports:
Last year, the NYPD made more stops of young black men than there are young black men in the city’s population. 158,406 young black men live in New York City and the NYPD made 168,126 stops.
The NYCLU looks at young black and Latino men.
Young black and Latino men account for 4.7% of NYC’s population but 41.6% of the stops in 2011.
Again, from the May New York Times article:
85% of those stopped were black or Hispanic even though those groups make up about half of NYC’s population.
There’s also thisarticle in HuffPo about police violence against trans and gender-non-conforming people. Think also about this: for women who are also members of these vulnerable groups (women of color, non-cis-women, etc.), the increased police/surveillance presence doesn’t make them safer. So this “protect women” excuse doesn’t even hold true—increased police and surveillance doesn’t actually protect all women; it makes some increasingly vulnerable.
…I got the sense a lot of privileged white feminists learned a lesson many people of color, undocumented, poor, and trans folks have known forever: the police are not your friend.
Yes, there are decent people on the police force. But the job of the police is to preserve the status quo. Topeka, Kansas decriminalizing domestic violence is a stark recent example of how much the police and the whole criminal legal system don’t care about sexual violence. And in fact, we’ve seen the worst of this in cops raping a woman and getting away with it. The issue isn’t that there are a few bad cops, or that there are a few good ones. The problem is the institution of the police itself. They’re a force that works for those who are in control to maintain the social order. Anyone working to realize social justice, anyone trying to change an unjust social order, could come up against the police at some moment or another.
This is a lesson many feminists have been slow to learn
. Folks who have grown up with the police serving and protecting them understandably think the police work for them. Folks who’ve grown up being harassed by the police – who’ve seen their family members pulled over for no reason, arrested for being in public space, or totally ignored or even charged
when they were a victim of a crime – have a different image. When the cops work for you, it seems like a pretty good idea to trust them to serve and protect. When you’ve been a target of the police, you tend to see a different picture. A lot of feminists with more privilege, and therefore a bigger megaphone, have an experience of the police that doesn’t mesh with what more marginalized folks have seen.
I don’t want (white) womento become the excuse for making vulnerable, marginal populations feel and be more vulnerable and marginal. In fact, increased police presence and surveillance will probably negatively impact even privileged students. One of my undergrads said, “Yeah, it probably means more people will be busted for smoking.” Basically, more police and more cameras means it is harder to get away with minor infractions; and, given implicit biases, this always breaks in ways that disproportionately negatively affect people of color, non-cis people, and other already-vulnerable populations. Because patriarchy depends on white supremacy, and vice versa, these policies disproportionately negatively affect people of color actually don’t help protect white women either. I don’t want resources that are supposed to help women used instead to help police more closely, carefully, and intimately monitor everyone’s behavior….because they don’t actually help women, they harm us. And they’re not feminist, either. They’re contrary to feminism’s opposition to patriarchy, feeding it in round-about ways (e.g., through white privilege).
I am also very concerned that “protecting women” is being turned into an excuse to augment the surveillance infrastructure and apparatus on campus. Our university has a fracking SWAT team. Yeah. So it’s not that there’s a lack of commitment to funding the campus security apparatus. We can question how that funding is distributed (why a SWAT team—when does that get used?—and not increased funds for Safe Ride or anti-rape education?).
Instead of empowering the police, let’s empower our campus communities. Let’s commit some resources to things like bystander training. Let’s educate our male students about rape culture, or work on an anti-rape social norming campaign…something other than asking for more police and more surveillance. This should not turn into a call for police policing us, or for women to police themselves so they don’t become victims (e.g., “don’t walk alone,” “don’t dress too sexy.” Etc.) So, instead of letting the university use this assault as an excuse to heighten police presence and surveillance, let’s focus on empowering students, faculty, and staff, men and women, to create a campus community and culture that does not tolerate rape.
I’m torn on this. I definitely agree that the surveillance will be unlikely to prevent any attacks and, as you have pointed out, will increase the vulnerability of already marginalized students.
The key to ending the problem has a lot to do with creating awareness and breaking down patriarchal norms on campus, and obviously that stuff doesn’t happen overnight. So because there is a potential for future attacks, I would like to see the addition of security cameras only (no increased police presence). Preferably the cameras would not be constantly watched (though you’d be hard pressed to convince campus security that this is a good idea). The only reason I suggest cameras is that, until we actually do come to the root of the problem, things like this could and probably will happen again, and cameras would be beneficial to identifying the attackers after the fact.
I’m ultimately arguing that policing and cameras don’t actually make anyone except the institution/the state safer. They don’t make women safer, they don’t protect anyone but Authority itself. So I don’t see any ambivalence here–cameras don’t make us safer, so, there’s no benefit to balance out any cost.