Tuesday, July 1, 2014

If ASU can't protect faculty from its violent police, what does it mean for the rest of us?

If you read the outline "ASU Vision and Goals: 2013 and Beyond" hosted on the page of the Office of the President, the first two objectives are as follows:
Maintain the fundamental principle of accessibility to all students qualified to study at a research university

Maintain university accessibility to match Arizona’s socioeconomic diversity
Which may seem more than a bit ironic in light of the recent ASU PD beat down of a black professor who refused to passively submit to a college cop's street harassment. As anyone knows who lives in the area, this particular street is blocked off to traffic for the construction of a pedestrian mall (this is ASU's vision for the future boiled down to its essence, by the way). People routinely cross at this location in other than legal ways as a result of debris, construction materials or because they feel unsafe walking at night.

Photo via AzFamily
While some dispute the assertions of profiling and racism being made about this particular interaction, the fact that this is a white cop stopping a black woman can't be ignored, not least of all given the stark and long history of police racism in both Arizona and the US. The stop has all the hallmarks of "walking while black," the selective harassment and enforcement of often petty laws by law enforcement against blacks. But regardless, the image speaks for itself, and countless people, including potential students and their parents, will now associate ASU with what looks on the face of it to be a racialized and violent police over-reaction and power trip.


On video Dr. Ore is heard asserting over and over that she is a professor at the school, to no avail. The cop, like police in general, isn't about to back down just because there's a more reasonable alternative available (a warning, for instance). And Ore's appeal to her status fell on deaf ears.

Indeed, Dr. Ore's lawyer, Alane M. Roby, is quick to reiterate this status in his public appeals. In a statement to CNN, he said,  "Professor Ore's one crime that evening was to demand respect that she deserves as a productive, educated and tax paying member of society." 

But, of course, it isn't just the "productive, educated and tax-paying" members of society who deserve not to fear getting interrogated and beaten by cops on Tempe streets, it's everyone. So what does this mean for residents and students of lesser stature?

A memorial to Austin Del Castillo (photo via New Times)

Last year, during the height of its ASU-supported "Safe & Sober" invasion of the neighborhoods surrounding the Tempe campus, Tempe police shot and killed Austin Del Castillo in plain daylight at one of the busiest intersections in the city. At least one bullet reportedly missed and hit the now closed but then operational Chili's restaurant. Del Castillo was shot, in part, because he was not acting like a "productive, educated and tax paying member of society." Witnesses disputed police claims that Del Castillo was lunging at officers when they opened fire on him.

Likewise when police let loose on William Barret, who had broken into House of Tricks' renowned wine cache for a taste of the good stuff.  Police blasted on him when he supposedly lobbed an empty bottle at an officer.  The officer was uninjured, but from jail Barret said, “They shot me in the hand. If I stuck my head out they could have shot my head off.” When in doubt, escalate seems to be the ethic of the cops patrolling ASU and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Purchase order for spy camera (Image via The Integrity Report)

Or, when escalation isn't the go-to option, Tempe cops go for humiliation, as in the now infamous case of Sgt. Chuck Schoville. Here at Down and Drought, we've cataloged TPD's many gaffes and abuses, including their really awful sense of humor, their expansion of their secret surveillance powers, their crackdowns on Tempe's traditional party culture, their protection of racist frats, their surveillance of tailgaters at football games, and much more.

Not covered by us, but equally troubling is the post-retirement career of former ASU top cop John Pickens, who will continue to head up University Security Initiatives, ASU's surveillance apparatus (why do they need one?). Note ASU PD's recent purchase of a KJB Security Wall Outlet Hidden Spy Camera. What's that for? Who's getting spied on? Is ASU a university or an intelligence agency (a tip of the hat to Michael Crow and his time working with CIA tech fund In-Q-Tel)?

Meanwhile TPD continues to spend $5 million a year on its own SPARC surveillance center, recently taken to task by former Mesa cop Bill Richardson in the pages of the State Press. In other troubling news, dissident cop blog "The Integrity Report" cites an ongoing history of questionable use of force and lack of accountability at the ASU cop shop. Bloggers there report several uses of force that received no review at all from department bosses. Is anyone in charge over there? Less CIA and more Keystone Kops, it seems.

All together, what we're seeing is the emergence of a local police state in Tempe operating like an army of occupation, not answerable to anyone -- regardless of social status, and apparently not accountable to anyone. In this situation, everyone has reason to be concerned about whether they will land in its cross-hairs, not just professors.

KJB Security Wall Outlet Hidden Spy Camera


Indeed, students and parents of prospective students have good reason to be concerned. If ASU can't protect a black professor from the cops, what chance do those of lesser status have? Can ASU live up to its self-appointed diversity goals if it doesn't reign in its police force?

Round two of "safe & sober" is likely going to commence with the return of students in the Fall. During the last iteration (canceled abruptly after the shooting of Del Castillo), TPD, ASU PD and MCSO (the infamously racist department run by Sheriff Joe) blanketed the streets around the university with cops, making thousands of stops. In fact, as a proportion of the population, "safe & sober" rivaled NYPD's infamous "stop and frisk" campaign. Funded by the Feds, it was likely a real windfall for the city once all the fines were added up. Almost a year later, police have yet to release any details on the racial breakdown of those stops, but if history is any guide, it likely skews heavily towards people of color and other marginalized groups.


ASU has an easy choice here, but that doesn't mean they'll make it. First of all, they should drop the charges against Dr. Ore. Then they need to fire Officer Ferrin. ASU needs to send a message that they honor their commitment to diversity and equal access to ASU and its many scattered off campus facilities. Students and residents need to know they are not going to suffer the same fate -- or worse -- as Dr. Ore.  Finally, they should withdraw from future "safe & sober" campaigns and demand the release of data on the race of those people stopped by all police forces involved, including MCSO. ASU likes to talk big about its commitments to the community. It's time to step up and make good on them.

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