By now it’s obvious, but it needs to
be said: The members of the Ann Arbor Police Department and the
Department of Public Safety should all be arrested for
impersonating officers. They drive around in cruisers and wear blue
uniforms. They stick white envelopes on the hood of your car.
They’ll even drag you off the sidewalk if you’re
carrying a cup at night. But when it comes to keeping the peace
— and that is their real title, peace officers —
they’re just show-cops: They show up and then they cop
out.

Kate Green

In my years at the University, I’ve seen officers harass
homeless people, tell a harmless nonstudent to leave University
property immediately and interrogate a guy named Silver because he
had a “street” appearance. I’ve seen them stalk
parties for young drinkers, empty wallets looking for fake IDs,
enter houses unannounced. I’ve seen the inside of a cop car,
with its computer dashboard and its plastic partition — I
know how many seconds it takes for a court-date to print from their
machine and how many months it takes to clear your record.

And I’ve seen them ruin Ann Arbor traditions, breaking up
block parties before they even started and ducking the heads of
naked, cuffed runners into cop cars — police pressure took
the Naked Mile down from 800 participants to a couple dozen in two
years’ time. I don’t know what it is, but there is
something about a peaceful student celebration that a cop just
can’t stand.

And sadly, those are the good points, because those are the
times when the cops were around, as unwanted as they were. At other
times, like the frat brawl earlier this week, students have called
officers for help and found that no one really cares. They’ve
discovered that the one time we do want to see a cop, the cops
don’t want to see us.

The past week’s happenings weren’t just a fluke.
AAPD Sgt. Tom Seyfried’s statement that the fight was
“childish nonsense” wasn’t just one man shooting
his mouth off. It is part of a policy to ignore students’
pleas for help, to regard serious callers as tattlers with no
backbone. Noise complaints, drinkers under 21 — those call
for immediate action. But a fight? It will blow over.

I had a run-in like this in the early fall, when my house had an
open-house party. Some wrestlers from down the street had stolen
food from our pantry, and when one of my friends confronted them,
five or six guys dragged him into the driveway, punching and
kicking him. They all split, but the biggest of them returned a few
minutes later with a friend, and then the fight really started. The
big guy could take on anybody. He had been kicked off the team, so
he didn’t need to stay below any weight class. He
head-butted. Honestly, who head-butts? A Native American neighbor
— a nonviolent type who owns his grandfather’s peace
pipe — asked, “What are you guys fighting about?”
and was thrown onto a car’s hood, his nose broken and
bloodied. A few black neighbors came to our back and were promptly
greeted by a word the wrestler must have learned from his parents.
More punches, biting, etc. It went on like this forever. After
forever, there were hospital visits. It was, in general, not a good
night.

Somewhere along the line, the girls next door called the cops,
but they only showed up after it was done. A cop car had been
stalking the house all night during the party, prowling for MIPs.
At times, two or three were parked on the street. But during the
fight they were in stealth mode, lest anyone know they exist.

The cops said they couldn’t bring charges unless we gave
them names, and when we gave them names, they gave some other
excuse. Later, a cop at the hospital had to ask for the whole story
again and again — the earlier cops hadn’t told him
anything. Eventually, a report was filed, but nothing came of
it.

Of course, it’s not manly to rely on cops when you should
be able to bust someone’s head yourself. That is the ethos
that prevails among students at 3 a.m. But strangely, it’s
the police’s attitude too. I don’t like the idea of
police keeping everything under lockdown — in fact I
don’t like police at all. But if they only did one thing,
shouldn’t it be to solve violent conflicts? Michigan students
comprise a transient urban population with hardly any social bonds.
On top of that, there are people like the wrestler who are mentally
deficient, inherently violent and here on scholarship — it
only takes one scholarship revocation to make Friday night turn
ugly.

Ultimately this is more than just a criticism of the police.
It’s about all the enabling parties who keep assholes around
at this university. I admit, sometimes I have the romantic notion
of violence against institutions in order to save the individual.
It’s a fairly harmless idea, much more artistic and literary
than it is practical. But there are certain types — the frat
brawlers, the drunken wrestlers — who use our institutions as
cover for violence against individuals. If the police don’t
want to stop them, then they shouldn’t fake it. People ought
to understand that they’re on their own.

Cotner can be reached at
“mailto:cotners@umich.edu”>cotners@umich.edu.

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