new NU logo

^ Northeastern University’s new logo ?

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Northeastern University administrators recently announced that its police would add rifles to their arsenal of arms used in policing the campus. We deplore this decision and ask that it be rescinded.

The last thing that private security cadres should be doing is upping their arms race. All police forces need to de-escalate, not ramp up. In that regard, read the following story by Kevin Cullen in today’s Boston Globe :

We read there the Boston Police Department practicing its restraint philosophy. “Don’t take it up a notch,” says Commissioner Bill Evans. “If you need to retreat, do it… you don’t have to shoot even when you have the right to shoot.”

Such words ! “retreat.” “don’t have to shoot.” “don’t take it up a notch.” We have not heard the like from armed authority in — how long has it been ? Yet these were once the legal rule, before the days of “stand your ground,” before the militarization of police, before the NRA was taken over by gun manufacturers and their open-carry addicts. Instead, today the first move is to reach for the most powerful guns available

As City Councillor Matt O’Malley tweeted, upon reading Northeastern’s police move, ‘absurdity.”

Why should university campus police be armed at all ? No vote of the public constitutes them as a law-keeping authority, much less an authority armed with weapons of life or death. How can students go about the mission of learning, of study, of quiet and thought, if their campus is a kettle of armed gunmen ? It’s bad enough that the city’s police carry weapons of death, much less private security cohorts. (not all city police have done so. London’s “Bobbies” mostly do not go armed with anything but a nightstick.)

The decision to go to rifles arises, of course, from the occurrence recently of mass shootings on campuses. I find the move as unconvincing as disastrous. Will Northeaster station a rifleman in every classroom ? every study hall ? every laboratory cubicle ? every cafeteria ? Will it place riflemen at every campus entrance ? Of course not.

The university says that rifles will only be deployed during times of high threat and will be placed in campus police vehicles. Of course the term of art is “times of high threat.” Who is to make THAT decision ? To whom is that decider answerable ?

It’s also an assumption, and a bad one, that mass shooters will be deterred, or stopped, by the presence of 100 rifles in police cars. If a shooter can’t get past 100 SUV riflemen, he or she can always drop a backpack filled with nail bombs. That is what the Tsarnaev Brothers did. Or the terrorist can park a truck bomb at campus entrance, or enter wearing a suicide vest.

Far better for Northeastern, if it really does care about student safety, to create paths of retreat, and to drill students on how and where to find and  use them. Evans is right : “retreat if you can.”

Retreat was always the common law rule, even for persons assaulted in their home. The basis for the rule was common sense : he who retreats saves life without aggravating the breach of peace. As we have seen, not all home “invaders” have evil in mind. Some come looking or help. Retreat prevents the accidental shootings that occur more often than a wise policy allows. “Stand your ground,” too, leads too often to the use of excessive force — another rule of the old common law that made sense : keep the peace to the full extent feasible.

Northeastern students do have a security issue, but it takes place well outside the campus, on the street toward Ruggles MBTA stop. One recalls the horrific killing of a Northeastern student several decades ago, accosted by two muggers in precisely that zone. There, however, campus police have no jurisdiction. The Boston Police Department (BPD) controls; and today, the BPD headquarters building sits right there, almost astride the Ruggles T stop.

For all of the above reasons, Northeastern’s decision to equip campus police cruisers with rifles should be taken back.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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