Safety or Insecurity

by Michael Foote | 11/3/03 6:00am

An '07, a small women, her face glowing with excitement and energy, comes running by me with a huge smile on her face. She is on the outside of the endless circle of other '07s trying to complete 107 laps around the bonfire. As she passes by me, she comes within a few inches of brushing a police officer standing next to me. As she passes by him, this large officer shoves her, hard, from behind. The small woman flies forward, off balance, and lands on her hands and knees with 800 other students barring down to trample her. Obviously shaken and confused, the smile on her face ripped away; she is helped up by some friends and urged onward.

Incredulous, I immediately say to the officer, "Why did you do that?" To which he replies, "She stepped on my boot." I stare blankly at him for a moment and then look down at his very shiny boot. I am completely stunned and saddened. I build up the courage, and say in the '07's defense, "Well, if you do that again, I'll press charges." He then replies, "Fine with me, all I have is a mortgage!"

Well, I'm not going to press charges but I am going to write a column. And as I look around at the other security personnel, I commit to memory many similar accounts.

One security man in a trench coat and spiked hair, with a scowl on his face, is positioned on the inner part of the circle. He seems like he is out for a vengeance on the young men of Dartmouth. Any man who comes close to him is pushed violently inwards, more often than not causing people to fall and smash into each other. One of the pushed comes back to him, upset and unfairly robbed of the novelty and innocence previously infusing his night -- at which point the security man starts yelling at him (for what, I can't imagine aside from perhaps brushing his clean coat). I am, unfortunately, out of ear shot, but the interaction seems one-sided and unfair.

Another young man breaks toward the fire. Quickly realizing that it is way too hot to get even close to it, he turns away but he has stepped two feet outside of where he is allowed to step, and it is too late. Two officers immediately barrel down on him, put his hands behind his back and haul him away through the crowd. And behind everyone, Joe Cassidy, Associate Dean of Student Life, stalks back and forth pointing to people and barking out orders.

I realize I am only one person with a small number of the seemingly countless officers in my sight. And I shudder wondering how many other cases of harassment are ensuing outside of my vision. I try to get back into the energy and momentum that the '07s bring with them, but I can't, so I walk away to go enjoy the fire from afar.

Perhaps yet another "Bonfire Consultant" should be hired to assess the risk of the police and campus security on our students. It seems to me that mob mentality has taken more hold of the multiple police forces than it has with our new students. Like Spiderman's father said, "with great power, comes great responsibility." Those in power should not compromise their values when they think no one "important" is watching them. Needless to say, I am not impressed. And as an alumnus I am a bit ashamed.

I can't help but wonder, though there were no burns, how many bloody knees and bruises did the police and campus security dole out? How many more potential risks were set-up than prevented? Was the spirit of the Bonfire sacrificed by a security force intent on needlessly robbing our 2007s of their innocence and enthusiasm? And is this how we want to welcome our new students (and future leaders) to Dartmouth?