By: Leo Schenk – Junior, Politcal Science, History
First, there were the pictures of a town driven over the edge by a single officer’s grave mistake, then the massive law enforcement and military response appeared. When I saw the pictures of Ferguson, Missourri last year, I was outraged. Along with many others, I was furious about the state of affairs with the way the police were treating the people of the town.
Comparisons to the civil rights movements were flying around social media. But, I couldn’t quite see the connections, for a simple reason. The police in Ferguson very quickly pulled out their new toys from the federal government: M-16s, armored military personnel carriers, full camouflage, military body armor and a slew of high-tech “less than lethal” weaponry (LRADs included, more on that in a bit). The social connections were still just as visible, but the government response seemed far more aggressive than that of the 1960s civil rights movements.
A Senate hearing in September found that the federal government is sending over $1 billion worth of military equipment straight from the ending wars in the Middle East to police departments across the country, with virtually no oversight or rules placed on their usage. Until recently, this fact only interested me because I had always been told that police officers in my hometown of Oakwood, Ohio, had assault rifles in their trunks, which seemed unnecessary. Then, March Madness kicked off with St. Patrick’s Day this year, and the ghetto turned into a police state every time there was a chance Dayton could win a game. To back up the heavy-handed response from the city of Dayton Police Department, the university, according to WDTN, also decided they had $10,000 to spend on a new toy, their very own Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) speaker system.
Colloquially known as a “sound cannon,” this system, according to the company that produces them, is designed to overcome “the background noise of vehicles, vessels, sirens and boisterous crowds to ensure each message is clearly heard and understood.” What one must do a bit of research to find is that the only handheld model LRAD Corporation produces makes a sound of 137 decibels. This level of sound is not only beyond the pain threshold, but is also only 3 decibels below the threshold of almost immediate permanent hearing damage. It’s as loud as a jet engine in takeoff.
All of this information is readily available with a few quick searches, and the university either made an impulse buy on what a corporation was advertising to them, or they did their research and were comfortable with those statistics. Neither should be acceptable for any student or their parents.
Tuition, according to the university’s website, is $19,545 per semester for full-time students to attend classes. This means that the university felt it important enough to prevent a few thousand students from standing in a street where very few cars drive anyway at these times, to spend over half of one student’s tuition here on a device almost certain to cause harm to those students.
Now, thankfully, this device has not yet been used this year. However, I would think that’s irrelevant. The sound cannon is indicative of a wider problem with policing in this country, which has now hit far too close to home. Instead of their primary goal being to “protect and serve,” they are merely playing with military-grade toys while putting the residents of their districts at risk. On the night the Flyers unfortunately lost to Oklahoma, I walked home from the house where I watched the game, and on the way exchanged a few jokes with several very nice, very riot-ready police officers. This just made me wonder, if the game had turned out differently, would I have been beaten by the shiny yellow batons they were carrying, simply because I wanted to celebrate (sober) in the street with a thousand of my closest friends?
Obviously, there’s no way to stop some sort of police response when there are that many people in the street, but I do think that the university should think very carefully about how it responds to these events. Does it want to be the school that has used a sound cannon, paid for by the students, to cause permanent damage to said students? I certainly hope not. As I often say, when you send out riot police, you’re going to get a riot.