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Understanding and Reason

This letter is in reference to the incident that occured on Thursday April 3, 2003 which resulted in the arrest of Professor Van Der Meer. First I would like to state that I was not there – I was busy studing and preparing assignments for my five classes just like many other students at UMB. I remember a time when doing school work was a major focus on this campus, and not fighting possible civil rights violations and holding press conferences. This whole ordeal seems totally unsettling and suffocating.

In regards to the arrest, I would like to say that as a student senator on CCA I found that it would be prudent to find out some of the facts as best I could. Therefore; I went to people who were there and asked them for their accounts of the incidents. Overall I found that nooone seemed to be totally right and that everyone did something wrong.

First, I don’t think that it was prudent for a student to wear a t-shirt with anti-military slogans knowing that he would be in close proximity to the National Guard recruiters. I understand that people have rights, and this student has every right to wear whatever he wants, as do all students in regards to their first amendment rights to free speech. In my opinion I really think that this t-shirt was purposely worn to incite the National Guard recruiters.

The National Guard recruiter was, in my opinion, way out of line if he said, “You should be shot.”, because everyone has a right to free speech (ie. wearing a t-shirt with anti-military slogans), but free speech that contains ‘fighting words’ or are of an obscene/purient nature are not protected. Furthermore, I find that a National Guardsman, in uniform, who is a sworn protector of the Constitution of the United States of America (which contains the first amendment)has no business talking to anyone in this manner. This behavior is disgraceful to the military, in my opinion, especially in times such as these – if the reports about this Guardsman’s language are true.

Professor Van Der Meer stepped into the situation for the right reasons under the circumstances, but he stepped right into the middle of two seemingly unreasonable individuals – the National Guardsman and Tony Naro. I had occasion at the UMB town meeting on Monday afternoon to speak to Mr. Naro who, while I was speaking to him, found it neccessary to berrate the Chief of UMB police as he (the Chief) left the meeting. I found Mr. Naro’s comments to the Chief to be wrong and disrespectful, and I told him so at the time. Therefore; I can deduce that during the incident with the National Guardsman on Thursday that Mr. Naro probably wasn’t being very respectful then either. So professor Van Der Meer was in the middle of a rock and a hard place when he stepped in the middle of the immovable object and the unyeilding force.

At some point the UMB police decided to arrest the professor, and this is where the situation gets murky. Why didn’t they arrest the military man? I can’t say I wasn’t there. Why did the police tackle a professor like he was a common criminal? I don’t know I wasn’t there. Were they being racist or xenophobic? I don’t know I wasn’t there. What I do know is this, that I work in public safety, and I do possess training from state law enforcement. I know that it is SUGGESTED that an officer give two verbal commands to a person to comply with a lawful order according to the ladder of force. In keeping with this line of thinking I would wonder why it allegedly took six officers to tackle a professor. Either they gave him a chance to comply and he didn’t, or they didn’t give him a chance to comply and a struggle ensued. In any case I’m just guessing, because I wasn’t there, but I can say that I would never second guess the officers in their decision to make an arrest, but I do have some reservation when it comes to tackling a professor in a main hallway where the officers have little control over the environment (in regards to the officer’s safety). I also have concerns that the professor, who is an older gentleman, could have developed a medical situation (ie. a heart attack) from being tackled. But what do I know, I wasn’t there.

Ultimately I feel that within all crisis situations there is oppurtunity. The oppurtunity here is for us as a UMB community to build bridges of understanding and reason. It seems that there are many who feel that this situation is one where the race card is being played. I have spoken to students who feel that this situation just highlights how black people are always trying to invoke the evil spirit of racism, which in their opinion doesn’t exist. This line of thinking is like a person going outside at noon and looking into the sky, and having seen no moon, exclaiming that the moon no longer exist since they can’t see it. This line of thinking is sound but not valid just like the notion that because one does not see racism right in front of them; therefore, it doesn’t exist – quite foolish. At the same time this entire scenario may have had more to do with the high intensity of emotions connected to the war, and less to do with race. In any event I don’t think that professor Van Der Meer needs to go through litigation over a problem that has been like a pot slowly simmering, and has finally boiled over. We as a community of reasonable and intelligent people should have seen this comming, and taken measures to curtail the frustrations connected with racial tensions on campus and war tensions. I feel that these stressors on our community have come to a head and now is the time for cool heads, calm voices, understanding and reason. Within a diverse community that UMB possesses we need to have a true diverse exchange of ideas which does not exist at the time. An exchange of ideas focused towards making this campus safe both physically and mentally, and a place where everyone feels comfortable in going about our business as faculty, students, and public safety employees. We need to create an evironment where discrimination of any kind, directed towards anyone, doesn’t live here any more. Move in peace or fall into pieces – ONE LOVE.

These statement are of my personal opinion and in connection with no law enforcement body, UMB organization, or any other UMB institution.

Will Roach CASCriminal Justice/Philosophy/HonorsStudent Senate CCA-Vice Chair