Submitted and written by Isiah Holmes
All seemed orderly and civil inside the small, brightly lit meeting room at the University of Michigan. One camera-wielding audience member captures the main speaker before filming the rest of the room. More unoccupied chairs filled the room than people, all of whom affiliated with the pro-affirmative action group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). The collective votes by a show of hands as the camera pans left, focusing on two dark figures lurking just outside. Several audience members spill into the hall, distracted by two campus PD officers making their presence known. What happens next, from the perspective of BAMN activists, emphasised their meetings topic–racism, police brutality and, subsequently, sovereign human rights.
The video in question, published in November 2015, represents but the latest publicized stint of conflict between BAMN and campus police. Both officers in this case are unidentified and because of this one, in this piece, will be referred to as “Black hat” due to his headwear. He, the video reveals, approached audience member before his bare-headed partner. It was this officer that returned shortly afterward, peeking back into the room, interested in one audience member.
Before long an older, more legally informed audience member, confronts Black hats partner. The camera moves in on the two for better picture and audio, the boys obligation to speak to the officer was in question. When the man points out the boy needs parents present to speak to police the officer calmly replies, “about something criminal, yes.”
BAMN’s speaker takes notice, “okay, what is happening over there?” The two men seemed to ignore the question, with BAMN’s audience pointing out the unarrested boy’s right to refuse to speak to police. In case you’re wondering, no, as far as the video can tell officers never once explained what exactly they wanted him for.
Upon joining the debate BAMN’s speaker, for the record, states all minors are permitted to go to the meeting by their parents. Understandably irritated audience members accuse the officer of interrupting the meeting, which he was good to deny. Interrupting the meeting may amount to a violation of first amendment rights, of each and every audience member. The audience was correct to point out the boy didn’t have to obey the officer’s silent signals leading him from the group. From here the atmosphere intensifies, with several camera armed BAMN attendees now leaving the room and filling the hall.
Seemingly offended, a large boy walks into the frame just as the camera enters the hall. “Don’t assume that sh*t is me!”, he says dismissively, walking away from the two cops. A taller, more confrontational Black hat takes over diplomacy, his more civil partner stepping aside. The older man, now backed by several younger women, continues debating basic rights with the officers. Black hat seems to argue that the boy, apparently 18, neither requires a parent nor an attorney to be spoken to.
“On what planet does he not have a right to an attorney!”, proclaims one woman, nearly three heads shorter than Black hat. She asks if anyone is under arrest. “You’re going to be pretty soon”, says the looming Black hat, “for interfering with a police investigation.” His partner speaks to the now aggravated crowd, “you guys aren’t involved in this”, he says. The calmer officer, struggling to convince BAMN that they didn’t mean to interrupt the meeting and didn’t want to escalate the situation, is out spoken by Black hat. “So we’re just going to interrupt the meeting then”, Black hat steps forward, glaring down one girl in particular. She invites the officers to demonstrate why the police brutality centric meeting is important, “this is going to be a law suit”, another shouts. Black hat tracks the much shorter girl with his eyes intimidatingly, having admitted to what his partner had initially denied. With everyone now gathered in the room once more the speaker closes its door affixed with clear glass panels. He shouts back to the two cops in defiance, “this is a student meeting! That’s not acceptable!” The video ends as the boy attempts to reason what they wanted. According to him, first they asked about an I.D, then a phone, their overarching intent was unclear.
By Any Mean Necessary activists have pushed hard for ethnic diversity on college campuses, particularly at Michigan’s hallmark university. Their tactics include a mix of educational meetings and rather direct occupations of administration meetings. Some of these actions, however, have resulted in clashes between activists and campus police, leading to arrests on more than one occasion. In 2014, according to Mlive, fall enrollment numbers for minorities dropped by 4.4%, an ongoing trend.
First off, props to the apparently young boy behind the camera, without whom no one would’ve known of this incident. Credit, where it’s due, also goes out to Black hats calmer, more appropriately behaved partner. Black hat is the epitome of everything those BAMN supporters organize against: hyper-authoritarian, disrespect, king perpetuation of the us-them mentality. Shame to him, also, for desecrating the right everyone, including him, has which protects peaceful assembly. Had black hat not taken over the interaction, the department might’ve spared a few members disliking all police that much more. By behaving in this way Black hat dishonors all officers who aspire for the same things BAMN or anyone else does–peace, co-existence, life.