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Amherst College police force to remain armed, student activists unhappy

During an end-of-March virtual town hall, the Amherst College chief of police indicated his force would not accede to student demands to disarm.

This did not sit well with student activists who have demanded police disarmament since last year, The Amherst Student reports.

The Reclaim Amherst Campaign, with the support of the Association of Amherst Students, had released “a broad set of priorities” which would transform Amherst in order to “nurture […] an environment that is beneficial and responsive to its non-white students.”

The document states “As long as ACPD is armed, Black students will not be safe.”

At the town hall, ACPD Chief John Carter noted that after the death of George Floyd, his department conducted a thorough review and was found to already be in compliance with Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission standards. These include a ban on the use of chokeholds and the expectation that bystanders speak up in instances of (police) excessive force.

However, Carter said, “Amherst College doesn’t exist in a bubble” — its campus police will remain armed as the “continued concern about hate violence and interpersonal violence has not abated.”

“If anyone watches the news anymore,” Carter added, “you can see that the danger from aggressive folks around hate crimes, active shooters and other violence still exist on a regular basis.”

Carter said Community Service Officers (CSOs) would be used for “non-police related functions” such as patrols in academic buildings and for residence hall calls.

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Association of Amherst Students President Jeremy Thomas responded to Carter by renewing AAS’s call for disarmament of the ACPD, and for a doubling of the number of counselors in the Counseling Center.

Students remained skeptical as to whether ACPD modifications “actually do enough to address the threat the police force poses to marginalized students, particularly Black students and students of color.”

According to the college’s annual Clergy Report [sic], which is published each year and reports the number and type of crimes committed on campus among other statistics, the majority of crimes on campus relate to alcohol and drug violations, followed by rape and fondling and burglarly [sic]. “None of these crimes are prevented by an on-campus police, and none require armed police interventions,” Thomas said.

Thomas also noted the fact that in the past twenty years, ACPD has never fired its weapons and has only ever displayed them twice. Instead, ACPD has used pepper spray to detain two people. ACPD records show, Thomas added, that only 26 individuals have ever been arrested by ACPD.

Students asked Chief Carter if there actually is a “material difference” between police officers and CSOs “given the disproportionate ways in which that power is exercised against people of color.” A member of the Black Student Union complained she had been “approached aggressively” by Community Development Coordinators regarding possible COVID violations.

Read the article.

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