This past weekend, Pennsylvania state police converged on Penn’s campus to “enforce the law.”
In a sense, it was completely reasonable: With Fling comes underage drinking and, by the same token, students breaking the law.
At the same time, the police’s stated reason for coming is, to borrow one of Joe Biden’s favorite phrases, a bunch of malarkey.
Drinking while under 21 has been a crime for almost three decades. It was a crime last semester, it was a crime a week before Fling and it will still be a crime come this weekend. It also has been and will be ignored on college campuses nationwide for as long.
But almost every weekend, state and city police more or less stay clear of Penn’s campus — and rightfully so. Penn has its own police department, which handles, among other things, underage drinking.
We’re not saying underage drinking is not a crime and that certain persons are above the law. We are saying that the police weren’t enforcing the law — they were enforcing Fling.
Somehow we don’t believe that bursting into a Greek house that was not even serving alcohol on the pretense that the music was too loud is in the spirit of enforcing the law. Yes, noise complaints are real. No, the state police don’t come to on-campus houses because there’s loud music.
The crackdown then seems more in line with the theme of the weekend: officers using scare tactics. Such a policy is inherently problematic. Scaring students doesn’t prevent drinking, but it makes doing so more dangerous — the amnesty policy we have at Penn exists because our administration acknowledges this basic fact.
Nor are we saying that city and state police should show up to campus daily. Penn’s police force is fully capable of dealing with loud music, underage drinking and, yes, Fling. It effectively deals with drinking every week and has dealt with Fling every year in the past.
Quite apparently, the state and local police forces concur with this: They’re not a constant presence on campus because they don’t need to be. Indeed, state police didn’t show up 364 times too few this year — they showed up one time too many.
Pennsylvania’s finest are clearly supposed to enforce the law, and that includes laws that many students consider arcane. However, they aren’t supposed to use their force simply as a scare tactic.
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