Dear Division of Public Safety,
I’m confused as to why you messaged me twice last Tuesday night about a “Large group of protestors in the 4000 block of Walnut St.”
I’d like to feign ignorance and give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you were just letting Penn students, faculty, and staff know of this opportunity to participate in this protest near campus. After all, 40th and Walnut streets is closer to Penn than Malcolm X Park, another site of protest that evening.
But we both know that wasn’t the intent of the texts. Those text messages, sent at 8:38 p.m. and 8:40 p.m. on Tuesday night to the entire Penn community, were an act of “public safety,” meaning they were a direct warning to us all that we should avoid that location.
I just can’t let the texts go. I realize there are bigger issues at play, which many Penn students have so eloquently expressed, but I’ve been thinking about the texts all week, the “public safety” warning about the “Large group of protestors” in the wake of Walter Wallace Jr.’s killing.
I assume you all care deeply about our democracy, about civil rights, about LGBTQ rights, about disability rights, and about empowering our students to make change in this world. And I know you prioritize keeping our students safe.
But you do a disservice to our entire community when you tell students that they have to choose between their own personal safety and being civically engaged. It’s a false dichotomy. The texts Tuesday night not only were meant to deter all of us from joining with others to protest injustice going on around us; they also constituted the suppression of free speech and political intimidation.
ANDI JOHNSON is a senior lecturer in the History and Sociology of Science Department
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