Photo C/O Brian Zheng
By Lilian Obeng
Two weeks ago, students and alumni gathered in the streets of Westdale and Ainslie Wood to celebrate McMaster’s Homecoming. After the incident known colloquially as “Dalewoodstock” took place in 2017, residents and university administration were keen to avoid repeating the levels property damage. The McMaster Students Union president also participated in the university’s promotional campaign dissuading students from partaking in the extremes of party culture.
Also two weeks ago, McMaster went viral. A clip of a girl being knocked down, and subsequently trampled by a mounted police officer began to make the rounds on social media. The video was so clear that news outlets such as CBC Hamilton picked it up. The immediate response to the video was to brush the incident off as a moment of drunken hilarity, but this occurrence sheds light on the evolving relationship between the MSU and law enforcement — specifically to the detriment of students.
— HPS Mounted Patrol (@HPSMounted) September 15, 2018
In preparation of Homecoming, the university administration, McMaster Parking & Security Services and the MSU all meet to discuss and determine strategies for deterring improper conduct.
With this in mind, the increased policing of students appeared inevitable. Since St. Patrick’s Day of 2016 — at the very least — police officers have been contracted by the university for additional security. ACTION officers have been consistently and increasingly patrolling the Westdale area whenever celebratory, or potentially inflammatory, occasions take place, often with horses.
Initially, there was a half-hearted attempt by dispersed student groups to call attention to the increased policing going on at McMaster. In spite of the MSU’s purported dissatisfaction with the situation, this issue was shelved. Subsequent board of directors failed to recognize the danger this presented to all racialized people at McMaster.
The push towards policing was spurred on by our Ward 1 councillor Aidan Johnson.
Johnson, who is not seeking reelection in October, ran on a platform of deliberately increasing police presence on ‘student streets.’ He also expressed support for hiring Mohawk students to help patrol the Ainslie Woods and Westdale neighbourhoods — an idea that the city and McMaster are not in opposition to.
Why does any of this matter? Essentially, students are being used as an ‘easy’ source of revenue — a concerning fact when financial security is tenuous for many of us. Students are ticketed at such a disproportionate rate that the MSU must roll out multiple by-law education campaigns. We are also deliberately exposing vulnerable populations to uncritical surveillance.
The fact of the matter is that certain groups in our society have been historically disenfranchised by law enforcement. Heightened police presence is an inherent threat and a reminder of the power dynamics present in Hamilton.
It is plausible that our student leaders were unaware of this history, but ignorance is an insufficient excuse when police officers unnecessarily parade horses through students and cause bodily harm. We as students have forgotten our initial outrage, and allowed ourselves to uncritically parrot back the talking points of out-of-touch administrators. Our MSU president, however inadvertently, used her image to promote the policing of students and advance the university’s public relations campaign. This doubly highlights the need for the MSU to find ways to retain institutional memory. Our advocacy needs to be much stronger than this.
Ultimately, the response to Homecoming was overblown. We as students empathize with the desire the City of Hamilton, residents and the university has to contain rowdy, disruptive teenagers. We should wholeheartedly reject the notion that the solution lies in policing.