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The Blue & Gray Press | February 24, 2018

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Students promote rights awareness

By MEGHAN COOKE

An increasing number of students have complained of police harassment, an issue that the University of Mary Washington community should be concerned about. On Thursday, March 28, an event was held on campus to discuss this issue.

“This meeting is a chance for community members to voice their concerns to one another, and help work towards a solution,” according to the event’s description.

This event was part of a group project for associate professor Leslie Martin’s sociology class, Community Power. This semester, the focus of the class is police harassment.

According to junior sociology major Hilary Douglas, the class was divided into groups that were assigned different tasks. Her group’s task was student outreach, to get a feel for the community’s opinions on the matter of police harassment.

Chris Lomax, a junior sociology major and a fellow group member of Douglas, said that, although neither he nor his friends had any personal experience with police harassment, he wanted to take this class because he thought that it is essential for one to understand their community to help it.

Douglas says that she was interested in the course because she has heard of several instances where her friends had been unnecessarily approached by officers who claimed her peers looked suspicious, but without any other motive.

I think this addresses a commonality in a number of today’s issues: when is government involvement too much? Sure, police harassment, such as that which Douglas described, can be defended as police simply being aware and cautious of the safety of the community. However, it is difficult to know where to draw the line between being safety-conscious and annoyingly overbearing.

That seems to be what the other groups in Community Power will address. From here, the rest of the class will take the stories collected by the group to which Douglas and Lomax belong, and share them with the University of Mary Washington’s administration, as well as the Fredericksburg Police Department, so that they can get advice on what to do to handle specific situations of police harassment, and spread that knowledge throughout the community.

It simply comes down to knowing your rights and doing what you can to make sure those rights aren’t abused. Ultimately, having an idea of what is legal and what is not about police behavior can save you an annoyance, and perhaps some unwarranted legal discipline.

While the UMW community may not yet be savvy about their citizen rights when involving law enforcement, they hopefully will be soon. You can expect to see more from this public service campaign, as the other groups in the class will be hosting their own events later on this month.