I want to express my dismay and disappointment concerning an event I attended two weekends ago. My wife and I were invited on campus to attend the movie showing of “The Purge: Anarchy,” and having a freshman-age daughter for whom we are currently looking at schools, we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to experience “real student life” at UNC-Chapel Hill. We were not impressed.
We knew beforehand that a campus-based student political group was using this opportunity to create a public forum for social commentary, by creating and distributing a critique of the film and its themes, as well as audience participation cues to enliven the viewing. That is what piqued our interest in the first place.
The moment we entered the Student Union I started to get the uneasy feeling, as the first person we passed coming in was an armed officer with bulletproof vest putting on gloves. “Wow,” I thought, “that is really strange. I don’t remember that from my college days.” Shrugging it off, we continued, but just inside the entry, at what I presume was a coffee bar, were three more members of law enforcement.
Once at the theater entrance, we met yet another officer and a very “authoritative” employee that demanded our cards. We explained we were invited and waited for our friends to escort us in. Finally, within the theater, we were greeted with five more armed law enforcement officers, some with bulletproof vests and extra pistol magazines visible, as if they were preparing for battle. At this point, I was livid. The audacity of such fear mongering at best, stark intimidation at worst was appalling and offensive. “Do they feel it necessary to show such aggression at every student event? Do I want my daughter subjected to this?”
Then it dawned on me; this was the university’s response to the student group’s participation in the movie! I was dumbfounded. So a student group tries to make a thoughtful social point about a movie that concerns themes such as state-sanctioned violence as social economic control, which occurs disproportionately against the disenfranchised, especially against communities of people of color, and the university is threatened by this?
Are they not aware that this is an important and relevant topic in this country? That finally, we are starting to question the militarization of the police and their “paramilitary” tactics for citizen engagement, and the excessive use of force against primarily communities of color?
There are obvious and direct parallels here that offered a golden opportunity for the administration to educate. They could have engaged the student group to organize a panel discussion and Q & A after the screening. They could have explained within the pre-movie announcements that this group had distributed a critical analysis and audience participation and that everyone was invited to join in and to please take it in the spirit it was offered.
Instead they sent armed, dare I say “militarized” law enforcement officers as a threat of violence against the public. As a veteran, I do not use those words lightly. Make no mistake, when you send armed police equipped to repel firefights, you are threatening violence. You are threatening deadly force.
It was a dreadful miscalculation, in my perspective, and very careless. Anytime you put firearms into a situation, you invite tragedy. Do they really feel that their response was appropriate? I do not. I feel it was reactionary and shallow. And in regards to if UNC-CH would be a good school for my daughter … being an open minded, creative thinker who has a natural disposition for social critique and challenging the status quo, I don’t think she will find the support she deserves here, so we will keep looking.
Kevin Kirk lives in Chapel Hill.