Monday morning, I woke up to the news that a student at the University of Southern Alabama had been shot and killed by the campus police. The details of the shooting are about as far from the events at Kent State as can be imagined:
A University of South Alabama freshman was running through the streets nearly naked, screaming obscenities and claiming he was on a "spiritual quest" not long before he was shot by a campus police officer, two acquaintances said Monday.
Authorities have said 18-year-old Gil Collar of Wetumpka assumed a "fighting stance" and chased a police officer before the officer shot him around 1:30 a.m. outside the campus police station. Police say Collar was naked when he was shot. ...
School officials have said nothing to indicate he was armed. Campus officers typically also carry a baton and pepper spray, though university officials refused to say whether the officer who shot Collar was carrying either.
The university said the officer heard a bang on a window at campus police headquarters and went outside to investigate. The officer tried to retreat numerous times to defuse the situation before opening fire, the university said in a news release.
Nevertheless, this incident shows that, all these years later, police officers still resort to deadly force when, almost certainly, "other methods would have resolved the confrontation." That language, taken directly from the statement issued by the victims of Kent State after they settled their civil suit against the National Guard and Ohio state officials, came as part of their plea that something be done to ensure that citizens be protected from having their civil rights denied by those acting under color of law. The victims urged "citizens and law enforcement" to "find better ways
." (emphasis in original)
And yet, here we are, 33 years later, and the University of Southern Alabama just shot a naked student to death because... because... because... WHY? I hate to say this but, in my opinion, Gil Collar ended up dead because the university police had no idea how else to handle this situation. Certainly, it would be pretty amazing if, in fact, this naked man had a weapon and represented a deadly threat to the campus police. But the police were armed with guns. If they had any less lethal tools available, they chose not to use them. The tool that, from reports, would seem to have been most effective -- a trained counselor capable of talking down someone who was almost certainly in some sort of altered state -- appears to have been nowhere in evidence. But, to get back to my question of WHY, forgive me for saying that I believe the answer is depressingly simple: they shot him because it was easiest and they knew they could do so with likely impunity.
And that should send chills up the spine of every student at every college, every member of a disenfranchised minority in every community with a belligerent police department, and every parent who sends a child away to college.
How often has this kind of overreaction occurred since the Kent State victims settled their civil suit, 33 years ago? In the second installment of this series, I quoted their settlement statement where they noted that 28 students had been killed on college campuses under color of law in the previous ten years.
I have always felt badly that I don't know the names of each of those 28 students and the circumstances under which they died. Maybe some of them died in circumstances not unlike those that unfolded this weekend at the University of Southern Alabama and claimed the life of Gil Collar. Certainly antiwar protesters were included in the count. James Green and Phillip Gibbs, the two young men killed at Jackson State on May 14, 1970, were part of the 28. But Samuel Hammond, Delano Middleton and Henry Smith, killed in Orangeburg, South Carolina, in February 1968 would not be.
And what would the number be today? How many have been killed since 1979? How many families have sent their child off to college only to have them come home in a coffin, placed there by the very authorities who are ostensibly charged with protecting the students? How many of these incidents occur with little to no press coverage? How many of these families have been left to grieve without public support? And why, why, why do we still have to wake up to headlines such as these?
Gil Collar, I hope your death can serve to shed light on the needlessly aggressive tactics of the University of Southern Alabama police force. I hope your family will receive the answers and support that they need. I hope the university community will come together to challenge the use of force on their campus. I hope that students everywhere who may be in need of help for mental health or substance abuse issues find that help before meeting a similarly tragic end. And, most of all, I hope that our country someday soon confronts our addiction to violence and that, as a society, we will recognize that violence only leads to tragedy.
And now, Part Three of the PROJECT CENSORED article by Laurel Krause and Mickey Huff.