Dan Knorr, Mayor, and Citizens of Bloomsburg,
This afternoon I watched the videos of the tank deployment and tear gas use in Bloomsburg this past weekend. Like the police presence in Boston and Watertown just days before, I most firmly assert and believe this is a shameful, excessive, dangerous, and unnecessary use of force. Rather than establishing good order, which some would call it, it shows a complete breakdown of community and a failure of government and its leadership.
Now there is no question that the parties are disruptive, annoying, aggravating, even dangerous. There is no question underage drinking occurs. This is nothing new. But the Mayor, the citizens, the police, Bloomsburg University, become so focused on imposing order and enforcing ordinances and legislation, year after year, decade after decade, with escalating demonstrations of force, that it came to this.
The citizens and the current government of Bloomsburg, like its predecessors, have not solved this problem. You have allowed it to get worse and helped to make it worse with increasing demonstrations of force and authority. That is not community, that is not governance. This is a Police State of anger and fear and resentment that the Mayor, Town Council, and every single person in Bloomsburg allows and encourages to happen once a year.
When you resort to force, you have not succeeded. You have failed miserably, you have failed utterly, you have failed completely.
To the Mayor, his successor, and to the citizens of Bloomsburg, allow me to think of a better way for next year:
Meet the students not with weapons but with community. No guns, no tanks, no tear gas, no riot gear, no squad cars, no formal police uniforms. Recognize that yes ordinances will be broken, but you have not the means to enforce every violation anyway. For one day let the letter of legislation pass, and allow the law’s spirit to be present. Be there among them, unarmed, a protecting presence rather than a vengeful authority.
Enlist the help of the fire department, emergency medical responders, Bloomsburg Hospital, local social organizations, BU administration and clubs, and individuals. If you have done at least this, expand this presence and explore ways to do it better. Select strategic sites, set up tents, where students can recover safely rather than be detained and punished.
Bright Orange T-Shirts and jeans, handcuffs and a camera, pen and paper, and that’s all for the police. These are your tools for the worst of the offenders on that day. You have days and weeks and time after to arrest the worst. But be a presence for weeks and months before the parties start. Show your concern for their safety and desire to work with them as members of the community.
Yes, there will be those whose actions deserve arrest, however you should start work on minimizing this now. Gain the support of students by elicitng and earning their trust, not by encouraging their fear. I think that you would find that by talking to students now, and exploring how you could act among them, you would gain their help and not their enmity. The students themselves can be a powerful influence on their peers to help things not get out of hand or at least minimize it, but only if you forthrigthly encourage this beforehand.
I do not know if this is the solution. I do not know if this would work. But what I do know is the path Bloomsburg chooses year after year is not working. I don’t think it unreasonable that people become resentful, fearful, when government uses force against them, and this likely what the students feel when you make them the enemy.
But what better way to forgo violence, build community, and encourage change, than to be that change yourself.
Derek C. Gittler