Saturday, December 4, 2021

Undercover

Investigation of student group was unethical

The undercover investigation of a student activist group by university police was unethical and hurt student-police relations.

MSU police Officer Jamie Gonzales posed as elementary education junior Samantha Volare and participated in meetings and activities with Students for Economic Justice, an officially registered campus group. Gonzales had participated in group activities for months beginning Feb. 19, 2000. Group members realized her true identity when they saw the officer in uniform on campus.

Gonzales now works as the Brody Complex community policing officer. The five-year veteran of the force was pictured in The State News protesting with the group; she identified herself as Volare.

MSU police Assistant Chief Jim Dunlap said the investigation was ordered because of concerns about a possible violent reaction to commencement speaker James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank.

Protests at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in late 1999 and of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington in April 2000 led to thousands of arrests.

Several students from Students for Economic Justice were involved in those protests.

Students for Economic Justice has held several protests against the labor practices of the makers of university clothing. There have been no serious run-ins between the group, formerly known as United Students Against Sweatshops, and the police in the group’s history.

The decision of university police to investigate this group is unethical. The group’s protests on campus have been nonviolent and nonthreatening. The group was not charged with a crime - there was no reason to track them.

Simply because some members of the group were involved in violent protests elsewhere does not mean the group will turn violent on campus. To justify an undercover investigation because some members were involved in other protests is making unfair assumptions about the entire group.

Students for Economic Justice has not done anything illegal or threatening. To investigate them only undermines their right to peacefully protest and freely express their opinions.

This investigation also hurts already tense police-student relations. This is a big step backward from the efforts to increase trust between the groups. Students will constantly wonder if they are being investigated and will tend to trust the police less.

While the police’s desire to potentially help curb violent behavior on campus, especially since the March 27-28, 1999, riot is understandable, the means taken to achieve this goal were not the best. Police can work with student groups without an undercover investigation,by interacting with groups and opening communication so that violent behavior is averted.

University police may have had good intentions by ordering an undercover investigation, but its actions were not only unethical, but potentially damaging to an already shaky relationship with students.

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