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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the editor: Finding a place to legally smoke cigarrettes

I really enjoyed last week’s article about the ride-alongs with the Grinnell Police Department—it gave some great insight into how our local police officers see their jobs and handle situations on campus and with college students.

However, it also revealed the depth of misunderstanding between students and police. Consider the fear and suspicion with which police are viewed by students, which Officer Dan Johnson mentioned he didn’t understand. If it’s possible, I’d like to try to make the issue clearer for him through an example:

The weekend before last, I passed by Loose while Loose & Ready was going on. Gathered inside the loggia but right outside the door was a line of people smoking (cigarettes). Clearly, they were violating both the letter and the spirit of the law, and they could have easily gone outside and smoked without forcing everyone else who entered/left to do the same. Why didn’t they?

It’s likely that many weren’t 21 and had been drinking, and were afraid that if they went out to the street, they would be an easy target for arrest because of underage drinking, despite the fact that they were doing the right thing in taking their smoke away from others. This is a pretty reasonable fear, but it shouldn’t be one. Let’s compare the amount of harm one does to others by smoking right outside a doorway compared to the amount of harm one does to others by drinking at age 20 instead of 21. If the job of police is to prevent and reduce harm, then it’s pretty obvious where the priorities should lie. Enforcing (or even threatening to enforce) drinking laws which a majority of people violate is counterproductive because of these situations, and these are complications that need to recognized and transparently addressed.

How do we move forward from here? The police need to be clear in advance as to how they will resolve situations like these, and we as students need to have honest dialogue with the realities of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use on campus, and I hope that the ride-alongs and the Citizen’s Academy program are only the beginning of improved relations and communication. There is so much that could be improved—students would have more trust and less fear of the police, there would be fewer arrests that could be avoided, and police could focus more on investigating more serious crimes such as bike theft.

Here’s to spreading the mutual understanding!

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