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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Op-ed: GW should not embrace the disease of guns as the only cure for gun violence

Dr. Dwayne Kwaysee Wright is an assistant professor of higher education administration and the director of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

As a professor here at GW, I am truly blessed to teach some of the brightest students in the world. One of the most complicated concepts my students engage in and among the most difficult problems we ask them to address are “wicked problems” – problems that are difficult, if not impossible, to solve because of incomplete, contradictory and sometimes changing constraints and conditions.

As a microcosm of our society, it is no coincidence college campuses are places where we engage with many of our country’s wicked problems, especially how to keep our communities safe and secure from an epidemic of gun violence. To that end, interim University President Mark Wrighton announced last Thursday that the University will arm about 20 “specially trained” GWPD supervisory officers. It should be noted that Wrighton both deserves and has earned the accolades and admiration of the GW community. His short tenure here at GW has gone a long way to reestablish community trust in the administration and improve cooperation between administration and faculty, which underlines why I am disappointed that he would support such a decision.

Wrighton was the chancellor and CEO of Washington University in St. Louis when police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed an 18-year-old, unarmed Black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri on Aug. 9, 2014. The protests following this incident catalyzed the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement would go on to be at the center of the protest of the public lynching of George Floyd, another unarmed Black man executed without a trial by yet another armed police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020.

You would think that an academic leader who has the benefit of such an experience would counsel his university’s Board of Trustees to move with caution and prudence when deciding to arm campus police in a city like D.C., which already has a large and armed police force. Yet either with or at the behest of the Board, Wrighton announced the Board’s decision to arm some officers – a decision taken with little to no faculty or student consultation.

This rather abrupt turn in campus safety policy sparks several questions.

Why wasn’t the Faculty Senate’s Committee on University and Urban Affairs, at the very least, informed and consulted prior to the Board’s decision? I share the frustrations of other faculty troubled by the lack of transparency around officials’ decision to arm GWPD. It seems for every step forward to true shared governance at GW, we insist on subsequently taking two steps backward. Are we really making strides toward true shared governance at GW if a limited group of folks continues to make the most impactful “governance” decisions? After we have seemingly made so much progress on shared governance principles and procedures, the process behind the decision to arm GWPD mimics the same draconian, paternalistic practices that poisoned the heart of the GW community during the administration of former University President Thomas LeBlanc.

Why wasn’t this change announced before this year’s Student Association elections took place on April 13 and 14? Such a move could have permitted the candidates to weigh in on the proposed policy change and permitted the student body to allocate their votes accordingly. Perhaps fearing an inevitable backlash, our Board seems to have chosen to employ a top-down, neoliberal, corporate-ish process to decide a community issue rather than favor student democracy and collective input.

Where is the money for these shiny new weapons and the special training for the officers who will carry them? As the administration forces colleges and units around GW to consider devastating if not debilitating budget cuts, it is particularly frustrating that the Board decided to fund tools of destruction instead of methods of academic inquiry. Yet it seems we have the money to hire yet another consulting group, this time to guide the plan to arm officers.

Where on campus and in D.C. are the academic centers, like those at Johns Hopkins and Rutgers universities, that dedicate themselves to researching the causes of and solutions to gun violence? And why wasn’t this announcement coupled with an effort to research and strengthen our safety practices and those on campuses throughout the nation?

A silver lining in all of this is that Chief James Tate, one of the few Black male leaders on campus, currently leads GWPD and will oversee the implementation of this hasty adjustment to campus policy. I have come to know Tate and can say that he is a man of great moral clarity and a stellar leader of our campus police. I have enjoyed working with him when the opportunity has arisen, whether that be when he sets time aside to hold open hours for the GW community or when he has taken time to engage with the Black Men’s Initiative at GW. I am sure he has a great understanding of the many complexities within this policy debate and will do his duty to the best of his ability.

But I will remind readers that in January five armed Black police officers in Memphis – a city whose chief of police, Cerelyn Davis, is also Black – punched, kicked and bludgeoned Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old unarmed Black man. Nichols later died from the injuries the officers inflicted on him. Systemic gun violence – much of which occurs at the hands of police – also disproportionately impacts Black and brown people. Police were nearly three times as likely to kill Black people than white people between 2013 and 2023, according to police reform initiative Campaign Zero. We must be careful to remember that anti-Black policies, even when Black faces in high places implement and oversee them, remain anti-Black policies.

Just over a month since we observed the third anniversary of the death of Breonna Taylor, we mourned yet another tragedy two weekends ago in Missouri when 16-year-old Ralph Yarl was shot in the head when he rang the wrong doorbell after mistaking a friend’s address when he went to pick up his siblings. I have been struggling to figure out how more guns, rather than fewer, could have prevented that tragedy. With its decision, the Board seems to have embraced the illogical, empirically flawed strategy that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

Whatever trustees have in store, my hope is simply that they start listening to others besides themselves and stop embracing the disease of guns as the only cure for gun violence.

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