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Live Graciously, On Policing and Media Coverage of DOGL

On Wednesday, May 17th, some Kalamazoo College students participated in a longstanding college tradition, Day of Gracious Living (DOGL), by heading to the beach at South Haven. For years, K students have celebrated this tradition of going to South Haven at about the same time each year and usually, there is no trouble. However, this year students were asked to leave the beach by South Haven police and local media swarmed at the opportunity to tell the story.

Many students felt as if the method of evacuation by the South Haven police was unnecessary. Amanda Johnson ’17, a student council representative, was present during the evacuation. “Given the events that happened last summer in South Haven, the South Haven Police Department (SHPD) were less tolerable of ‘rowdy crowds’ than in previous years. The entire beach evacuation seemed a bit extreme, and the aggressive behavior of the police was not necessary,” Johnson said.

A K student, who wished to remain anonymous, was unsettled by the lack of communication of SHPD that was afforded to K students, many of whom were not breaking any laws. “I felt that there was a misuse of power in how the situation in South Haven was handled.  I understand both sides, in SHPD needing to protect their beach because of safety issues for all involved and from bad press, because I am sure that the beach is a large source of revenue and tourism for the city, but I also understand it from the side of the student.” K Student ’17 said.

“I question the search and seizure law’s implication and SHPD’s ‘probable cause’, because I saw police opening coolers and looking through backpacks without owner’s consent – this then lead to their application of the vague ‘probable cause,’” Student said.

When K students attempted to communicate with the SHPD about what was happening, a police officer mocked a student and many other officers remained unwilling to have a conversation. K students, including all of those interviewed by The Index, understand that the SHPD have a duty to protect and enforce the law when it is broken and they understand that some students were at fault, but the SHPD enticed even more reaction by not communicating with students and mocking them.

“One officer took a knee while dumping alcohol, acting as if she were a student about to chug the liquid only creating a more hostile and dramatic situation,” K student ’17 said. “Later when told to evacuate the beach, students tried to clean up the mess from the police-littered cans, but were told that if the cans were touched they would be arrested. They responded with unnecessary force, threatened students, and mocked us as alcohol was being dumped.” Student said.

K student ’17 offered some advice to SHPD. “I think that there could have definitely been a better way to handle the situation.  Instead of using forceful crowd control tactics, SHPD could have spoken with students in an effort to find a common ground,” Student said. “Before using threat and physical force, mockery and humiliation, SHPD did not seek to understand what was happening. [For example,] fighting that occurred was in play, and the all around scene on the beach was not violent or volatile. Also, the media should have been given information from both sides, and publications should have been more realistic as to what actually occurred.”

Johnson and K Student ‘17 both noted that they understand that SHPD was just trying to protect the integrity of the beach, especially after a truly rowdy crowd during Fourth of July weekend. K Student ’17 felt as if SHPD made an example of K students with hopes to discourage bad behavior for future events like Memorial Day Weekend. “The multiple power dynamics at play were abused [by SHPD], and sadly K college students got the rough end of it, put mildly.” Student concluded.

Not only did K students feel as if SHPD may have abused their power, but local media outlets also played into the abuse of power by reporting a one-sided story that would fit with the sentiments of SHPD. Some students had photos and videos taken from their Snapchat accounts that were used in new stories that vilified K College students and their actions.

Students whose photos and videos were taken were not notified by those media outlets and they were used out of context. “Pictures from [a] pile of cans [that the SHPD threw on the ground of the beach] were used by the media, making it look like it was K students who had left the mess of cans and litter on the beach,” K Student ’17 said.

The day after DOGL, FOX 17 News released a story that featured the photos and videos of these students. The photo taken by Amanda Crouch ’17 became a headlining photo even though she was not breaking any laws or inciting reaction from SHPD.

“The only photo featured wasn’t even taken on the beach and showed two girls with sunglasses making sad faces because they were kicked out for doing absolutely nothing. This photo shown not once, but twice, was mine,” Crouch said. “I felt violated. We had been on the beach for a mere five minutes when police aggressively forced everyone to leave. However, FOX17 chose to place this innocent photo into the non-innocent content and portrayal of excessive drinking, public intoxication, and police arrests. They went as far as to include an image of police cars as backdrop to my photo and added a heading, ‘STUDENTS GIVEN DAY OFF, SOME ARRESTED’,” Crouch explained.

Crouch contacted lawyers and they gave her the term of false light, which they defined to Crouch as public portrayal in an untrue and offensive manner.

Then, Crouch contacted FOX17 to explain her qualms with intention to get the photo removed from their video. “Brooks Blanton, FOX17’s News Director, contacted me after I wrote the network. He removed the photo, claiming he runs a respectful operation. However, if this were true, he wouldn’t have used my photo in the first place. He never once apologized for its inappropriate use. He merely apologized that I was upset,” Crouch said.

“FOX17 only cares about exploiting a story regardless of who they harm. Though my photo is no longer part of the video, a new photo now exists, which will forever circulate the Internet. This new photo is my original photo, but now it has the addition of a police car backdrop and an incriminating heading. The damage has been done,” Crouch told The Index.

Erin Byrd ’17 was also featured in a video that was taken out of context, but she would like to encourage FOX17 and other media outlets to think about the broader implications of their journalism. “I wasn’t really concerned about being in the video as I was doing nothing wrong. The thing that I had an issue with is the demographics of the people shown in the video by FOX17. Kalamazoo College is a predominantly White institution, but almost every image of DOGL on FOX17 showed a person of color,” Byrd said. “There aren’t enough of us at this school for that to be the case.” Byrd understands that power over journalism means that those media outlets also have power over some public discourse and empowering stereotypes.

Byrd continued to say that students were questioning and reacting to the SHPD approaching K students in an “aggressive and unwarranted manner” and that she would like to have seen a fairer representation of all of K in the news.

Along with agreeing with the sentiments of Byrd, Jessica Magaña ’17 would like the South Haven community to also check their actions. “I love how enthusiastic South Haven is about protecting their beaches, but I hope they use the same rhetoric and vigor when they see their children and other college students going to beaches, both in the US and abroad, such as Cancun, Miami, Barcelona, etc. and getting obliterated,” Magaña said.

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Live Graciously, On Policing and Media Coverage of DOGL