Friday, May 11, 2007

Needless panic over stupidity on Facebook

DISCLAIMER: I do not condone violence against any student, student government official, or member of the campus community at UWM. Any attempt to read the remarks below as encouraging any of the above actions is a misreading, and should immediately be abandoned. If you do not see how to avoid such a reading, please contact me before making any public statements so I can help you understand my intentions more clearly.

The Student Association again made news this week when an alumnus made comments on Facebook suggesting that their problems could be solved by gathering them into a room, locking the door, and gunning them all down. The reaction by SA officials is to demand that this person, who now lives in another state, be charged with a crime for making these remarks. While the comment is stupid, the facts of the case indicate that anyone who has any sort of knowledge of the workings of SA could immediately see that this was harmless, and anyone who has such knowledge but chooses to take the threat seriously is just causing needless panic.

Take the substance of the threat. The poster suggested that the solution to SA's problems would be to call a general meeting of SA in Bolton 150, lock the doors, then take his machine gun (which he conveniently provided a picture of, with him holding it) and open fire. This sounds scary, as he seems to provide all the details as to how to pull this off. However, the chances of this scenario coming to pass are about as likely as watching Jupiter eclipse the sun.

To begin with, the poster makes no distinction among the various officials of SA: senators, justices, and the members of the Executive branch are all apparently treated equally. The rules for calling each branch into session are far different, and no single act has brought all of them together into one place in quite some time. Even if it were to happen, it would not be possible for a single student to call a general meeting of all of them, much less an alum. Emergency senate meetings, which this would have to be, require either the President or five senators, and can only be called for specific purposes.

As for the named room, Bolton 150 is a large lecture hall that is totally unsuitable for senate meetings. The standard setup for a senate meeting is to have a front table with the Speaker and other officials, the senators seated at long tables, and then seating for observers set behind the senators, so that a clear space exists between the senate and the crowd. Bolton 150, while large, does not have the capacity to conform to this. Therefore; since the Student Association would be the ones making the request for a room, they would not choose Bolton 150.

In addition, Bolton 150 is considered a classroom, unlike the normal meeting areas of the SA. Most events done by Student Association are done in the Union, and reservations for these rooms are handled by the Union Reservation and Event Planning Service (REPS). Classrooms, on the other hand, are done through a different agency, and the only time such a room would be used is if no other suitable room were available in the Union, as that process is much longer.

Also, the situation of who would be in a position to lock a door is different. Building custodians and UWM Police officers are the ones who hold keys to classrooms, while the Union's Client Services and REPS people hold keys to the Union rooms. Thus, the chances of finding the keys to lock the door are greatly reduced by doing the "hit" outside the Union. And even this problem is overcome, the fire codes mandate that the doors be openable from the inside even when locked.

Now for the problem of bringing enough firepower onto campus to execute the threat. There are people on this campus who are paranoid even about foam weaponry as used by live action roleplayers and wooden "swords" used for kendo classes. If any of these people saw a real weapon on campus, especially around the time of an historic "general meeting of SA", they would melt the phone lines of the UWM police, the Milwaukee Police, and any other officials they could reach trying to get people onto campus to stop the perpetrator.

To summarize, the "plan" to assassinate SA officials relies on people calling meetings they can't call; into a room that the people who are supposedly going to meet wouldn't use over several more eligible ones; finding one of the few sets of keys that exists to that room and using it to lock doors set up to allow people to exit despite being locked; and managing to bring a large machine gun past a campus that already is paranoid about weapons. As such, anyone who heard about it in all its "detail" should have recognized it for the joke that it is. The administration seems to understand this, as all they have demanded of this person is a public apology. For everyone else, may I point out that a threat that can't be carried out isn't really a threat?

No comments: