Prior to March 8, 1993, I had always thought Police Beat to be purposeless; a tabloidesque filler. Objectively, the only ostensible purpose for its existence would be to inform the campus community of dangers they could face day-to-day. But when one reads that Tamara X was found stoned behind a fraternity house or that 19-year-old Shane Whathisname was caught with an open container on the footsteps of the ROTC Building, the natural reaction of the thinking person is "What's the point?" The only crimes of consequence Ä such as last year's prostitution ring or the alleged sexual assault at Manzinita-Mohave Ä appeared on the front page. I had never seen an arrest followed up on, i.e., later printed whether there was a conviction or acquittal. If anything, I felt for the students mentioned in the column, who had to put up with such trifling nonsense.
On the morning of March 8, I was to come face-to-face with just how annoying it was.
Around 2 a.m. that night I returned to Hopi Hall after hanging out with a friend for about an hour at Apache Hall and found out that I was the prime suspect in a first-degree criminal trespass incident. From the outset, I knew I had nothing to hide. Seven people could place my whereabouts when the incident happened and my outfit did not match the suspect's. But the tacit mind prioritizes rumor over reason, so I knew I had to prove my innocence in court. I knew that the Hopi east wing would be abuzz with stories about the "Hopi Peeper" and, of course, my name would be tossed around. I knew that to walk the halls with my usual frequency would be to invite dirty glances, comments, etc.. So I decided to let the system operate, avoid the lounge area until things calmed, and handle this in the relative obscurity afforded one on a large campus. But immediately after a 5 a.m. questioning by UAPD, I realized that there was one thing that would make anonymity a virtual impossiblity. One thing that would make my business that of the entire campus.
That silly little column all my classmates seemed to devour voraciously Ä Police Beat.
As I laid there in bed antsy and scarcely able to sleep, Police Beat was no longer trifling nonsense. It was a source of foreboding. It was to be another host to the rumor virus already hindering my movement in my own dorm. I wanted to get it over with. I expected it to appear immediately, but it didn't. Just when I thought I had been miraculously passed over, I walked into my morning class on March 10 to find a not-so-convenient scenario.
"Tyrone, is your last name Henry?" asked a classmate.
"You're in Police Beat," said six of them in chorus, as if it was a badge of honor. To me, it was nothing short of embarrassing. I had to explain myself to these people, even though it was none of their business. The same went for every other menial acquaintance who wanted to further satisfy vicarous thrills through me.
After six months of stacked campus hearings, court appearances, baseless reprimands and sanctions at the hands of three reactionary administrators, the charges were dismissed and never refiled. The prosecution had no case. Despite the dismissal, my mother and I had some unfinished business. We decided to test the journalistic integrity of the Wildcat. I had nothing to prove to anyone, but I wanted to have the news of my exoneration printed for the sake of principle. I also wanted to face-job my accusers, rumor-mongers and those impetuous administrators.
My mother, who was probably more disgusted by Police Beat than any other part of this ordeal, contacted the Wildcat and apprised it of my exoneration. We learned that acquittals and dismissals had never been printed, but the Wildcat was surprisingly fair-minded. On October 14, the exoneration was printed and I got the closure I needed.
I have no qualms about stating that I believe Police Beat to be gratuitous tripe that titillates UA students, the already fragile psyches of young people be damned. In an otherwise good paper, the Police Beat copy reads like a UA version of "Hard Copy." Is this campus really served by reading of some frat-boy's violation of a noise ordinance or that an officer cited two football players for drinking in Arizona Stadium. Please!
In the absence of eliminating the column altogether, the new follow-up policies are adequate. In the meantime, I would encourage all those who have been acquitted to notify the Wildcat. News of a few saved reputations couldn't hurt.
Tyrone Henry is a political science senior.
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