The Proper Response to Overzealous Tailgating Police

The Rock NDNation.comSenior Analyst IOctober 1, 2008

First of all, a note on the role of NDNation. We're simply a conduit for the voices that make up our community. When an issue such as "the tailgating-usher-police crackdown" is felt by so many different levels of our community, we raise the issue to heighten that awareness. None of us ever expected that the problem was this pervasive. NDNation is rarely the source, but an outlet for many voices who share a concern.

After watching the give and take over two days, there appear to be three parts to this embarrassing meltdown of leadership.

  • A local police force that treats alumni and students with disdain and uses them as a virtual ATM.
  • A leadership team including Fr. Mark Poorman, Bill Kirk, and Cappy Gagnon (Coordinator of Stadium Personnel) who have let their personal views influence the way they carry out a very important and public professional responsibility.
  • An administration which is at the very least unresponsive, if not an advocate of these policies.

Together they have created a situation that is ripe for abuse. There's no limiter here. No one's minding the store and thinking about victim's rights.

In this type of environment, it's not surprising that abuse has happened, as too many to count have claimed. Given human nature and the competing influences, abuse has to happen in this environment.

The cops don't like the "wealthy" kids and raise money off of them. Not a new story. How else could a town rife with real crime justify using its entire police force to bust a party?

Those immediately in charge are carrying a personal anti-drinking crusade way too far, beyond any boundary of normalcy or rational thinking. Cappy's exchanges on the topics are embarrassing and far too revealing. Did he really ban "Go Irish" pins on ushers? You've got to be kidding.

The administration seems to have plausible deniability, while individual reports are attributed to drunks or malcontents or ignored.

It has to stop.

What you can do?

  • Bring your cameras to the tailgate this week and for every game, and send us the pictures when abuse happens.
  • Use your cell phone cameras to capture confrontations in ND Stadium and email us the story.
  • Contact us with your story and we'll forward to a group of lawyers who have volunteered their time. There may be a group action pending. We'll let you know.
  • Send a letter threatening to cut off donations unless this is stopped.

This won't be a one-week affair from our point of view, but a continuous effort to document and make public abuse when it happens.

If it happens, it's going to be fed around the internet at light speed. The best we can do is turn the light on the roaches. After that, we really have no influence. But you do.

Here's a fantastic example of a proper response with regard to donations to the University:

Mr. Louis Nanni
Vice President, University Relations
University of Notre Dame
405 Main Building
Notre Dame, IN 46556

Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC
University of Notre Dame
400 Main Building
Notre Dame, IN 46556

Mr. John Affleck-Graves
Executive Vice President
University of Notre Dame
400 Main Building
Notre Dame, IN 46556

Dear Sirs:

I am writing you this letter today in response to the recent solicitation from the University’s Annual Fund. I can say, without reservation, that my time spent at Notre Dame helped make me the happy and successful man I am today. I had the good fortune to attend Notre Dame as both an undergraduate and a graduate student, and my continuing role as part of the “Notre Dame Family” gives me immense pride. I am proud to say I have degrees from the University of Notre Dame du lac. I have contributed to Notre Dame since graduation, and as my situation has improved financially, I have increased my giving to Notre Dame. Perhaps modest by your standards, this year would be the first where I was able to contribute at the recognition level (the Sorin Society or John Cardinal O’Hara Society.)

Enclosed you will find a check for $1,500 for the University. Events over the last few years, and specifically this year, have given me pause about making this donation. I am not sure the Notre Dame of today still represents all that was good and right with the University I attended only a few years ago. Specifically, it appears that the Notre Dame Administration no longer views students and alumni as part of the “Notre Dame Family”. I will detail my concerns in the following paragraphs, but I have voided my check at this time due to these concerns. I will gladly replace the voided check with a valid check when I feel that the Notre Dame Administration has the best interests of its students and alumni at heart. Until then, I cannot in good conscience support the University I love so much. This deeply saddens me, and is not a decision I came to lightly.

I suspect that your offices have received many letters complaining about various University policies. I do not share the University’s views on all matters, but I understand the typically reasonable positions Notre Dame may take on matters. However it now appears to me that much of what made Notre Dame special for me, the sense of family and looking out for each other, has been discarded in favor of an antagonistic relationship with those who adore the ideal that is Notre Dame. I sincerely hope that my feelings are misplaced.

There are three main areas where I feel the University has abandoned what made Notre Dame such a special place – in effect abandoned the idea of the “Notre Dame Family”. The first is campus life; one of the reasons I chose Notre Dame was the camaraderie of the dorms. The second area is the excessively aggressive law enforcement in and around campus, which appears to be supported by the Administration. The last area of concern is the atmosphere in Notre Dame Stadium, which is being systematically destroyed by overzealous ushers and safety officers.

Notre Dame campus life was a tremendous asset to the University when I attended. I met many of my closest and dearest friends in the halls of Morrissey, and many other wonderful people, now spread across the globe, in various dorms. Sometimes we had some beers; sometimes we played video games; sometimes we talked about life, philosophy, and the world around us. We went to dances with women from Lyons and Howard. We did not have to sneak halfway across town to have a party in secret.

We kept an eye out for each other. Sometimes friends overdid it, and when they did there were friends and dorm mates around to make sure everything was alright. If someone was causing trouble, they were dealt with as needed, rather than branding everyone as troublemakers. I have visited the dorms since my graduation, and none of this is present anymore. Instead there is a feeling that enjoying oneself must be a clandestine enterprise. Gatherings that were purely for students to meet and have fun are now forbidden, such as the Dillon Pep Rally and Alumni and Fisher Hall events. The new policies regarding events, dances, dorm parties, and general dorm life have served not to reduce the risk faced by students, but merely relocate it to a less secure environment. This is not how we treat members of the Notre Dame Family.

The deliberate escalation by police of innocuous student and alumni behavior around campus, specifically in the surrounding neighborhood and tailgating lots, is totally unacceptable. Based on the presence on Notre Dame Security Police officers at many of these incidents, the Administration appears complicit in these activities. The police presence in the neighborhoods and around the tailgates should be a source of comfort for the students and fans in these areas. I do not want to be around people fighting, vomiting, or engaging in lewd behavior.

However, these are not the people the safety forces target, instead they seek to intimidate and extort otherwise harmless students and fans, who are causing no problems for those around them. I can recount several events I have witnessed directly, but I believe you will hear about these firsthand. These stories are all over the internet, as I am sure you are aware, and I have seen several examples of ridiculously aggressive police behavior both to underage students and legal age alumni. The bottom line is that safety officers are intentionally targeting those that are likely to pay whatever fees are necessary to clear their name, rather than address the rare legitimate problem fan or student. Notre Dame is letting those that should be protecting our students and fans instead abuse them both physically and legally, and the University remains complicit with these activities. This is not how we treat members of the Notre Dame Family.

My last concern is with the atmosphere of Notre Dame Stadium, specifically that created by the largely volunteer ushers. I have sat in various sections and seats over the last two years, and I will say that the majority of ushers I have interacted with have been both professional and courteous. However, on two separate occasions I have seen fans removed for no reason, other than appearing ‘drunk’ to the usher, but not to anyone around them. They were not causing any disturbance to those around them, and in one case the fan, who was a friend of mine, was not even aware the usher had an issue with them until they were physically yanked out of the row by the arm. I had tended to believe these were isolated incidents of an usher out of control, but I have since learned that the ushers are given directives to remove as many people from the stands as possible. Any head usher encouraging such tactics should be removed from such a position.

This should not be happening in Notre Dame Stadium. I fully support the removal of unruly fans, but unruly folks only comprise a small percentage of those accosted, in very aggressive manners, by the ushers and police. It seems the goal is to harass those targeted by the stadium personnel until they are willing to surrender their civil rights to remove themselves from the situation. Numerous alumni have been issued no trespassing notices by Notre Dame, with little or no reason other than being in the vision of an overzealous usher or police officer. This is not how we treat members of the Notre Dame Family.

I have never been ticketed, cited, or arrested by the police (other than a speeding ticket when I was 17 years old). I am not some angry fan who was ejected from the stadium. I am a concerned alumnus who has seen others, just like me, penalized without any just cause. I have no doubt some people at college parties, at tailgates, and in the stadium behave poorly. But the vast majority does not, and I now believe the majority of incidents are not caused by students or fans, but rather by those in authority causing the situation and causing aggressive confrontation.

As I said in my opening paragraph, Notre Dame has always been a special place for me. It was a place where everyone worked together toward the common good. It was a family where everyone looked out for everyone else. Sometimes being a family means seeing faults in the members of our family, even when it pains us. When I look at the Administration, I see some significant faults with your complicity in the recent wave of aggressive targeting of students and alumni. A family does not persecute their own for the pecuniary benefit of others. I know Notre Dame is better than that. I sincerely hope this letter is shocking to you. What I have seen myself and heard from others does not represent the Notre Dame Family. I am open to discuss this letter with you if you wish. I would like to continue to support Notre Dame; it gives me no pleasure to have voided the check attached. Please let me know how my concerns are being seriously addressed, and I will happily continue my support of Notre Dame.

Yours in Notre Dame,

(My name and contact info)


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