London Police should stop targeting Western students

Cheerleader ticketed for cheering on homecoming weekend
Western homecoming 2012 (Jessica Darmanin)

When members of Western’s cheerleading team launched a member into the air on their way to the football game this weekend against Queen’s, their attempt to boost school spirit during homecoming was rewarded with a $140 fine. London Police deemed the demonstration “a nuisance” and ticketed head cheerleader Max Gow.

The team’s coach told the London Free Press he and Gow plan to fight the ticket. That won’t surprise anyone. What will is that this fine was just one of 270 issued during Saturday’s celebration. The number might seem high to outsiders but students here are used to the annual ticketing blitz know as “Project LEARN” (Liquor Enforcement and Reduction of Noise), when party, noise and litter bylaws are strictly enforced for the first month of classes. Many students, myself included, think the campaign targets us unfairly.

Normally, if the music from a house party is too loud, a neighbour will call and request police intervention. During Project LEARN, police patrol student residential areas sniffing out noisy parties that nobody complains about. Western’s University Students’ Council is looking for alternative.

Project LEARN assumes that all students lose control, causing harm to ourselves and others. But contrary to popular opinion, young people have a great capacity to act responsibly. We take care of friends who may have had too much to drink. Most respect our neighbours. If there’s a problem, we should be able to ask for the police’s help, not their tickets.

It’s the exceptional incidents—like last year’s riot near Fanshawe College, that popularize the image of the crazy Western students but that riot had little to do with us. We mostly don’t fit the stereotype.

And, contrary to the name, few students actually “learn” anything from Project LEARN. The campaign may have issued a large number of tickets but it has been in place for years and done little to change public opinion or improve community cohesion. What does slapping a drunken student with a $200 ticket accomplish other than agitating an already precarious relationship?

If Project LEARN is really about ensuring the London community feels safe and happy during events like homecoming, it’s time to start acknowledging students as an integral part of that very community. We need to view the London Police as resources, not risks.

Much like the London residents Project LEARN aims to protect, we’ve made London our home. We spend years in London, working and volunteering here, contributing to a city we care about. When it comes to celebrating this community on a weekend like homecoming, if Project LEARN makes students feel unwelcome, even more will plan to leave London after graduation.

So the next time the police run into the cheerleading team, they should understand that those students are cheering for the City of London as much as they are for Western University.