Student Leaders React to CUPD Bullet Order With “Anger and Fear”

Everett Beals, Staff Writer

When stacks of cardboard boxes labeled “WINCHESTER USA9MM” appeared in a widely-circulated tweet, a wave of outrage among Clark students soon followed, mostly on social media. The tweet, which has now received over 130 likes, shows forty boxes – each containing 500 bullets, according to the labeling – gathered loosely in Clark’s mail reception room. The delivery was for Clark’s University Police Department (CUPD), though Student Council leadership report was informed by CUPD that the packages had not been intended to reach the mailroom in the University Center. 

“Those bullets were definitely meant to be sent straight to the department,” said Kaila Skeet Browning (’22), Treasurer of the Undergraduate Student Council (CUSC), in an interview with the Scarlet. “Someone messed up.” The boxes have since been moved. 

Following that tweet’s publication on September 24, CUSC responded with an Instagram post, published with a full statement on September 28. Student Council and Black Student Union (BSU) leadership highlighted the incident as another overreach in police powers, asking, “To Clark University Police: why do you need 20,000 bullets when you’ve never fired a gun on campus?”

For over a year now, these two student organizations have campaigned to disarm CUPD. Last academic year, several rallies were held which had attendance numbering in the hundreds. In July, organizers enjoyed a victory following the submission of the official recommendations of the Task Force on Campus Safety and Security to University President David Fithian. The Task Force offered a number of reforms, but CUSC and BSU leaders say the recommendations don’t go far enough. Both groups have closely monitored the progression of reform implementation. 

According to CUSC Treasurer Kaila Skeet Browning, she and other student organizers had already scheduled a meeting with CUPD Chief of Police Lauren Misale before news of the bullet order gathered public attention. “We wanted to get a sense of what was going on with the Security Task Force initiative,” said Skeet Browning, “before this photo even came out”.

That meeting, held on Monday, September 27, was attended by BSU executives and Skeet Browning, who called the conversation “very intense,” noting Police Chief Misale’s on-duty attire, which included a holstered pistol. Students sought answers about the purpose of the bullet order, Skeet Browning said, and Chief Misale provided them with a numerical breakdown of their intended use: training. 

In the Instagram post made the day after the meeting, CUSC reported being informed that “90-95 percent of the bullets purchased are exclusively for practice ammunition.” Within that fraction, they wrote, 50 rounds are required as practice ammunition to qualify as an officer; 250 of the rounds of practice ammunition are needed for “advanced training”; an additional 500 rounds per officer were ordered to “continue practicing”; and, finally, that 1,000 rounds of the ammunition were ordered to meet “new training standards through the recent Massachusetts police reform bill S.2963”, signed by Governor Charlie Baker in January of this year. 

CUSC and BSU leaders hoped to “act with a sense of urgency so that students knew” and “had the information that we got about the fact that these [bullets] actually aren’t all for the police” to use on campus, Skeet Browning said. 

Still, student leaders were not comforted by the discovery that the bullets were intended for training. “The bottom line is it doesn’t really matter what they’re for,” Skeet Browning said. “It’s still terrifying to have all these bullets in this university… when we have these police patrolling the campus – patrolling the Worcester community, too – regardless of what they’re for, it’s obviously never okay.” Reporting on Instagram that the bullets were not for active use was meant to reassure the student body, she said, and hoped that active coverage might “bring some sense of transparency, at least.” 

The CUSC Instagram post, while focused largely on transparency, also clearly restated the stance of student leaders on the matter. “We believe it is imperative to address the circulation of photos regarding the University Police’s order,” they wrote in the post, because the “images are incredibly disturbing and have been making students feel unsafe on campus.” 

CUSC’s messaging serves as an essential contrast to CUPD, Skeet Browning told the Scarlet. “Any statement coming from [CUPD] is always going to be performative,” she argued, because even if Police had acknowledged the purpose of the bullet order, their potential statement would be missing an acknowledgement that news of the purchase is “scary for Black students.” Executives from CUSC and BSU have reported repeatedly through all their statements and protests that students of color at Clark have felt threatened by the on-campus presence of armed police. President Fithian recognized this as a “key concern, especially among BIPOC students,” in his initial response on July 7 of this year to the security Task Force’s recommendations. First among these was to “reduce the presence of armed officers in public and residential spaces on campus,” the full implementation of which is still in progress. 

“I think whatever statement [CUPD] released, we would always want to say more,” said Skeet Browning. “We want this to be a way for us to continue to call for disarming [CUPD], essentially.”

Student leaders demonstrated their focus on this objective in the September 28 Instagram post by calling attention to the larger context of the bullet order. With other CUSC executives, Skeet Browning calculated that “Clark University is spending about $10,000 on ammunition,” estimating that a box of fifty rounds goes for an average price of $25. “Meanwhile,” the post read, “there are students struggling to pay for basic needs such as food, housing, and textbooks.” 

This investment, they argued, was made at the expense of Clark students, regardless of where the funds came from. “Knowing that [CUPD] has up to 2,000 bullets for firing purposes,” student leaders wrote, “only confirms their investment in maintaining this power at the cost of the safety of BIPOC students.”

The authors of the statement go on to argue that beyond safety, incidents like these are damaging to both the fabric of the student body and to Clark’s reputation and marketing potential. “Clark University needs to step up,” they resolved, “and meet the standards it portrays to its external stakeholders (potential students, families, and most importantly – donors)”. Clark would fail to meet its own standards as a University, student leaders firmly argued, if it claims to be “a progressive liberal arts institution that values the safety of its students” that stands as a leader on “the forefront of social justice.” 

Everett Beals is a Sophomore at Clark University and a CUSC representative.