On Tuesday, Sept. 15, Bloomsburg University premiered EMPIRE, a new program aimed at teaching students life lessons that can’t be taught in the classroom.
Program founder and coordinator, Marci Woods, kicked off the series earlier this week at the Kehr Union Ballroom, where Philadelphia police officer Lawrence Macmillan spoke to Bloomsburg students about knowing their rights.
“In this day and age, with all the police brutality that is going on around the country, it is important that young people, and especially students, are aware of their rights,” said Macmillan. “I feel like it’s my duty to educate young minds on how to deal with the police.”
Macmillan began the session by talking about his life prior to becoming a cop. At the age of 14, he had a gun pulled on him by a white police officer in the south side of Philadelphia because he and his friend were fake robbing each other with toy guns. Looking back on it, Macmillan said he understands why the cop pulled the gun on him.
An African American man himself, Macmillan stressed to the audience that it was not a racial problem but the police officer’s duty to protect herself. For all she knew, Macmillan could have possessed a real gun and needed to take the necessary precautions.
Macmillan then added that he worked for FedEx and eventually got married to a Bloomsburg graduate before joining the police academy at the age of 32. He decided to become a police officer in his hometown because he wanted to be the one that protects his family in Southwest Philadelphia.
As the session progressed, Macmillan delved into policing in a town like Bloomsburg. He said that Bloomsburg is a town that polices in a way called “Finance for Funds,” meaning the town makes money from parking violations, speeding tickets and running stop signs. These minor violations would typically go unnoticed in a city like Philadelphia that has a tradition of crime. He stressed the importance of being smart while driving around.
Macmillan also emphasized the importance of increased communication between the Bloomsburg community and police. He told students to attend town hall meetings and express their concerns if they feel they have been wrongly treated by the police. Until police are told of their wrongdoings, they are only going to continue what they have been doing for years, said Macmillan.
“The public needs to talk to cops more, and cops need to talk to the public more,” he added.
The final portion of the session was open to questions. One student asked about Macmillan’s opinion on the recent outbreak of police brutality in this nation. His answer surprised some people in the room.
“I haven’t seen one unlawful stop in all of the recent killings, but some cops have been wrong after the initial stop. They did need to be stopped though, it’s just that some cops are on the job for the wrong reason,” he said. “We need to change the face of police. People that actually want to and understand people, not guys that want to look tough with a gun.”
The EMPIRE series will occur on the third Tuesday of each month at the Kehr Union Ballroom. Each week will present a different subject matter meant to broaden the educational experience of students across campus. If the next sessions go like the one with Officer Macmillan, the EMPIRE program will be a welcome addition to the Bloomsburg University community.
The Philadelphia police department’s website can be found here.