Jim Reische, Director of Communications at Williams and friend-of-EphBlog, wrote a lovely New York Times essay titled “The Importance of Dumb Mistakes in College.” Let’s unpack it for a week. Day 3.

But when it comes to college kids, my worry is that we’ve become unwilling to tolerate innocent mistakes — either that or we have drastically shrunk our vision of innocence.

Is the world really all that different in 2018 than it was in 1985? Perhaps not. The Griffin Hall vandals suffered, more or less, the same fate as Reische did for his act of vandalism 30+ years ago. In fact, they may have been treated even better. I doubt that they were even arrested, much less that they spent the night in jail. Their identities were never revealed. It is telling that Reische fails to mention this incident to his Times readers. Might confuse the narrative.

Does Reische really want local police to have more or less discretion? The more that we have official written policies about how to handle vandalism (and arrests therefrom), the more that the logic of the carceral state will take over. Less discretion will (always?) yield less room for error, less understanding from the agents of the state for “dumb mistakes.”

But Reische also does not trust the state, arguing that he was treated differently because of his race/status than another vandal would have been. This suggests that he does not want to give, say, the Williamstown police more discretion about who they arrest and who they don’t. Did this tension even occur to Reische?

Is it just me, or does this talk of “innocent” and “innocence” reek of hippy-dippy 60s liberalism? Reische, in 1985, was not innocent. He was a vandal. He knew what he was doing, just as the Griffin Hall vandals did. That doesn’t mean that their lives should be ruined, but using this terminology robs adults of their agency.

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