The Enlightened Cop

Jarret Lovell teaches cops the value of political dissent

Photo by James Bunoan"Progress requires at least a modicum of conflict," says Jarret Lovell, assistant professor of criminal justice at Cal State Fullerton, pacing his classroom while booming revolutionary proclamations as if he's leading a chant at a Hart Park anti-war rally—which he was a few weeks ago.

"Crime can be revolutionary or progressive if and only if it alters the power structure," he says, bouncing pogo-style behind the podium. The girl in the front row inches her face sleepily toward her desktop. Wearing jeans, white Chuck Taylors and a T-shirt that reads, "The Sports Team From My Area Is Superior to the Sports Team From Your Area," Lovell continues, the girl now motionless while others take notes quietly or stare at the board. "There is not one government that is an example of a direct democracy," he says. "And what better reason for disobedience?" he asks . . . then waits.

"So . . . what do you guys think?"

Despite this intriguing bit of radical philosophy and an amusing analogy comparing the way a techno DJ constructs a beat to intellectual problem solving, the girl in the front row gets closer and closer to owning a mean desk print on her face, and it doesn't seem her classmates are far behind.

The students were assigned Howard Zinn's Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies on Law and Order. The first fallacy—and the frame of Lovell's discussion—is that law is the same as morality. In between fallacies Nos. 1 and 2, after he explains the ways Ozzy Ozbourne is a sell out—spelling the words "SELL OUT" in all caps with green ink on the board—Lovell cries, "We are so far removed from our revolutionary tradition. . . . This is the crux of the semester: we must overcome this idealization of the law or," he taps the sleeping girl on the head and motions for her to wake up, "we will remain a static society."

It isn't often that peaceniks and cops get together to discuss the state of society, especially in these days of war. But surprisingly enough, these meetings occur every Monday in Lovell's upper-division criminal-justice course, "Crime and Social Progress."

A social activist and one of the founders of the OC Peace Coalition, Lovell teaches future law-enforcement officers of Orange County how crime and protest have paved the way for civil rights, labor and economic reform. Only 30 years old and in his second semester teaching after completing his Ph.D. at Rutgers, Lovell is a true believer, a man whose office door is covered with anti-war, anti-Republican slogans, including a proud new addition, a headline reading, "North Dakota Harboring Nuclear Weapons." A boom box and a portable coffee machine line the wall next to a filing cabinet, and more than one Diedrich coffee cup is placed in the bookshelf above his desk. "Sorry, I kind of live in here," he shrugs, pulling a toothbrush and toothpaste from the desk drawer.

Whether in his office, on campus or in class, Lovell is adamant about reminding students of the United States' long history of dissent and the ways conflict has brought about change.

"Nobody willingly gave blacks the 13th through the 15th Amendments. . . . Nobody has ever willingly given up power," he says. "It just doesn't work that way. And so what if conflict is necessary to bring about progress?"

Developed by Lovell in the summer of 2002 and taught for the first time this semester, the course is rooted in Marxist/anarchist theory and questions whether conflict is necessary for social change—"It's always through conflict that people are able to move forward"—making no attempt to soften his stance on the issues regarding policing, protest or current affairs.

"Isn't it better for [the students] to know who they're dealing with?" he asks. "I could conceal my politics, but then I'd be deceiving them. I like to abandon, at least to some extent, the pretext of objectivity."

You'd think a class of future cops being taught the value of crime and protest would involve some juicy debates, chair throwing, maybe a little tear gas. But for a course centered on conflict, there's precious little here. Lovell calls the law, the very thing police hold so sacred as to dedicate their lives to upholding, an "artificial entity." Not a whimper of disagreement. Not even from the guy who plans on a career in the FBI. The nine fallacies of Howard Zinn—ideas that turn law and order on its head—are met by attentive listeners but no dissent. A defense of law and order, anyone? A little Devil's Advocate? Simple disagreement? Rude noises? Anyone?

It may be that the students—and they are still students—are double majors and the class is offered at 4 in the afternoon. They may be intimidated by Lovell's grasp of the material and his uncanny ability to turn any comment around in defense of his own while adding how it resembles an episode of The Simpsons.

They call the criminal justice major at Fullerton "Cop Shop," a training ground for police, preparing them for the streets and mounds of paperwork. Lovell is quick to say he doesn't "want the major to be a 'Cop Shop,'" that "there's more to teaching law and order than advocating law and order. If the law sucks, don't enforce it. Police use discretion all the time; discretion is part of our very system. I am asking that my students use discretion."

Most of the students seem to think the idea of discretion is a breath of fresh academic air. Valerie Scott, a criminal justice/psychology double major says, "The other criminal-justice classes I've taken just basically give you the facts and expect you to regurgitate them. But this one gives you a different perspective on things. It's a more open-minded perspective on things." Scott's comments prompt the sleepy girl to mutter something about "alternative options of change."

Of course, alternative options of change—protest—only produce change when someone is watching or speaking up!

For the final class meeting, Lovell has invited J. Tracy, author of The Civil Disobedience Handbook, to give a seminar on the how-to's of protest. His topics will include what clothes to wear when protesting and what time to protest if you want press coverage.

Lovell adds that it has been his own experience that a protest sign with a white background and black lettering always shows up best in newspaper photos.

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