Police batons have been used throughout U.S. history to beat striking workers, struggling immigrants and civil rights protesters.
But it’s a symbol of honor and recognition for students in Minnesota State University’s law enforcement program, the biggest law enforcement program in the state. MSU’s “Baton of Honor” award is given to high-achieving law enforcement students each year.
We believe the Baton of Honor should be vanquished from a program that must reshape its culture to one where use of a baton should never be the goal.
The police baton is a symbol of racism and injustice, and it shouldn’t be glorified. While law enforcement literature calls it a defensive weapon to presumably fend off striking workers or civil rights protesters, the literature notes its many offensive capabilities including lethal blows to the head.
The Free Press asked MSU leaders for the history of the baton and its purpose as a student award. Professor Pat Nelson, chair of the Department of Government, told us through a spokesman that she wasn’t aware of the history, but faculty was going to “discuss that award and whether it still has a place in the program.”
We would argue the award and its symbolism has no place in a modern-day law enforcement program. We would urge MSU, its alumni and its community stakeholders to come together and reject it.
The standard police baton, according to industry literature, has a higher “risk of lethality” than stun guns or pepper spray, meaning it can be more deadly than both. It was most popular in the 1800s England and 1900s America as the “billy club.” But the baton has also fallen out of regular use since new technology such as stun guns have come online.
The baton is repugnant as a symbol of force and racism and not acceptable as a useful tool in the new world of public safety and community security.
MSU’s Baton of Honor also does a disservice to the many good students in the program who have been recognized in the past. Recognition through a “special baton” should not be something coveted by a modern-day law enforcement student.
And while an academic program should be more concerned with best practices than best publicity, one cannot ignore the narrative that comes with a former “baton” winner being charged with manslaughter after a routine police stop and the killing of a person of color.
That was the case with MSU graduate Jeronimo Yanez in the Philando Castile killing in 2016, where Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter after he shot Castile multiple times for what was a routine traffic stop gone bad. Yanez was fired shortly after he was acquitted.
The case for removing the Baton of Honor as an academic plaudit is overwhelming. MSU should do away with it.