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I know that arguing in favor of letting the Naked Mile Run continue is probably a fruitless endeavor, but I want to list some of the arguments anyway as background. First, laws against indecent exposure are archaic, unenlightened and need to be challenged. One of the best statements against such laws that Ive heard was made by Dan Speers, president of the Tri-State Metro Naturists in New Jersey: For someone to tell me, especially a government authority, that I have to wear clothes, theyre telling me to be ashamed of myself. Government is mandating that people shame themselves. The inclusion of people accused of indecent exposure on the states sex offender list is just plain offensive and insults the intelligence of the citizens of Michigan. Beyond the legal issues, the University argues that participants in the Naked Mile are risking their physical safety and future careers. Whether or not those risks exist, they do not justify the Universitys assumption of parental authority. U-M students are adults who should be allowed to make an informed, adult decision. Finally, as members of an institution of higher learning, shouldnt we examine the reasons why this tradition has lasted for 15 years before we try to squelch it?
However you may feel about these legal, ethical and social issues, I know that the primary concern is law enforcement. Since the Naked Mile began, I have witnessed it twice. In 2000, campus police apparently focused on crowd control rather than preventing students from running, and they performed admirably. After the runners reached Regents Plaza, the few that did not get dressed immediately were allowed to remain nude and enjoy the unique experience for a few minutes before DPS officers asked them to put their clothes on. The crowd was large and raucous, but not dangerous, and I only saw one student that was so inebriated he needed help.
Last years run was a completely different experience. Police kept most people from making it to the Cube. When one naked student did reach the plaza, a DPS officer aggressively yelled at him to get dressed. A short time later, a nude woman was surprised to find police at the end of the run. When an officer yelled at her, she screamed and ran. Police caught up with her, put her in hand cuffs and took her away. Another woman standing near the plaza talking with friends was wearing a long t-shirt, which left NOTHING exposed. A DPS officer told her to get dressed. When she argued, he became verbally threatening. I understand that police officers need to have their authority respected, but the incidents I witnessed did not suggest that their authority was threatened. The impression I was left with is that the police were not simply trying to enforce the law but to intimidate and frighten the runners. I went home that night feeling ashamed of my alma mater but not because of anything the students did!
DPS officers should use common sense and good judgment if and when they encounter any nude students next Wednesday. They should not have to participate in a campaign that serves a reactionary, counterproductive agenda.
Paul Bennett, University staff, Class of 87