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
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
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
"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
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
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.