University students across America are calling for his or her universities to sever ties with outside law enforcement agencies and defund any resources currently spent on policing.
Thousands of university students, graduate workers, faculty and student organizations have signed petitions, issued statements, held protests, and are organizing to compel universities to carry out their demands.
Campaigners want funding currently spent on campus policing to be diverted to community-based alternatives, programs for education, youth and mental health services, and affordable housing.
The first college campus police department was established at Yale University in 1894, with the majority of college and university police forces in the US emerging in the 1960’s in response to mass protests for civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam war.
Black student organizers are now actually leading efforts to abolish and defund the Yale University Police Department in the wake of the George Floyd protests, calls that gained initial support after a Yale University officer was involved in the shooting of an unarmed Black couple in 2019.
“The Yale police department has all the powers and privileges afforded to the New Haven police department, yet they do not hold themselves equally accountable to the community members they police,” said Jaelen King, an undergraduate student at Yale University and co-head of Black Students for Disarmament at Yale. King and the others have light emitting diode hundreds in protest at Yale police headquarters to demand the university abolish its police force.
“It is absolutely necessary that the Yale PD is defunded and dismantled, so as to end their tyranny on communities of color within the city,” added King.
In a statement supplied by a Yale University spokesperson, President Peter Salovey said: “The YPD has enhanced its community outreach and engagement efforts to better address community concerns. And in order to ensure that we only police agreed-upon designated areas, the YPD is working more closely than ever with the New Haven police. We are additionally emphasizing increased supervisory scrutiny and ongoing assessment.”
Dozens of students at University of Chicago recently held a sit-in protest at the University of Chicago police headquarters asking the institution administration to defund, disarm, and disband the campus police force by 2022, one of the largest private police forces in the US.
Students said the university had sought to disrupt the protest.
“We had supplies, food and water, that was prevented from coming in and they also prevented us from accessing restrooms inside, keeping us in a room, and would periodically read a memo stating that we were trespassing and they would do that every half hour to hour,” said Michelle Yang, an undergraduate at UChicago and person in CareNotCops.
CareNotCops was founded after campus police shot students in 2018 who was experiencing a mental health episode. It was made to push the administration to act on years-long pressure from students and community members to abolish the campus police.
Tai Davidson Bajandas, a student at University of Chicago, helped organize the protest outside police headquarters. “Policing has never worked for the community. They’re not agents of care or protection, they’re agents of harm, materially and systematically,” said Davidson Bajandas.
A spokesperson for the University of Chicago said protesters were not permitted to eat in law enforcement headquarters due to Covid-19 concerns and that restrooms were not public. The spokesperson added the university had offered to set up a gathering with campaigners but hadn’t yet finalized details.
At Harvard, students and alumni have renewed calls to abolish the school’s private police force, the HUPD, as officers from the school were seen being utilized against protest demonstrations in the city of Boston.
“Harvard University have not justified the necessity for a police force. Around 95% of HUPD’s caseload is property crimes, offenses,” said Joanna Anyanwu, students at Harvard Law School and organizer with the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign.
In January 2020, Harvard’s student-run newspaper, the Crimson, published a feature on racism within HUPD, outlining complaints and lawsuits alleging racial discrimination within its ranks over the past 2 full decades.
“The call to abolish HUPD is an acknowledgement that policing doesn’t keep us safe,” said Amber Ashley James, an organizer with the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign.
James argued funding toward law enforcement should be redirected to programs such as mental healthcare provided to students and faculty on campus, a crisis response team, and programs to support the homeless.
“I personally observed instance after instance of racial profiling, of racism and white supremacy in all its forms in terms of the way HUPD responded to parties that black students threw, to cries for help from students of color in need, and the way HUPD harassed and harangued the community of homeless people around Harvard Square,” James added.
“Seeing all these instances persist and the administration time after time failing to respond to them, we’ve passed the point where we’re interested in reform, in sensitivity training for HUPD or implicit bias training.”
A Harvard spokesperson deferred comment to a press release from president Lawrence Bacow announcing an independent overview of HUPD launched earlier in 2010 in response to allegations of racism and exorbitant force within the department.
Hundreds of students, graduate workers, and companies within the University of California system have also signed onto a letter to abolish police departments on campuses and end all external police contracts.
“The problem is the different ways students are surveilled, and how police are used to harass students, often students of color. For example in the different housing on campus, it’s not uncommon, I’ve experienced this myself, for white neighbors to call the UCPD on students of color simply for being outside. Once I was called on for being too loud outside,” said Semassa Boko, a graduate worker at University of California-Irvine.
“It’s an entire culture and system of policing we aim to abolish.”
UC Irvine did not respond to multiple requests for comment.