Student stories charge UCPD with racial profiling, inappropriate conduct

By Harini Jaganathan

Students shared their experiences with the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) at the Southside Solidarity Network’s (SSN) “UCPD Speakout” event last night. Some testimonials were presented by students directly, while other stories were submitted through a Google Doc and read by members of the campaign.

Second-year SSN member Ava Benezra described her positive encounters with UCPD officers, citing an instance when an officer drove her home from the Regenstein Library one night. She noted that these experiences conflict with stories she has heard from local high school students who told her they avoid the University campus for fear of being stopped by a UCPD officer.

“UCPD is the most active representative of the University…on the South Side,” she said. “My tuition funds their salaries. I am quite actively supporting the message that black teens don’t belong here, that they’re not wanted, that this place of academic prestige is not for them.”

One first-year recalled a time her boyfriend came to visit her on campus and was stopped and asked to present identification by a UCPD officer. When he took out his Northwestern ID, the student said the officer did not believe him and walked with him to the lobby of the University student’s dorm to watch her greet him.

“He happened to be black at the wrong time,” she said. “It makes me feel embarrassed and upset that he should have to endure something like that just to come here.”

The event was part of a larger campaign launched by SSN at the beginning of the quarter meant to reform aspects of UCPD, including “more transparency, better systems of accountability, and looking into the Independent Review Committee’s relationship with UCPD,” among other goals, according to third-year SSN member Aerik Francis.

Francis, who told about an incident during his Orientation Week when his father was escorted out of Ratner for stepping in to use the restroom and failing to present evidence of his association with the University, cited racial profiling as one of the campaign’s main concerns.

“Honestly, the chief goal [of the campaign] is to eliminate racial profiling as a method of policing,” he said. “I think if the campaign were to list one thing, that would be the ultimate goal.”

Despite this, students also addressed other issues. Fifth-year Christina Pillsbury told of being whistled at by UCPD officers.

“I don’t think their interactions with women are anywhere near appropriate,” she said.

After sharing stories, students in attendance broke off into small groups to discuss their thoughts about the UCPD and the issues surrounding their presence.

“[UCPD] is hired for us, but we’ve never had a conversation about what we want them to be,” Benezra, who initiated the campaign, said. “I think this is the first step in starting to create a dialogue in which people question, ‘Is it really okay that they do these things?”