Open Letter Regarding the UCPD Shooting

By Letter to the Editor

Dear colleagues, students, friends, and neighbors, 

As scholars, activists, and practitioners who work on issues of state violence and human rights and who care deeply about the cohesion, safety, and wellbeing of members of the University of Chicago community, the surrounding neighborhoods, and the city in which we reside, we write with grave concern in response to the recent shooting of a student by an officer of the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD). 

According to The Chicago Maroon, on the night of Tuesday, April 3, an officer of the UCPD shot and gravely wounded a University of Chicago student, following reports that the student allegedly broke car and apartment windows with a metal pipe in what the student's friend described as a "manic episode." As of this writing, the student remains hospitalized. No official University communication has focused on the singular fact that, in our view, is of paramount importance: A member of our community was grievously injured with a firearm by a police officer while in the midst of what has been reported as a mental health crisis. This tragic episode of institutional violence raises important questions about the University's commitment to the safety and well-being of its students and the broader community. 

To this student and to all those who love them, we send this unequivocal message: We are deeply sorry for what happened. We wish you the easiest possible recovery and we are terribly dismayed that the University so badly failed to create a safe environment for you at a time of vulnerability. We cannot imagine the level of trauma this must have caused to you and your loved ones. We send you a message of care and support during what we know will be an ongoing period of recovery. 

This incident itself is shocking and awful. It also illuminates a broader set of issues, rooted in the University’s long history as an actor in this community. Those include but are not limited to: 

• The implications of the fact that the University of Chicago has empowered an entity to use deadly force against community members 

• The lack of accountability and effective community oversight of the UCPD, one of the largest private police forces in the United States, operating over a mere six square miles 

• The ongoing lack of enforceable guidelines regarding the use of non-lethal and deadly force 

• The fact that police are inadequate and inappropriate first responders in the case of mental health crises, a concern which should be at the forefront given the prevalence of untreated mental health issues in our community 

The shooting also takes place within a broader national context of countless instances of lethal police violence, many against individuals experiencing mental health crises. The day prior to the tragic shooting in our community, the Supreme Court issued a decision that will only increase police authority to shoot people with impunity and disregard for human life. Just last month, the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department validated the police killing of Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier, who was also in the midst of a mental health crisis. If we are to create a more just and safe environment for our students, faculty, staff, and community residents, we must strive to uphold human rights and human dignity and hold the University's private police force to a higher standard of accountability. 

As we write, many factual details regarding this incident remain unclear. As more details emerge, many in the observing public may focus on adjudicating the facts of the case and whether the shooting was justified. As tends to be the case in police shooting incidents, there will be divergent interpretations of police accounts and body camera footage. We argue that many of these details—whether the student charged the officer, whether the officers ordered him to drop the pipe he was holding—are in fact irrelevant to the undisputed facts and the crucial concerns they raise for our community. Three officers approached a civilian who was not armed with a deadly weapon, and they fired a gun at him, endangering his life. This horrifying fact should be the center of our discourse, and our efforts going forward should be focused on ensuring that such a thing can never happen again. 

In solidarity, 

Eve L. Ewing, A.B. ’08 
Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholar
School of Social Service Administration
University of Chicago

Yanilda González 
Assistant Professor
School of Social Service Administration 
University of Chicago 

Susan Gzesh, A.B. ‘72
Executive Director and Senior Lecturer 
Pozen Family Center for Human Rights
University of Chicago

Reuben Miller, A.M. '07 
Assistant Professor 
School of Social Service Administration 
University of Chicago