It’s Time To Dismantle the UCPD

Amidst unprecedented calls for change from across the country, UChicago must confront its own legacy of police violence and abolish its private police department.

By CareNotCops, Contributor

George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Tony McDade. Dion Johnson. Their deaths at the hands of police officers, along with those of countless other Black people, have brought calls for police abolition to a fever pitch. Across the United States, hundreds of thousands of people have come together to protest the inherently racist practice of American policing. Police abolition emerged from a long legacy of particularly Black feminist organizing and struggle. We as UChicago students understand our entanglement with the anti-Black racist system of policing, especially with the way our tuition dollars and our “safety” are leveraged to financially support and justify one of the largest private police forces in the nation: the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD). We as members of #CareNotCops aim to leverage our student status to dismantle the department.

The #CareNotCops campaign began in 2018 in response to the shooting of then-fourth-year student Charles Soji Thomas by the UCPD while he was experiencing a mental health crisis. Understanding the violence Charles faced as part of a larger, systemic problem, our goal has always been to abolish our campus police force. Administrators including President Robert Zimmer and Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen have repeatedly declined or ignored requests to meet with us, and President Zimmer has refused to field questions concerning Charles’s shooting at his handful of public appearances since the incident. Just last week, UCPD Chief Kenton Rainey stated that the UCPD was “a department that reflected [the University’s] core values of diversity and inclusion,” championing reform rather than acknowledging the violence perpetrated by his police force. Provost Ka Yee Lee, in recent communications about George Floyd’s death, has claimed solidarity on behalf of the University with movements for racial justice while failing to even mention the UCPD’s history of racist violence. On Friday, June 12, we organized a march through campus that culminated in a sit-in at UCPD headquarters. Protesters were denied access to restrooms, food, and water by the UCPD as repeated calls to Provost Lee and Chief Rainey were met with silence.

Given the unprecedented calls for change that have rung out in cities across the country, and the continued empty words and inaction from university administrators, this is not a time for complacency. #CareNotCops calls with renewed vigor on the University of Chicago to immediately disarm, disclose the budget of, defund, and ultimately abolish the UCPD.

Recently, reports of UCPD officers threatening protesters with tear gas have appeared on Twitter . In 2013, community and student organizers were brutalized, pushed, hit, trampled, and thrown by UCPD to forcibly end a peaceful sit-in. In 2010, the UCPD placed then-fourth year student Mauriece Dawson in a chokehold, pinned him down, and arrested him for being “unruly” in the library’s non–volume-restricted A-level. These are just some of the instances in which UCPD officers used excessive force against our community.

In addition to the UCPD’s overt violence, officers consistently racially profile Black community members and students alike. According to UCPD’s field interview reports from April 2018 to April 2020, 96 percent of those stopped were Black. Of those stopped because they looked “suspicious,” 99 percent were Black. This is not “safety and security” or a reflection of the values of “diversity and inclusion.” Funding a police presence that inflicts daily physical and psychological violence clearly demonstrates that the University values its own profit and property over the lives and well-being of the people it is supposed to serve.

In light of the UCPD’s history of racist violence, we demand that the University immediately defund the UCPD by reducing its budget by 50 percent and redistributing these funds to community-driven South Side projects and organizations that are committed to building networks of support that work to render police obsolete. Understanding the expansion of the UCPD as intertwined with the University’s project of gentrification and displacement, we call for the University to never again acquire property on the South Side, and to restrict UCPD jurisdiction to the main campus. We also echo the urgency of other campuses and protesters across the country in calling on the University to end all collaborations with the Chicago Police Department and to stop brutalizing protesters.

We demand that the University disarm the UCPD. This means the removal of all weapons, including guns, tasers, mace, and tear gas. UCPD’s protocols rely largely on individual officers’ discretion, and we have seen this open-ended policy lead to excessive force wielded disproportionately against Black individuals time and time again. Regardless of whether UCPD procedures are made more explicit, it is clear that any weapon in the hands of police is a threat to Black students and community members.

We demand that the University disclose the budget for the UCPD and other Safety & Security measures for the past 20 years, and every year following. Because the UCPD is a private police force, the public is unable to request official records through the Freedom of Information Act. The University thereby utilizes a blatant lack of transparency to prevent public access to complaints against UCPD officers, the UCPD budget, and the exact size and capacity of their force.

While the above demands are immediate steps to reducing the harm that the UCPD inflicts, we want to be clear that these are intermediate steps on the path to full abolition. The violent acts committed by the UCPD—especially against our students of color and our neighbors in Woodlawn and Hyde Park—will continue until UCPD ceases to exist. We therefore demand that UChicago release a plan this October detailing the steps it will take in order to fully disband the UCPD by 2022.

It is abundantly evident that the UCPD is incapable of creating safety for our communities. We will continue to work toward transformative conceptions of justice in our organizing in collaboration with Black abolitionist organizers in Chicago. Without the UCPD, we will have one less barrier preventing us from having the space to dream and build truly liberatory and collective safety for all.

After decades of violence and displacement, it is imperative that the University take steps to end the harm it has historically inflicted upon the South Side by defunding, disarming, disclosing the finances of, and ultimately disbanding the University of Chicago Police Department. We call on the University administration to make good on their claims of “solidarity” by showing that they understand their role in the perpetuation of racism, and by working with students and community leaders to make things right. We call on other campuses to join our fight to abolish campus police, who, nationwide, do harm where they claim to create safety. We stand with organizers across the country and the world in looking towards a future free of police and prisons. In the face of nation-wide protests, UCPD Chief Rainey stated that if we are dissatisfied with the UCPD and “want to stand up and fight back, then organize.” We assure Chief Rainey, and all of UChicago’s administrators, that we are more than happy to answer his call.

Stand up, fight back, and organize with us. To learn more about our campaign and to stay updated, like our page on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.