President Zimmer and Provost Lee, Let’s Be Honest About the UCPD

Before claiming anti-racist values, UChicago’s administration must confront the UCPD’s legacy of racial violence.

By Edward Hasbrouck

Although I've been featured in a profile in the Maroon (“Generation X’: A Brief History of Dropouts and Transfer Students at the University of Chicago,” by Hannah Edgar, October 27, 2016), I've never before been moved to respond to a message from the president of UChicago.

But President Robert Zimmer and Provost Ka Yee Lee’s recent message to alums is a mealy-mouthed evasion of substantive action with respect to the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD)—and an evasion of the University's history and responsibility to its surrounding community.

President Zimmer and Provost Lee tell us that they will “enlist our community to understand their experiences with our police department (UCPD) as well as our campus security, considering a range of approaches to ensure the well-being of our campus and the broader community, and continue to strive to make our own practices a model for higher education.”

Everyone who has lived in Hyde Park and pays attention already understands that the UCPD was created for the purpose of keeping Black people out of the neighborhood, because the University’s administration feared that if the neighborhood “turned,” or Black people from the rest of the South Side were free to walk the streets of Hyde Park, white students and parents would be afraid to attend or have their children attend UChicago.

In other words, the reason for the existence of the UCPD was that the Chicago Police Department (CPD) was insufficiently racist in its policing of Hyde Park to satisfy the UChicago administration, even at a time when the CPD was engaging in systematic and systematically racist torture on the South Side.

The president and provost know it. We all know it. The University’s message to the community about these issues needs to begin with an honest acknowledgment of, and apology for, our institution’s legacy.

UChicago should begin to make amends for this appalling history by abolishing the UCPD, without further ado.

There is nothing in the existence of the UCPD that is, has ever been, or should in the future be taken as a "model" for other universities.

A university should not need to hire a private army and have it granted the powers of government-employed law enforcement officers.

UChicago does not own Hyde Park. The streets belong to the people and should not be subject to the armed rule of agents of the University. To the extent that there is any role for armed police, it is quintessentially a government function that should be subject to democratic accountability, not answering solely to a self-perpetuating board of University trustees.

If the University believes that there are deficiencies in the CPD (as do many neighbors and Chicagoans, inside and outside the UChicago community), it should get involved in efforts to reform, replace, or rein in the CPD—not try to opt out of the civic community through privatizing policing.

Edward Hasbrouck was a student in the College from 1977–80.