During the weekend of Halloween, the UChicago student organization #CareNotCops organized a cop watching event on 53rd Street—that is, observing police interactions to ensure residents’ rights are not violated.
Originally founded in 2018 after a University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) officer shot student Charles Thomas, who was wielding a metal pole during a mental health crisis, #CareNotCops (CNC) is a campaign by student organization UChicago United. According to CNC organizer Warren Wagner, “from the start, the vision was to divest from policing and invest in care, specifically mental health care.” Now, CNC has a set of more specific demands, including defunding, disarming, and disbanding UCPD, as well as disclosing its budget. Additionally, they support defunding and abolishing the Chicago Police Department (CPD).
GKMC is a Black- and brown-led youth activist group committed to ending violence in Chicago. They led a Halloween programming event for children in response to the increased violence and police presence that historically has affected Hyde Park during the holiday season. CNC assisted GKMC in cop watching. “We were basically playing a supporting role in the event they had already planned,” Wagner explained.
Wagner emphasized the importance of listening to local activists and leaders, given that “almost all [UChicago students] are guests in Hyde Park.” To that end, Wagner said that CNC’s aim “was just to try and de-escalate and challenge police violence, [and] if there were some conflicts between youth, that was for Good Kids Mad City to handle.”
The week before Halloween, CNC held training events for student cop watching volunteers in collaboration with the People’s Response Team, a national activist group committed to ending police violence. Additionally, they met just before the event on Halloween to prepare for the night. “We grouped together [and] went over the goals and tactics of cop watching and a couple of ‘Know Your Rights’ things,” CNC organizer Sahar Punjwani said. CNC shared some of these resources on its social media pages, which included a guide for bystander intervention, tips for cop watching, and specific scripts for engaging with the police.
According to Wagner, 15 to 20 UChicago undergraduate students turned up for the cop watching event, along with several members of the National Lawyers Guild who came to observe the occasion. The group broke into four or five teams over two shifts, Wagner said.
It was also an opportunity for CNC to observe University and city police in Hyde Park. “On Halloween, when we were in downtown Hyde Park doing the cop watching, we saw huge groups of cops staring directly outside the Capital One Bank and also Sweetgreen, which really indicated that these cops are prioritizing property over people,” Punjwani said. “The people who organized the cop presence were the aldermen and the University and the business owners in the area, which also indicates the overall valuation of property over people.”
“They’re just trying to use all these different tactics to continually harass the surrounding community, [especially] Black and brown youth,” Punjwani said. “This will keep expanding. We clearly didn’t know [about] undercover cop cars…and they’re going to expand to more insidious methods of harassment, so it’s up to us…to stop this” she said.
As CNC continues its work, Wagner hopes “to build a base and connect people to leverage that power to make the administration come to the table.”
“In the meantime,” he added, “we’re doing things like this cop watching event, which directly challenges police violence, not waiting for the administration.”
UCPD did not respond to The Maroon’s request for comment.