“I’m not sure what they can do short of bringing in the National Guard.”
“We need police! Are you kidding me?”
“They say Black Lives Matter. If they matter, when are we going to stop shooting and killing one another?”
These are some of the comments I received when I interviewed Hyde Park residents for the Chicago Thinker. Dressed in business attire and clearly appearing as a student, I casually approached pedestrians to ask if they would be willing to share their thoughts on the recent murder of University of Chicago graduate Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng and on what should be done to reduce nearby crime. After speaking with eight long-time residents, two themes emerged: a recognition that crime in Hyde Park has gotten worse, and an acknowledgment that increased armed security—from the police to the National Guard—is needed.
To many students, this might come as a surprise. The belief that the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) must be abolished has dominated the on-campus conversation on policing in recent years. From The Maroon's 2019–2020 Editorial Board demanding the abolition of UCPD, to the student organization #CareNotCops vowing in 2020 to protest the provost’s block “indefinitely” to call for the UCPD to be dismantled, to a coalition of student and community organizations marching for various affiliated issues through campus earlier this year, the policing debate within the student body appears to have been settled. But if that’s the case, why did the residents I speak to voice radically opposite sentiments?
Of course, a larger sample size would be required to draw conclusions as to what the Hyde Park community as a whole believes, but that misses the broader point. The fact that there are at least eight long-time residents who support and want more UCPD presence raises the question as to how many others agree with them. At the very least, this should make students reevaluate the potentially dangerous assumption popular on campus that Black residents—and perhaps most residents—of Hyde Park are opposed to increased policing.
It’s hard to imagine a student publicly expressing that the National Guard should be in Hyde Park—they would assuredly be called racist by their peers and be met with unforgiving opposition, and only a handful of fellow students would come to their defense. In fact, the student organizers of the recent “we are here to learn, not to die” rally on the main quad appeared to have anticipated this, as they “decided to avoid demanding increased policing” upon receiving “many comments about issues of systemic racism.” So while our neighbors express the need for more police in front of a camera, our peers are too afraid to do the same due to pressures from their classmates—even after a murder right next to campus. If a student were to ignore these fears and boldly advocate for increased policing, they would be voicing an opinion more aligned with the interests of the Hyde Park residents I spoke to than those of any member of UChicago United. What, then, would students who support abolishing the UCPD make of residents like the ones I interviewed? Are these locals misled, uninformed, or God forbid, racist? Are these actual residents, not the students from elite boarding schools, simply out of touch with what is best for Hyde Park?
For those who will inevitably accuse me of cherry-picking interviews to support a narrative, I issue an opportunity to prove what I am saying: go to Hyde Park, interview everyday people, and see how many express support for eliminating the UCPD, which does not just patrol our campus but also an extended area that includes the neighborhoods surrounding Hyde Park. Undoubtedly, there are more long-time residents who wish for heightened police than police abolitionists on campus want you to believe.
My findings are corroborated by what recent polling has discovered. According to a 2021 poll conducted by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The Harris Poll, a majority of residents in the Chicago area support reforming over defunding the police, and 79% feel safer when they see a police officer patrol their neighborhood. As this poll included citizens of Chicago at large, it is not unreasonable to think that the percentage of people in Hyde Park opposed to defunding and abolishing the police would be higher—perhaps drastically—given the higher rates of crime relative to other areas of Chicago and what has occurred recently.
Let’s be honest: two worlds inhabit Hyde Park. One world is composed of our Canada Goose-wearing, Turks and Caicos-vacationing, and virtue-signaling peers—this is a $82,000 a year bubble inhabited by students who swear to have the best interests of the community at heart. They demand the abolition of police while simultaneously taking University-subsidized Lyft rides at night because they fear they will become the next victim. The other neighboring world contains families who bar their windows because they are afraid they will be robbed or shot while sleeping, who worry about the safety of their children when they go to school every day, who are hesitant to go out in broad daylight, and who are assured that students who have never talked to them—and have never set foot in the South Side until beginning college—know what is in their best interests.
Which world should we start listening to?
Daniel Schmidt is a first-year in the College.