At least 50 University of Chicago student organizers and other community members rallied in front of the university president’s house Saturday afternoon before marching on the South Side as part of ongoing efforts to persuade university leaders to defund, and eventually abolish, the school’s private police force.
Standing along East 59th Street at South University Avenue about 3:30 p.m., Madeline Wright, a student organizer, told members of the crowd to look at fellow students to their left and right.
“Those are who keeps you safe,” Wright said through a megaphone. “We keep us safe. We’re going to fight to abolish this (expletive) system, not reform it, because it’s doing exactly what it’s intended to do. And we’re also going to focus on transforming our communities to serve people, to serve us.”
Those rallying demanded school leaders disclose the university’s police budget — and then cut it in half. The student group additionally wants the university to disband its police force by 2022 and redistribute the remaining funding to support students of color and ethnic studies.
When asked for comment, a university spokesman referred to an Aug. 12 message from President Robert Zimmer and Provost Ka Yee Lee, who said they believe it’s necessary to examine public safety and how policing can be improved.
The message also said, “The University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) provides a vital service in helping to keep safe and support our campus and surrounding communities – a mission that the University has undertaken with the encouragement of community leaders and in accordance with Chicago City Ordinance. That role will continue.”
Members of student groups UChicago United and Care Not Cops as well as the activist organizations Black Lives Matter Chicago and Good Kids Mad City were at the protest.
“I’m angry because the University of Chicago, you know, the one that loves buzzwords like diversity and inclusion, that puts Black kids on their postcards, is the same university that owns and operates one of the largest private police forces in the country,” Wright said.
The crowd shouted back, “That ain’t right.”
Chioma Nwoye agreed that the university has not lived up to its promises to confront racism.
“As a Black student, I would say UCPD doesn’t make me feel safe at all,” Nwoye said. “What makes me feel safe is my sense of community that I’ve built here with other students of color, with other organizers.”
Speakers pointed to the 2018 shooting of fourth-year student Charles Thomas as an example of school police failing to protect the community. Thomas was in the midst of a mental health crisis in the 5300 block of South Kimbark Avenue when a university officer fired a shot and wounded his shoulder as he advanced with a stake in his hand, officials have said.
Alicia Hurtado, another student organizer, said university police also racially profiled Black students and neighbors and upheld what she said was the university’s history of gentrifying Hyde Park and surrounding neighborhoods.
“While some may say we need the University of Chicago Police Department to keep us safe … they’re not,” Hurtado said. “Safety shouldn’t come at the expense of another person and of another group. And we’re here as students to demand of our university to do the right thing.”
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