U of C students demonstrate to defund and disarm campus police; University says “no way”

August 31, 2020 • 1:15 pm

UPDATE: From Block Club Chicago (click on screenshot):

An excerpt:

The action continued into Sunday with yoga, breakfast and organizing workshops. Students will remain there “indefinitely until we hear publicly” from Lee, CareNotCops organizers said in a tweet.

In a statement Monday, organizers said they would remain on the block until Lee agrees to meet their demands.

They’re going to be waiting a LONG time. . . . .


For some time now, I’ve been anxious about my University becoming more and more woke. That’s clearly happening to the student population, and there are signs it’s affecting some of the administration as well. This would break my heart, but I think the tide is unstoppable. I only hope that the highest administrators—the President and the Provost—will hold the line.

The latest instantiation of student wokeness, as reported by the Chicago Tribune (click on screenshot below) is a set of two demonstrations last Saturday for defunding and abolishing the campus police, a large and well trained set of men and women who help keep us safe on the South Side. I’ve met quite a few of them, and have found them professional and efficient. But then again, I’m not a person of color, for a lot of the protestors claim that the police are racist.  As far as I know, while there may have been an occasional case of “profiling”, I haven’t seen evidence to buttress that strong claim. The case that’s always cited (see below) holds no water.

And of course it would be madness to abolish, much less disarm, the U of C campus cops. We are firmly ensconced in the South Side, not a particularly safe area, and there are lots of shootings there. If the campus cops were to go, I doubt that many parents would want to send their kids here, and the University knows that.

Nevertheless, the students demonstrated Saturday in front of the Provost’s house (Ka Yee Lee, a female chemist  ofAsian descent), as well as of President Bob Zimmer’s house at the University, blocking traffic in both places. I was a bit upset at the demonstration at Zimmer’s, as he’s not been well: he had a brain tumor removed and is stepping down as President at the end of the upcoming academic year.

But here’s the Tribune report:

Here are the students’ demands and indictments from the Trib piece:

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 to redistribute the remaining funding to support students of color and ethnic studies.

. . . 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.”

The students always cite this incident with Charles Thomas as the reason cops should be disarmed/defunded:

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 Thomas 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.

Thomas, a fourth-year student with mental problems, may have had a psychotic break: he went berserk and began smashing car windows with an iron bar (not a wooden “stake”). When the cops confronted him (you can see the video at my post on the incident), he brandished the bar and started running at the cops, whereupon they shot him in the shoulder, which I think was a deliberate disabling but not life-threatening shot. From the student newspaper:

Bodycam and dashboard footage released by the University shows officers confronting Thomas.  As he walks toward them, an officer can be heard shouting, “Put down the weapon!” while Thomas shouts “What the fuck do you want?” and “Fuck you.” About a minute after the officers arrived on the scene, Thomas begins running rapidly toward the individual wearing the body camera, who commanded Thomas again to drop the weapon, and then fired a single shot into his shoulder.”

The cops had every right to disable Thomas, who would have bashed their brains in. Yet this is taken as an example of police “failing to protect the community” and of the University “not addressing mental health adequately”—as if one could prevent all students from having breakdowns. In fact, since the incident Thomas has had other episodes and is now in Cook County jail awaiting trial on felony charges. One can debate whether or not he belongs in jail, but that’s the call of the City of Chicago Police, not the University. What is the case is that without armed cops, Thomas might well have killed a policeman or two. Yet even now the students think the cops didn’t handle the situation appropriately. I disagree.

After Ka Lee (or someone) left the picketed house she lives in but drove off without talking to the protestors, they maturely made her a parking spot in both English and Chinese, labeling her a racist. This is shameful. I’ve never seen a scintilla of evidence that either Zimmer or Lee are racists (to me they seem quite antiracist), and the bandying about of “racist” in a situation like this is absolutely unconscionable. In fact, one could consider the Chinese writing racist since Lee speaks perfect English, and I have no idea if she speaks any dialects of Chinese.

But the good news: the University, which knows what would happen if the campus police force were to be cut in half or disappear, simply said “nope” to the demonstrators:

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.”

And so the students can keep griping, but it’s futile, as nobody running this University who’s in their right mind would bow to the protestors’ demands.

h/t: Luana

31 thoughts on “U of C students demonstrate to defund and disarm campus police; University says “no way”

  1. How many of the protesters are actually students? My experience, very few. Maybe former students and dropouts. Mostly the professionally aggrieved.

  2. The level of mental laziness in all this is depressing.

    People need to stop looking for simple answers to complex problems.

    I think the Trumpist culture has made this a lot worse. Although the content of that culture is being opposed, the process is identical.

    Thought, creativity, cooperation, research, and collaboration all take effort. So much easier to produce a pronouncement of a simple and extreme answer.

    Unbecoming of people who are supposedly there to get an education.


    1. “People need to stop looking for simple answers to complex problems.”


      “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” -Mencken

  3. … the campus police, a large and well trained set of men and women who help keep us safe on the South Side.

    Lookit you, Jerry, a ci-devant hippie siding with The Man. 🙂

      1. I have no patience for these children living in some dream world where you don’t need police. Guess because I had to work several jobs while attending college, never had the luxury of time to complain how downtrodden I was.

  4. What always amazes me with such demands: When something bad happens, when serious crimes with physical damage occur. Will the students then say: “That is a great pity, but at least my colored student colleague now has more money per month available”?

    Will not the students be the first to protest loudly why they were not protected by the (underfinanced, understaffed) campus police, even though they were the ones who pushed for the budget police to be radically cut?

  5. The impulse the students are acting out is one I got out of my own system early: in the 4th grade, I organized a revolutionary committee to protest the systemic oppression of 4th-graders by grown-ups. If I were doing it today, I would of course call for all grown-ups to be cut down to size by 50%.

  6. I see Summer quarter just ended. Let’s see if their committment to protesting lasts beyond the end of the first week of the Fall quarter.

  7. I don’t agree with protesters going to the homes of people they want to sway. It seems like harassment to do so. Confront them where they work. When you go to the homes of these people you are involving their families and neighbours which I think is unfair. A bunch of protestors did that to a mayor of a neighbouring city and woke up his family and neighbours and terrified his kids. They are innocent in whatever decisions the official is responsible for and shouldn’t end up sucked into it.

      1. ” . . . these students have no conception of boundaries.”

        Seems to go hand-in-hand with a breath-taking sense of entitlement.

  8. Nor does anyone these days it seems. And people like that are the first to scream “unfair” and “harassment” at the least criticism.

  9. I must say that this raises all sorts of questions that I’ve never really thought about before. Here in Canada the people I see with guns are the police and the military (and I don’t typically see the latter much, at least not with guns obviously displayed). There are, presumably, all sorts of private firms that can be hired to provide “security” but I don’t know what the rules are about their employees being armed. I would imagine that guards for armoured vehicles transporting very valuable cargo for banks would be armed. This raises the question of who these people are and how well they’re trained. One would certainly hope that the wrong sort of people are screened out and the remainder are rigorously trained, but I have no idea what the standard is. I’ll always remember being in Venezuela (where my wife is from) and noticing that security at a large grocery store we went to was a couple of what looked like kids with fearsome looking guns. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

    There is security at my office building (not so relevant with everyone working at home due to covid but people will presumably go back to the workplace eventually). I assume they are mainly eyes and ears. They seem ill equipped to deal with any real trouble—I assume they’d just call in the local police if anything bad occurred (or perhaps the RCMP as it’s a federal government building?). I don’t know about Canadian universities—I think it would be the same (call in the police that has jurisdiction over the area in which the university is located). The idea of a separate armed campus police force is foreign to me.

    1. Depends on the campus but my university and I suspect other larger Canadian universities have Special Constables and they are armed as police and have pretty much all the powers of police on campus.

      1. Interesting. My almost complete ignorance in these matters is being exposed. Am I correct in thinking that future police officers are mainly trained in post-secondary colleges, with more specific training provided by the “force” (in the broad sense) they happen to join? I wonder whether virtually all the police-school graduates want to work for traditional police forces, not “private” forces or security. I suppose it could be the other way around, although it seems unlikely to me.

        1. I don’t exactly know how it works but I think when you go to cop school you intend to work for a police force in a city. I don’t know where special constables come from and private specify like at the mall etc are not armed. There are security with special privileges and they may be special constables as well – usually the transit cops etc that can charge you.

          1. As you’ve no doubt surmised, my fear is that these armed campus special constables are police-school graduates who couldn’t get a job with a traditional police force.

    2. That’s the thing, how disgustingly common guns are here in the states, and would ya believe it, so are shootings. Armed cops in schools, armed cops on campus, armed cops on the beat, armed civilians every damn place…I’d be willing to bet I’m one of the few in my town, hell, in my county, who isn’t armed with anything more lethal than my trusty rock hammer.

      When I took my sole adult trip outside the US, to Belgium in 2007 I got used to feeling safe walking around (usually lost) not seeing guns, hearing gun shots, reading about murdered citizens and what was my first (reverse) culture shock upon my return? Heavily armed airport police. Fully decked out in fatigues, Body armor, helmet, assault rifle…America has been taken over by Elmer Fudd with an AR-15 and the Hair-trigger attitude of Yosemite Sam. At least the rural areas. The urban areas are a bit different, and to discuss the very serious issues at all gets one labeled a racist but you can’t argue with the mounting death toll, in Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City…we have 136 murdered thus far in KC, looking to set a record for our little cow town big city. And THAT is why cops are armed. To be otherwise would be suicide. Sad, isn’t it?

    3. Back when I was a student, the campus cops were really nice. Students did lots of stupid or crazy things, and the cops only interfered when things got dangerous. Even then, they mostly just made sure everyone got back to the dorm safely.
      When someone got into trouble in town, the campus cops generally showed up, talked the town cops out of filing charges, then got you back to the dorm.

      They literally just tried to keep everyone out of trouble.

  10. So much for claims that “defund the police” isn’t about abolition.

    I completely “get” that the police are called on to deal with situations involving the mentally ill for which other responders would be more appropriate. (Although in some cases the person is acting in a threatening way and has a knife or similar weapon.) The main problem, from a UK perspective, is that the police in the US are armed with guns and react inappropriately. (Not that we don’t have our own litany of deaths resulting from an inappropriate use of force – or even guns – by police officers here, of course.)

  11. It would be both educational and a great kindness to those protesting to arrange for some of them to have a few ‘ride along’ experiences with the police. Just to show them how they help people and increase safety from day to day

  12. I sure hope there are plenty of people in their right minds, as you say. These days, I’m not so sure. Or hopeful.

  13. All of this is ammunition for the Trumpers. I wish the students understood that. The very phrase, to defund the police, is a gift to the right.
    How I wish the Left would learn how to win and stop defeating itself.

  14. Having been born and raised (until the age of 9) in Michoacan Mexico, I know what it’s like to have a poorly funded police force that isn’t respected. It’s quite annoying hearing people here in Montreal spew the same nonsense of abolish the police. All the people that like to talk about white privilege should check their first-world privilege.

  15. You must feel a little like the intellectuals did in Phnom Penh in March 1975 as the KR were at the city gates, professor.

    You know things are changing very very fast and there’s a sickness deep inside you, a dread as the storm clouds grow darker.

Leave a Reply