Well, one things this past week has shown is that Hyde Park is not Portland, and thank Ceiling Cat for that! Starting a week ago Saturday, a University of Chicago student group called Care Not Cops began demonstrating—or rather, camping out—in the street and sidewalks in front of Provost Ka Yee C. Lee’s house, just north of Hyde Park in Kenwood. They vowed to stay there indefinitely until the Provost met with them publicly and gave in to their demands.
What were their demands? They’re listed here, and, as the group’s name implies, they want the University of Chicago Police Force disarmed, defunded and then disbanded (by 2022; this is a new demand), largely replaced by social and psychiatric services that, they think, will prevent the need for police and could even respond to emergency calls. This was all prompted by the case of a mentally ill University student who attacked police with an iron pipe in 2018 and was shot in the shoulder. Since then the student has had other episodes and is now in Cook County Jail. For the life of me, I can neither see how social workers could have resolved that incident (the student went down the block smashing cars and windows and screaming expletives), nor how the police, who could have been bashed with that pipe, did anything wrong. They shot the student in a way to disable but not seriously hurt him.
Anyway, you can see more demands in these threads, as well as some of the anger borne by the students:
UofC ignored them & that they’d go away. Sike! Students continued to relationship build with community members from Woodlawn, Washington Park & Hyde Park. They partnered with local abolitionist orgs. They organized!#DefundUCPD #DefundCPD #CareNotCops https://t.co/kfzBSbp6tg pic.twitter.com/VhVIY95Uqn
— GoodKidsMadCity (@GKMC18) September 6, 2020
I’ve been here for 34 years and I still don’t recognize the “particularly violent campus” described by protestors. Of course I’m not black, and haven’t experienced the “profiling” that the group claims, but I do follow the campus news and think that this group, like many protest groups, grossly exaggerate the nature of the “problem”. Note that Care Not Cops has also rescinded their offer to meet Lee publicly.
Students of color are left to fend for themselves on this particularly violent campus, with no real place to access a liberatory education or an empowering collective space. All of this is why we rescind our offer to meet.
— #CareNotCops (@care_not_cops) September 4, 2020
A group of several dozen students began their sit-in in front of the Provost’s house on August 29. Picketing in front of residences is illegal in Chicago, and the Provost could have had the students removed, but she and the University decided to let them stay rather than have the cops boot them. They camped out in front of Lee’s house, chanted, and painted several offensive bits of graffiti on the street and sidewalk. An example is below; the photo has left out the “fuck your mother” slogan painted in Cantonese. (Lee speaks perfect English, and the Chinese slogans could easily be construed as racist.)
As the Chicago Maroon reported:
Translated into English, one set of characters means “you do not have face,” or more colloquially, “don’t you care about your reputation?” Another, not pictured, contained a Cantonese vulgarity that, in English, means “fuck your mother.”
This was clearly not calculated to make the Provost more amenable to their demands; instead, as you’ll see below, she was angered by this, as well she should have been. Still, she didn’t call the cops, though she could easily have done so. That was admirable restraint.
An important part of the students’ demands was that Lee meet with them publicly in a face to face confrontation that could be recorded. Lee countered by offering to meet with the leaders and later have a Zoom meeting. And then, after several days of this mishigass, Dr. Lee issued a statement that was strong and uncompromising. First, she makes her offer, which is reasonable, and then shows that she’s angered by the students’ behavior:
I have offered to meet with the protesters. In fact, since their occupation of the UCPD headquarters on June 11, we have communicated a standing invitation for representatives of the group to meet with me. We reiterated that offer again this week. However, they have refused, insisting that even the initial meeting must be conducted in a public forum and focus on how to implement their demand to defund and disband the UCPD. They have rejected a constructive dialogue about their concerns and the UCPD.
Unfortunately, the actions that are currently taking place on my doorstep go beyond any civil bounds. In addition to engaging in unlawful residential picketing for three days, protestors have harassed and directed personal attacks and vulgar language at my family members and me, verbally and in writing, and blocked traffic for community members on my block. They have spray painted offensive messages in both English and Chinese on my street and outside my home.
. . As President Zimmer and I noted in an August 12 message to members of the University community, we are committed to examining our public safety function and ways in which community services provided by the University, including security and policing, can be improved. Through the earlier mentioned process, we will consider specific recommendations for UCPD and other public safety measures, and how the University can support public safety through its research, education, services, and programs. We plan to share the outcome of these discussions with the University community in a town hall designed to help develop additional actions in areas of concern.
And then she lowers the boom by asserting that there is no way the University will disband the police. The campus cops are numerous, have police powers, and are essential in keeping the campus safe on the not-exactly-safe South Side. If they disbanded the cops—and the protestors don’t seem to realize this—not only would the campus become more unsafe, but parents wouldn’t send their kids here. An army of social workers prowling the streets won’t stop that. Sometimes I think this whole movement doesn’t know anything about reality.
Lee’s response to the Big Demand:
The protesters have stated their opposition to the existence of the UCPD. While we are committed to working constructively on public safety, I want to be clear that the University has no intention of disbanding the UCPD. The 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 members and leaders and in accordance with Chicago City Ordinance. That role will continue.
That must really tick off Care Not Cops, as it’s a flat rejection of their most important demand.
The denouement, as the Hyde Park Herald reports, happened on Friday evening. The Chicago Police (not the UC police) showed up at the protest site, told the demonstrators it was illegal for them to block the street, and then asked them to disperse. The protestors formed a line across the street, facing a line of police, and then the cops told them a second time that they had to disperse. Finally, they said that they they would begin arresting demonstrators after the third request. That’s when the demonstrators realized that they not only couldn’t win, but were in over their heads.
This is where our timorous students differ from the protestors in Portland: they were unwilling to be arrested, even in a peaceful act of civil disobedience. But I consider this a good outcome in that violence was avoided, which would have been bad for both the students’ cause as well as the University. The students marched around a bit and chanted, and then decided to march back to the campus police headquarters. That lasted for a short while and the demonstrators went home. And then the residuum of the demonstration was ignominiously carted away:
As they left the occupation site, city workers from the Department of Streets and Sanitation began loading objects from the encampment into a pickup truck. By the end of the evening, all that remained of the occupation was a pile of traffic cones and sandbags from the dismantled barricade.
But it ain’t over yet, even though the protestors’ main cause is officially futile. Alicia Hurtado, an organizer with Care Not Cops, tried to put a good face on the situation:
“We know that we’re coming out from this more powerful. We know that they’re scared of us, because we are on the right side of history,” said Hurtado. “We are on the right side of justice, and the only question that we have for them is — will you be on the right side of justice?”
“You know what’s starting in just a couple of weeks? UChicago’s fall quarter. You know what that means? We’ll have a campus of people that are ready to throw down alongside us. Look at all these people in this circle. We have all these ready to throw down alongside you,” Hurtado continued.
“To President Robert Zimmer, to Provost Ka Yee Lee, to UCPD Chief Kenton Rainey, to the Board of Trustees, to every UChicago administrator — see you in the fall!”
After making the statement, most of the demonstrators left, although a few milled about for a while longer before dispersing.
I guess “throw down” is slang for “join us.” But couching this thing in terms of “the right side of history” is ridiculous.
As you can see, I don’t have much sympathy with the protestors. Their demand to get rid of the campus police is risible. Their plan to replace cops with social and mental-health workers may be useful in some situations, but not the one they always single out. As for a public meeting, I can see why the Provost wants to avoid that: it would be a yelling and bullying session rather than an exchange of views, which is what the Provost envisioned. But the protestors have abandoned the demand for talks.
I guess this stuff will continue when school starts in a few weeks, but I’m not sure how willing students will be to “throw down” given that they will be under quarantine rules on campus and will be busy starting the school year.
What we have here is a lesson about how a university should respond to unconscionable demands. How often do we see any school tell the students something like “the University has no intention of disbanding the UCPD”?