Smile Politely

It is time for U of I to divest from police and invest in Black lives

In the past weeks, we have grieved with millions of people in our community, nation, and world over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Elijah McClain, and so many others at the hands of state-sanctioned, police violence. We continue to be inspired by the millions of people who are rising up together to contest police violence and earning substantial wins: the Minneapolis City Council voted to dismantle the police, Oakland and Madison schools voted unanimously to eliminate their police force, and the University of Minnesota cut ties with the police department. 

We are motivated by these wins and are pushing for them here at the University of Illinois. Last week, we delivered a letter to the U of I administration demanding the university divest from policing and invest those resources into our communities’ well-being.

Black, Indigenous, and brown students live under more strict policing and surveillance. As we highlight in our letter, more police patrol the spaces where we live and socialize, like the areas of campus with more affordable housing. None of us deserve to be hounded by the police. This constant patrolling tells us that our presence is unwelcome here unless we are watched. This echoes the overall environment the university has fostered that makes community members, especially those from Black and brown communities, feel unwelcome here.

Just as important, we have been demanding more services to meet our needs — in terms of our education and our overall well-being.

We want quality education on issues of racism and other forms of inequality. We want more Black and Indigenous faculty and faculty of color. We want all the non-police workers of the university to be paid well for their work. 

IMAGE: A bar graph showcasing UIUC Expenditures for Fiscal Year 2020.

Information from U of I’s Fiscal Year Budget 2020. Image provided by the authors.
IMAGE: A bar graph showcasing UIUC Salary Disparaties for Fiscal Year 2020.

Information from U of I’s Fiscal Year Budget 2020. Image provided by the authors.

We are shocked and furious that police officers, even rookies, get paid so much more than our teachers, counselors, advisors, and everyone else who actually contributes to our well-being. The university’s recent hiring of Alice Cary as the new chief of police is just one example. She will make upwards of $180,000, if her predecessor’s salary is any indication. We do not understand how the vast majority of our teachers get paid so little when our education is part of the university’s core mission. We see how these pay disparities reflect the university’s actual values, and how it values us as students. The university is ultimately more concerned with policing students than educating us.

We demand that the university invest in Black students. Echoing previous student demands, we support Project 1000, “a recruitment and retention program developed for and by Black students.” More than 50 years after launching Project 500, the university continues to barely reach the low goal of enrolling 500 Black students. We want the resources spent on policing Black students redirected to our education and empowerment, so that we can become leaders for our collective future. 

We have clamored for more investment in mental health and counseling services. It can take six weeks just to get an appointment, and we are encouraged to move to private practices, which many of us cannot afford, as soon as possible. These kinds of band-aid solutions cannot meet our needs. 

We keep hearing that the university values diversity and all of its students. But we do not see those principles in action. These empty statements read like a joke, especially now, since we are facing the deadly racism of the coronavirus pandemic and the deadly racism of police violence. 

We anticipate another empty response. In fact, some of us spoke at the university senate last week to raise these concerns directly to the Chancellor, but all of the people in power refused to hear us. It falls in line with previous efforts — like that to declare us a sanctuary campus. 

We will not accept an empty response. Our letter is just a first step. Alongside our peers at UI Chicago, we will keep fighting for the U of I to become a national leader in standing up for students. If the university truly values diversity and inclusion, it must divest from oppressive forces like the police and invest those resources in us and in Champaign-Urbana.

Sabrina Arte, Heather Aubry, Francesca Fox, Austin Hoffman, Rubab Hyder, and Shameem Razack contributed to this article.

Top image from U of I Police Department’s website.

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