Students take over campus police building, declare “autonomous zone”, get mad that cops won’t bring them food

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CHICAGO, IL.- On Friday evening, around a dozen University of Chicago students occupied the campus police building for 20 hours, demanding that the university defund the police department and instead divert funds to grassroots projects on the South Side of the city.

WBBM Newsradio reported that the #CareNotCops campaign, which is part of UChicago’s Student Action set up inside the building on Friday afternoon for a rally and demonstration that lasted overnight Friday and ended Saturday morning.

At that time, the protesters came outside to join others who had set up tents with food and water and slept outside the building.

The group is calling for the university to defund, disarm, and disband the university’s police department and provide the agency’s finances.

They had initially planned to occupy the building until administrators agreed to meet with them, however, came out in the morning when the protest fizzled out around 11 a.m. They warned however, “We will be back.”

In a statement, the university said it supports the students’ rights to free speech, however said they don’t want protests to disrupt the university’s operations.

CBS Chicago said the university released the following statement:

At approximately 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 13, UCPD Chief Kenton Rainey spoke with protestors inside the 6054 S. Drexel Avenue building and reiterated that he has set aside time on Monday at 8:00 a.m. to meet with organizers.

Protestors’ continued presence inside the building is creating a safety hazard due to the COVID pandemic and the University has asked repeatedly that protestors leave the building. At all times, protestors have been, and continue to be free to leave.

If desired, they are free to protest safely outside the building.

The university said that a message was sent to the protest organizers to emphasize that the health and safety of the protestors was important and agreed to have the chief of police and university provost meet with them next week.

“While I know that some of your group had contact with the deans-on-call…earlier today. I just want to reiterate my concerns about the health and safety of you all being in a space that makes physical distancing very difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I want to make sure that you know that if anyone in the group wants to leave tonight, they should let the officers know and arrangements can be made to get students home safely.”

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The university spokesperson said that the university was committed to allowing the free expression of its students and is committed to the rights of protestors to “express a wide range of views.”

They also reiterated that any such protests must protect the safety and welfare not only of those engaged in the demonstrations, but also the other students on campus.

They also condemned students who were flooding the phone lines of both the UCPD, as well as the Deans-on-Call with phone calls, which jeopardized the health and safety of students and the neighboring communities.

The chief of the department, Kenton Rainey, said in a recent town hall at the university that he was “committed to having a dialogue about the best ways to achieve public safety.”

The Hyde Park Herald said that one of the protestors, Livia Miller said that organizing against the police department goes back to a shooting in 2018, where one Soji Thomas, a U. of C. student of color was experiencing what was described as a mental health episode, and he was destroying property with a pipe.

Thomas was shot in the shoulder and survived his wounds, and was subsequently charged with eight felonies, including assault on a police officer, according to South Side Weekly.

“He had tried to get counseling services, and they turned him away,” Miller said.

“The history of the University of Chicago Police Department has revolved around making the campus a place that is hostile to people who live on the South Side, hostile to community members.

“And as we’re seeing right now across the country, the way that police forces have been used to systematically target some people is just not working anymore, and I think abolition starts on our own campus.

“As a bubble this could be a better world. This could be a microcosm of the world we want to live in, instead of a reflection of the same, troubling racist policies we see elsewhere.”

She also said that the group was looking for the police department to be disbanded.

“We’re asking the university to disclose the policing budget for the past 20 years and moving forward,” she said, in asking for lower funding for the department going forward.

She said the group wants officers disarmed of guns and non-lethal weapons, and ultimately to disband the department by 2022, and replaced with “investment in genuine care—student counseling, services that genuinely make this community more inclusive and more safe for everyone, not just an illusion of safety that excludes some people.”

Ironically, Miller didn’t say how such a program being proposes was different than the one which had failed Thomas, whom she said tried to get counseling “but was turned away.”

The University of Chicago Police Department is a CALEA accredited police department which provides police services at the university, as well as the surrounding community. The department is one of the largest private police forces in the country, with 95 officers and as of 2012 received $5.5 million in annual funding.

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