It has now been over a year since the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota by the now disgraced former police officer Derek Chauvin. The eight-minute and 46-second-long video published in late May shocked the conscience of many Americans who had previously been all too willing to consign racial violence and hierarchies as something that had been greatly diminished and part of our country’s past. What is all too painfully clear now is that systemic racism and violence, unfortunately, remain an important part of the American story – both past and present. According to the New York Times, as recently as 2020, Minneapolis police were seven-times more likely to use force on Black citizens as compared to their white counterparts. In the United States as a whole, according to the Harvard Institute of Public Health, unarmed Black Americans are 3.23 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than white Americans. This is consistent with an array of other statistics and research on marijuana arrests, racial profiling in job applications, perceptions of threat of black males, and incarceration rates. These experiences and statistics demonstrate the lesser value our country places on black bodies as compared to white ones.
On June 1st, 2020, four Clark students were intimidated and arrested while peacefully protesting the murder of George Floyd. In the video made public, it was clear that these students were arrested on or near their private property. I have had the privilege of being in the adjacent social circles of some of these students. They are good people and were detained despite the fact they did not present an active threat and were quite justly protesting the pervasive systemic racism we have here in the United States. Clark University – rightly in my opinion – moved quickly within days to cut ties with the Worcester Police Department, a decision I applaud the University for making. Since then, our campus has seen far more explicit discussions of racial justice, discrimination, and violence. Notable protests and activism include the Black Lives Matter Vigil and the BSU Red Square Protest on October 11th and 12th, the work of the Clark security task force, and the #NoJusticeNoTuition strike. This is only to name some of the most publicly visible anti-racist work being done on our campus.
However, recent events have demonstrated that the state of the political climate and discussion here at Clark University has deteriorated. During the protest for police disarmament on Red Square on Friday, April 23rd, a black student was booed, cursed out, and verbally harassed for stating that he did not want to disarm the university police, despite a depth of lived experience of being black in Latin America, the US, and Europe. Additionally, comments by several students in student body positions on this day made explicit or implicit connections between not going to the protest for disarmament that day and holding racist beliefs. This connection would contradict the opinions of a supermajority of Americans of all races: nearly 80% of Americans opposed defunding (much less disarming) the police, with around 70% of black Americans sharing this position (according to a March 2021 USA Today/Ipsos poll). This is not to mention the nearly 85% of Americans and more than three-quarters of black Americans who oppose police abolition. These ideas do not lack legitimacy because of their lack of public support across all races or because of the fact that most universities have armed university police (as per the centre-left website Vox.com). Instead, these public surveys demonstrate that the argument for disarmament/abolition is just one of many anti-racist ideologies and does not have a monopoly on anti-racism. Shouting down the voices of black Clark students who disagree with this prioritizes a specific kind of anti-racist ideology over uplifting black voices.
Clark University still has significant work to do. Despite claims that there is no progress being made, in my discussions with students on the Clark security task forces, I have found that there is real progress underway that has not been fully publicized. Currently, there are discussions of creating a non-armed civilian task force for the non-violent work armed UP officers currently do, as well as moving the University Police from the center of campus to the outskirts of it. This has come from fruitful discussions with the university’s Chief of Police, who has expressed a significant degree of openness to this idea. This would be an incredible change that could go a long way towards significant reforms to the university police, and creating an environment in which students would feel more comfortable on campus. It also does not preclude future disarmament, should the university decide to move in that direction in the future. There are also many other major changes Clark University could make that have been less prominent in our student body’s discussion, such as the fact recent statistics demonstrate that Clark faculty is about 85% white at a school that is around 45% students of color.
All students who strive to be actively anti-racist should hopefully be able to find common cause and be able to have open and respectful discussions about what the next steps towards anti-racism should be, whether they support or oppose disarming the police. In my four years at this university, I have found students here to be bright, insightful, and incredibly adaptive to a multitude of difficulties we have faced together as a student body. It is my hope that we will begin seeing differences of opinion among students who believe in systemic racism as legitimate, well-thought-out opinions, and not ones undertaken in bad faith or ignorance.