Students and faculty at University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) are calling on the administrators to disarm the campus police force and dismantle the crime alert messaging service, in an effort to fight against what they call “militarized models of campus policing.”
“We stand against the manner in which this police state is institutionalized at the University of Pennsylvania,” reads a petition started after the May 25 death of George Floyd. Over 12,000 signatures have been collected for the petition in support of banning a host of policing practices that they say “have led to the lynchings of Black men, women, and transgender people.”
In particular, the petitioners call for UPenn to fully open its campus and all buildings, arguing that restricting access through policing “enunciates a racist relationship with the community.” The university’s crime alert system, which sends safety alerts to the campus community via text and email messages, was also called out for being “racialized” since UPenn students are predominately white and their crimes “do not warrant the same levels of scrutiny and publicity.”
Moreover, the petitioners are calling for the disarming of the university police force. “Form an investigative team comprising students and faculty of color,” they suggest in their petition. “That will examine every instance of a person of color being stopped and frisked by the university police.” There is also a demand to end criminal background checks in UPenn’s hiring process, which is seen by the petitioners as an extension of the “police surveillance system” to campus.
A UPenn spokesperson told the Philadelphia Inquirer that while he was aware of the petition, he didn’t agree with the claim that a police state is institutionalized at the university.
“We strongly disagree with the assertion that there is a ‘police state’ at Penn,” he wrote. “We have one of the finest university police departments in the country. Racial profiling is something the university does not tolerate.”
The petition has drawn criticism from the conservatives, such as GOP donor Adam Milstein and Inez Stepman, a commentator at The Federalist.
“Surely that will work out if and when there is violence, robbery, assault, etc on campus,” wrote Milstein on Twitter.
“It’s ironic that the same people who falsely claimed there was a rape epidemic on America’s campuses necessitating Title IX procedures that gutted due process are now removing resources, alerts, and protections for students who want to report crime,” wrote Stepman. “If these demands are met, universities may soon actually become unsafe places for women.”
The past week has seen colleges and school districts reviewing the role of police on their campuses, as many advocate groups urge the institutions to either cut ties with local police departments or dismantle their own police forces. Minneapolis Public Schools became the first to sever its relationship with the city’s police department. Meanwhile, in Chicago, teachers’ union members are also calling for the removal of police in public schools, a demand that has been dismissed by Lori Lightfoot, the city’s mayor.