Letter to the Editor: The ASUU Assembly Voted for the Increase of Police Presence at the Union, So I Resigned

Ermiya+Fanaeian%2C+former+ASUU+Assembly+Rep.+for+the+David+Eccles+School+of+Business.+%0A%28Courtesy+of+Ermiya+Fanaeian%29

Ermiya Fanaeian, former ASUU Assembly Rep. for the David Eccles School of Business. (Courtesy of Ermiya Fanaeian)

By Letter to the Editor

The views expressed in this letter are not from a writer at the Daily Utah Chronicle and do not express the views of the opinion desk or the Chronicle as a whole.

My name is Ermiya Fanaeian, and I am a former elected student body official. I recently decided to resign from my elected position due to circumstances surrounding a bill that I believe would have harmed and distressed marginalized members of the student body.

As we took our seats for the ASUU Assembly meeting on Feb. 25, I noticed that Police Chief Rodney Chatman was in the room. Chatman was new to our space, and as soon as I recognized him, I immediately knew where this Assembly meeting was going — and how it might possibly end. In the past, I have been labeled as “radical” for my opinions on this topic, because I believe this conversation is vastly different for marginalized communities compared with non-marginalized folks. The conversation that was about to begin in this meeting was about the increased police presence on the University of Utah campus.

Chatman’s presence was designed to provide context and humanization to the joint bill up for discussion, Joint Bill 4. As Chatman spoke on his plans for campus police moving forward, his statements sounded all too familiar. As someone who has continually organized communities around public safety in Utah (including a role on the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Gun Violence Prevention Commission and by lobbying the state legislature on gun reform) I have had many conversations with police chiefs. I have heard the reiterate same talking points each time. They speak of their desire to be accessible to the community, emphasizing that, under their leadership, they will not contribute to our understanding of police brutality in this country. They argue that they sympathize with marginalized communities. For those who have not heard these talking points over and over again and aren’t a part of marginalized communities, these sound like the perfect solutions to the issues many have with unjust policing. But I am never convinced until I see actual action.

Sign of ASUU office at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Feb. 6, 2020. (Photo by Marifel Holmquist | Daily Utah Chronicle)

I am unconvinced because while I have heard police chiefs continuously claim to make changes, we continue to see videos and hear experiences of their officers not practicing any of those supposed changes. I am unconvinced because I know that they have been incredibly strategic in the inclusion of language used by political activists in their public messaging. At this point, these conversations with authorities are incredibly exhausting, because we have not seen them impact their practices.

It’s important to understand where my stance against hyper-policing began. As a trans woman of color, I recognize the long, dark struggle my communities have experienced in their fight against unjust policing. This struggle continues to this day. Contrary to the sensationalism and focus on assimilation and gay marriage by mainstream LGBTQ organizations, the trans and queer liberation movements started as protests. These protests were sparked against the extreme police brutality that trans and queer people faced under United States law throughout the 20th century. Anyone visibly trans or visibly queer were often nearly beaten to death, sexually assaulted and highly criminalized by police and anti-LGBTQ laws.

And who suffered most from that police brutality then and continue to suffer at its hands today? Trans and queer people of color. The fight of black and brown people in this country against the unjust policing has not been given the attention or support needed to end the state-sanctioned violence against those on the margins of society. I have personally heard one horror story after another over what folks of color endured under the stop and frisk policies of New York City. I have met black trans women that have been criminalized just because police thought they looked like sex workers. I have also listened to undocumented students (who are an important part of our communities) who have told me they wouldn’t go anywhere near police as a simple means of survival.

This is why, as Joint Bill 4 hit the Assembly floor for discussion, I immediately knew I was unable to support the bill in any sense. Representative Hanin Sheikh and I knew that we had to stand firmly with one another as we prepared to put up a fight against this bill. We were in a room of elected representatives who were not from these marginalized communities, and knew they would perceive our passion against increased police presence as radical anger. In reality, we were fulfilling our duty as elected officials by trying to protect those most subject to police violence, bigotry and systemic oppression. The toughest part of these conversations is not that I am often in rooms where my stance is incredibly unpopular, it is that I have to relive my trauma so that those in power can understand even a second of my experience. I often have to relive this trauma just to be told they don’t care.

After Rep. Sheikh, other representatives and myself expressed our vulnerability, the cisgender, heterosexual, white representatives called us “cop haters.” We were told that “the police won’t actually be coming up to you, that doesn’t happen,” before they attempted to silence us. That is when Rep. Sheikh and I decided to resign as a means of protest against an organization that heavily favored policing. The Assembly thought it could silence us, but soon realized their miserable failure when students all over campus condemned their votes and the Senate unanimously voted the bill down. Watching the Senate fail the bill in response to the impact of student mobilization was an empowering moment I will not forget. I’m sure the 19 representatives who voted in favor of the bill won’t be forgetting it, either.

– Ermiya Fanaeian, former Assembly Representative for Undergraduate Studies

 

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