Incoming ASUU Administration Discusses Plans to Defund Campus Police

UnSafe+U+protesters+gather+at+the+Public+Safety+Building+on+the+University+of+Utah+campus+in+Salt+Lake+City+to+protest+the+actions+of+officers+involved+in+the+Lauren+McCluskey+case+on+Aug.+6%2C+2020.+%28Chronicle+archives%29

Ivana Martinez

UnSafe U protesters gather at the Public Safety Building on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City to protest the actions of officers involved in the Lauren McCluskey case on Aug. 6, 2020. (Chronicle archives)

By Jack O'Leary, News Writer

 

On April 20, the ASUU Diversity Board held a zoom panel with the incoming Wojciechowski administration to discuss defunding campus police. It’s been an ongoing conversation at the University of Utah since the mishandling of the Lauren McCluskey case in 2018 and more recently the police killing of George Floyd. 

As the panel began, attendees described their reactions to the trial verdict of Derek Chauvin’s case. Chauvin was the police officer who was found guilty of killing George Floyd in May 2020. According to NPR, he was found guilty of unintentional murder in the second degree, third-degree murder showing a “depraved mind,” and “culpable negligence” manslaughter.

“I feel like there shouldn’t have been a trial. We all witnessed the murder and it should have been a clear-cut case — you can see this is white privilege,” said Vice President of Student Relations Maryan Shale.

President Jessica Wojciechowski shared similar sentiments about the verdict. She said she was glad to see all counts come back guilty but expressed the trial shouldn’t have been a three-week process because everyone witnessed the video where Chauvin killed Floyd.

“But I think now’s the time to take action because justice can’t be served until we are all organized and are able to come to a conclusion because nothing is ever going to bring back all of the many people that should still be alive today like George Floyd,” Wojciechowski said.

The conversation then turned to the question of how police officers should have better handled the murder and investigation of Lauren McCluskey. McCluskey was a U student-athlete who reached out to campus police for help several times before she was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. Wojciechowski said it has impacted the way she sees police on campus. 

“I’m a queer woman and I’m also a survivor of sexual assault and it’s hard for me to have trust in our police force on campus and also feel safe anywhere on campus, going anywhere alone. I always want to have someone with me that I trust because, to be frank, I’ve seen our police force fail,” Wojciechowski said.

“President Ruth Watkins — she had created a review committee of UUPD, but there are no student perspectives or voices on that review committee. While it has good intentions it’s not doing anything for the good of students, and so I believe that there can be a lot more that the police can do to fix their own infrastructure,” said Tiffany Chan, Vice President of University Relations.

Chan said that according to an individual she declined to name, there is a plan to include new infrastructure for the UUPD that will emphasize not only harm prevention but also safety and well-being of students.

The former U Police Chief and four officers have come forward and to sue the U for personal damages. Miguel Deras was one of the officers who showed explicit photos of McCluskey. 

Panelist Pearl Bassa said she was not surprised these former officers are asking for compensation for emotional distress as they are in a system where men are given priority over women. She mentioned her previous experiences with assault at the U. 

“Working at the hospital up at the U, there are women who have been told they need to save their marriages, even though their spouses have abused them physically, mentally, emotionally,” Bassa said. “Even when I was at work and I was assaulted by my assistant manager, I told my manager what had happened and I ended up quitting my job. He ended up staying assistant manager and nothing happened to him. This is the reality of many women here in Utah.” 

After speaking on domestic violence and collective safety, the discussion moved towards what collective safety might look like without police being a key part of the safety structure.

“Moving forward, I think that a great way that could be a start is defunding the police and having conversations around it to figure out the best way to go. Obviously, I don’t have the answer and I don’t think any of us really have the answer but giving space to those, like people who have experienced police brutality, specifically … to come up with a solution that is better for our collective safety,” Wojciechowski said.

Diversity Board Chair Ermiya Fanaeian, along with the other panelists, emphasized the need for moving funds away from campus police and making moves towards funding community resources.

“Those who are fleeing domestic violence, a huge way to stop that would have been to put those funds towards getting housing for them and getting them rides and getting them the warm meals and getting them these kinds of safety nets that would help them,” Fanaeian said.

Moving forward, the panelists do not expect the University to make a change to police funding. Although Chan said the bare minimum their administration can do is to not support any increase in UUPD’s presence on campus.

“I think university administration really needs to start having conversations with the right people, the people that are experiencing these issues and the people that are going through all these experiences,” Wojciechowski said.

Wojciechowski also encouraged people to send emails, gather support and organize protests to mobilize the university administration to get these policies changed.

 

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@jacktoleary