Organizing & Theory: An Abolitionist Recipe
As an elitist institution located in an area of extreme inequality (created in part by its own business operations), the University profits upon upholding punitive and carceral conceptions of “safety” that directly harm our Black and Brown community members rather than provide life affirming resources. To maintain its image and protect its property, the University owns & operates one of the world’s largest private police forces, the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD), with jurisdiction that extends far beyond campus. Of the 65,000 residents in its jurisdiction, only 15,000 are affiliated with the University, and about 50% of people in the jurisdiction are Black. UCPD’s own data reveals its rampant anti Blackness: from 2015 to June 2022, 73.4% of traffic stops, 92.9% of street questionings, and 93.7% of vehicle searches were of Black people. These residents are double policed, since the UCPD (a state certified department with the same powers as municipal police) actively collaborates and maintains concurrent jurisdiction with the Chicago Police Department (CPD).
The UCPD is an instrument to cement university prestige and bring a perceived idea of safety, both on and off campus. This vision of safety clearly disregards students and community members alike, particularly those who are a part of historically marginalized groups that have seen the brunt of police violence and surveillance. On campus, students won’t be strangers to seeing UCPD officers or vehicles on every block, and are told that these officers will protect them even give them a ride if they are too drunk to get home. Yet while these officers are instructed to aid students, not all students are afforded this privilege.
In 2010, an officer placed Mauriece Dawson, a Black student, in a chokehold for allegedly being “rowdy” in the A level of UChicago’s Regenstein library, an area in which students don’t need to restrict their volume. Bystanders didn’t report Dawson’s behavior as anything out of the ordinary, yet UCPD proceeded to arrest him and charge him with trespassing and resisting arrest. In 2018, a UCPD officer shot Charles Soji Thomas, a Black student, in the midst of a mental health crisis. This student was subsequently criminalized and incarcerated in the horrid conditions of Cook County Jail. #CareNotCops was formed under the group #UChicago United in the wake of this shooting, and campaigned with his family to get his charges dropped, while also supporting him by sending books and funds, helping him organize inside for better nutrition, and more. Thanks to years of actions, letter writing, and publicly pressuring government and university officials, we got Soji released from Cook County Jail, and then got his charges entirely dropped.
Following the November 9, 2021 shooting of UChicago graduate Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng and an outcry for more policing from students and faculty that fueled anti Black sentiments, the university announced a number of short and long term security measures, including joint patrols with CPD, increased foot and vehicle patrols “on and near campus,” increased Police Observation Device (POD) camera technology, and increased use of security cameras and license plate readers “in nearby neighborhoods.” These increases in surveillance both on and off campus led to the shooting of our neighbor and community member, Rhysheen Wilson, as he was undergoing a mental health crisis this past February. Rhysheen was shot by the same officer who shot Soji in an eerily similar situation this shows that more policing harms those already most vulnerable in our communities rather than truly “creating safety.”
#CareNotCops held a healing gathering after Dennis’s death, where Assata’s Daughter organizer Vee Morris More spoke about her experiences with UChicago’s violence and about community healing and safety for all. We also held a rally to protest the UCPD shooting of Rhysheen Wilson and continue to organize and act against the UCPD today.
While we know the names and stories of several Black students who have been assaulted by UCPD, we know that these are not isolated incidents and are not unique to the student experience. This same racist policing has been deployed off campus against community members. More than just the disparate stop and search statistics referenced above, the University has actively embraced the UCPD’s “broken windows policing,” a strategy which severely punishes minor crimes in hopes of deterring overall crime. Applied in New York City, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, this strategy has been widely acknowledged as highly ineffective and racist. As evidenced by the statistics, broken windows policing has had similar effects when deployed by the UCPD. Just this past summer, an email from Provost Ka Yee C. Lee describes a new expansion in security guard surveillance, “blue light” stations with security cameras, and Deans-on-Call who can report crimes as initiatives that deter crime, increase safety, and further increase access to immediate assistance. All of these initiatives – each serving as direct lines to UCPD and CPD officers – link increased policing and surveillance with crime reduction. We know that these surveillance efforts only serve to bring more cops onto our streets, while diverting resources from actual community needs.
Not only does the University run one of the largest private police departments, it has also become a crucial player in expanding surveillance in Chicago and providing CPD with data analysis and research. Last year’s edition dove into the structure of the Crime Lab, UChicago’s privately-owned lab which has several ties to CPD. The Crime Lab may market itself as a site of unbiased research, but the fact that it is contracted by CPD truly shows that it has no interest in doing anything else besides supporting and expanding policing. Much of the Crime Lab’s research would not even be possible if it weren’t for its data sharing agreements with CPD. In fact, CPD’s collaboration with the Crime Lab is so close that the first civilian analysts for CPD’s Strategic Decision Support Centers (SDSC’s) were Crime Lab analysts. What is worse is that understanding the inner workings of this lab is quite difficult given that it is technically a private entity, which means information about it is not accessible through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (usual form of research government bodies) tricky. Much information about this lab remained in the dark until the Lucy Parsons Lab took UChicago to court and proved that the Crime Lab is performing a governmental function.
The Crime Lab is only one example of how the University’s role in policing extends far beyond UCPD. It is clear that this institution is also committed to increasing surveillance throughout Hyde Park. Just this past academic year, the University pushed a $3 million dollar plan for increased surveillance through city council. This ordinance was passed just days after students and community members rallied for reparations during UChicago’s alumni weekend. The irony of UChicago footing a $3 million bill to increase surveillance in the area it continues to gentrify while refusing to put forth any real plans for reparations is not lost on us.
Still, while this move is clearly abhorrent, it is not surprising. This is not the first time UChicago has worked to expand surveillance of the neighborhood. The Crime Lab actively helped implement several new technologies in CPD’s policing practices, including Shotspotter,. Shotspotter is an audio surveillance system that is meant to detect gunshots and bring police to the scene. However, all it does is bring more police into Black and brown neighborhoods and create extremely hostile situations. The Office of the Inspector General of Illinois (OIG) studied this system and showed that 9 out of 10 times a Shotspotter alert goes off, there is no evidence of a gun related incident. This makes sense, given that the technology is known to mistake loud noises such as cars backfiring and fireworks for gunshots. Still, cops descend upon neighborhoods looking for armed threats following these alerts, which has led to an increase in stop and frisk in Chicago. This has real consequences on people across the city. The MacArthur Justice Center is currently in class action litigation against the use of this technology, and one of the plaintiffs was wrongfully incarcerated for nearly a year due to a Shotspotter alert. To know that UChicago will eagerly jump on to deploy extremely harmful technology before responding to community needs exposes that is it not at all interested in the well being of the community it occupies. Maybe add a few words on what uchicago’s true priorities are?
It has become increasingly clear to many that the police only serve and protect the wealth, status, and property of the wealthiest and most privileged, while inflicting violence upon and intimidating the most vulnerable and marginalized. In order to interrupt the cycles of harm, suffering and injustice of the Prison Industrial Complex that is, the intersecting interests of government and industry that employ surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to ‘social problems’ reform is not enough. While demands to defund the police have gained widespread attention, there is an adjacent call to abolish, that is, completely eradicate, police and prisons.
“Abolition is about presence, not absence. It's about building life affirming institutions.” Ruth Wilson Gilmore. Organizing to abolish the police, private and public, is being led by Black and brown organizers in Chicago and beyond. In order to abolish the police, we have to build a society that doesn’t revolve around punishment and disappearing people in a show of state sanctioned violence. We have to be present for one another, both in an abolitionist future and in the work that will get us there.
Ingredients for Abolition
These resources align with the abolitionist vision of a world with police and prisons. They aim to teach sustainable actions, community relationships and trust, and reevaluation on what safety really means.
For On Campus:
#CareNotCops (#CNC) Dissenters
For Off Campus:
#LetUsBreathe Collective Defund CPD
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Read on for some ways to plug into and support the abolitionist movement in Chicago. Unsure about abolition? Want to learn more? See this New York Times article from last summer, ‘Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police’, by Black abolitionist organizer Mariame Kaba, or this zine So You Want to Be a Prison Abolitionist: An Introduction to Abolitionist Theory & Organizing created by #CareNotCops alum Emma Chosy. Utilize police alternatives. Feel like you want/need to call the police? Due to a lack of true investment in alternatives and virulent copaganda, this may feel like the case. Here is a zine that discusses 12 Things to do Instead of Calling the Cops. Remember that involving the police can have deadly consequences for yourself or your neighbors, and should be avoided at all costs.
One example: “If something of yours is stolen and you need to file a report for insurance or other purposes, consider going to the police station instead of bringing cops into your community.” Learn about local South Side-based solutions. GoodKids Mad City (GKMC) is a Chicago-based black and brown youth-led organization calling for youth and community driven solutions to violence. They call for the establishment of a Peace Book which aims to reduce youth incarceration through the restorative justice practices and models for neighborhood based peace treaties. Here is more information on GoodKids MadCity’s (GKMC) Peace Book Ordinance.
Learn, practice, and organize for abolition of UCPD. As you step into a leveraged role as a UChicago student, it is important to gain a critical awareness about and action against our institution’s false rhetoric about “safety” that protects property over community. #CNC demands that the University disarms, defunds, disbands, and discloses its private, militarized police force, and invest in existing community care networks and resources for students and communities of color. This coalition building extends beyond campus through their membership in the Turtle Island wide Cops Off Campus Coalition, and connections with citywide abolitionist organizations. Last year’s edition outlines CNC’s move from its inaugural campaign and their work in multiple organizing capacities on and off campus in the past few years. Follow or message #CNC on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook to get plugged into the work. Divest from war and militaristic profit and reinvest in people and the environment. Dissenters is a national movement organization that is leading a new generation of young people to reclaim our resources from the war industry, reinvest in life giving services, and repair collaborative relationships with the earth and people around the world. The UChicago Dissenters chapter works to dismantle the cop serving, University run Crime Lab as well as support Chicago and nation wide Dissenters campaigns.
Listen to and support those harmed by the Prison Industrial Complex. #LetUsBreathe Collective is a collective of artists and activists that organizes “artists to love and transform themselves, their families, their communities, and their cities through radical imagination and healing.” They host cultural events, teach ins and direct actions to amplify marginalized voices and support communities affected by the carceral system. The Collective has created the Breathing Room space to serve as a resource for arts, healing, and organizing. Be involved with the city wide effort to defund CPD. Chicago spends over $1.8 billion every year on the Chicago Police Department. That’s 40% of the city budget that goes toward a violent, racist police force that does not keep us safe. Defund CPD is a massive grassroots effort that calls for investing those funds into our communities. This is one step toward the ultimate abolition of policing and incarceration, and toward building a society that truly invests in the care of dignity and wellness of all people. Join the movement by signing onto the Defund CPD demands at bit.ly/DemandDefundCPD.
Ingredients for Access
The environment at UChicago is inaccessible in a number of ways and there exists structural and interpersonal ableism. But, contrary to popular belief, that doesn't mean that disabled students aren’t here! You also don’t have to be disabled or identify as disabled to be impacted by ableism or benefit from greater accessibility and disability justice, and there are many aspects of being at UChicago that can be disabling to anyone. There are a few key ways that UChicago concocts its hostility and inaccessibility. The campus is physically inaccessible in terms of the built environment, with many buildings not even being compliant with the federally-required Americans with Disabilities Act (where the ADA should be the absolute minimum!). Classes are inaccessible in a number of ways and accessing accommodations requires both an immense amount of work and disclosing of personal information on the part of the student, oftentimes not resulting in adequate access or accommodations. If accommodations are achieved, a d t i ti l t b ent to professors and TAs through the AIM identiality terms and make public reference to alternate testing. If you are struggling to get lone. Student Disability Services (SDS) is ill take advantage of the fact that you might are available or what your rights to
ng of the COVID 19 pandemic, a mass disabling cessibility and exclusion. In particular, during in person classes were required and throughout singly fewer precautions and alternative ents to choose between their health and safety ng them to sacrifice a great deal to attend er options, a potentially lethal ask for sick
At the end of Winter quarter the mask mandate s lifted and in early Spring quarter the mask as lifted. There was an immediate and drastic e point, reaching an over 12% positivity rate om the University in the short term, despite get the mask mandate reinstated, and despite ces such as long covid.
also deeply interdependent.
In navigating the bureaucracy of getting accommodations, knowledge is power. The University puts the onus on you for getting accommodations which means that the onus is also on you in knowing what to ask for. This is an especially unfair task when there is little visibility or discussion of what accommodations exist and if someone is just getting acquainted with what their access needs might be. Talking to other students about their accommodations or using online databases such as askjan which allows you to search by disability to get a list of what job accommodations can be given, give you ideas of what to ask for when navigating SDS. Other students might also have tips on how they navigated getting accommodations. The 2021 Dis O booklet discusses some of the different categories of accommodations and some tips on how to acquire them. The Students for Disability Justice RSO (SDJ) can also help you navigate SDS and how to make campus more accessible. You can reach out by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on one of our social medias. SDJ is also working to make campus more accessible beyond the individual. We are continuing to fight to try to get part time status reinstated as an option for students and for there to be more accommodating policies around late withdrawal for classes. We are also advocating for the creation of a disability town hall to keep the issues around disability and accessibility in the conversation and hoping that with more visibility people can learn more about what barriers might be facing them or others and how to combat them.
In a similar vein, SDJ is trying to get questions about disability included in the campus climate survey both to gain another avenue for our voices and for there to be more awareness that disabled students are here. SDJ also tries to get other groups to think about accessibility and to get accessibility built into more spaces by hosting events such as what an access statement is and how to create one with suggestions on how to build accessibility into your event
Another aspect to accessibility is being conscious that the pandemic is not over and avoiding acting as though it is. On the contrary, along with high case numbers of Covid 19 there is the addition of Monkeypox virus (MPXV) and even a few cases of Polio thrown into the mix. Not acknowledging the reality of this creates even greater exclusion and disablement. Keep wearing masks, keep getting tested, get vaccinated. Try to encourage others to keep masking. Even if you stopped wearing a mask it is never too late to start again. Not doing so creates dangerous situations for everyone and additionally signals a lack of care for the people around you. Our lives are not disposable and you are not entitled to our deaths.
It is also crucial to understand that disability justice is a specific framework, movement, and lineage. If we claim to be practicing disability justice, then we must adhere to what it centers and the framework that has been defined by groups such as Sins Invalid.
The 10 principles of disability justice are: intersectionality, leadership from the most impacted, anti capitalist politics, commitment to cross movement organizing, recognizing wholeness, sustainability, commitment to cross disability solidarity, interdependence, collective access and collective liberation. In how we move through campus, we must keep battling the myth of independence and understanding that our lives are interdependent and how the structures around us interact and are upheld and be conscious of what we may be reproducing in our everyday actions.
Background: lors a ease s y dang r cris ployee our Re
When talking to someone it can be a good idea to ask if they are a mandated reporter cause this may change how you navigate the interaction. If you are calling student counseling or a crisis line, turn off your location on your phone so that they can’t route to you. There are a few ways to try to avoid being in the situation where you are calling someone in crisis and are put in this precarious position. One avenue is trying to get involved with therapy before things get to the point of crisis. Unfortunately, the wait times to get a therapist at UChicago are notoriously long. One way to try to get someone faster is to search for a therapist yourself online and try to find one you like that takes referrals from student counseling, then contact student counseling and ask for a referral to the specific person you have already found. This method is faster and more on your terms but getting the referral can help with getting insurance coverage. You can look by generally searching online, asking friends about their experiences, or using directories like the National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network and searching by zipcode
Of course while therapy can make a big difference it might not be right for everyone, and some people have had traumatizing and stigmatizing experiences from the mental health and medical industrial complex and many of the ways that it operates can further perpetuate harms. Another avenue is to explore peer support spaces and options outside of the institutional system. There are existing organizations and networks on a national level that center the experience of mad and disabled multiply marginalized people with resources and sometimes online support groups such as The Fireweeds Collective and Project LETS. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis and need somewhere to go but don’t want to risk the psychiatric system Thresholds’ The Living Room serves a peer led crisis respite center where you can stay. We are also working on campus to build up more options and build community so people won’t feel like they have to turn to a system that will harm them. This year a chapter of Project LETS is forming and hoping to create a healing space of peer support and work to erase the stigma around mental health, madness, and trauma without reproducing the harms of many systems rooted in ideas of normalcy.The UChicago chapter can be contacted at email@example.com. How we handle mental health is deeply interdependent with other forms of liberation and we must be working to invest in community care outside of criminalization and stigmatization.