Two University Police Department (UCPD) officers allegedly assaulted a black student from the School for Social Service Administration (SSA) on January 23 as he walked near Regenstein Library, inciting numerous campus organizations to mobilize against police brutality.
Clemmie Carthans, a first-year graduate student at the SSA, said he was walking back from a party to meet a friend at 3 a.m. when an officer approached him and asked to see his identification. After examining his student ID and allowing him to leave, Carthans said the officer confronted him moments later as he met his friend, a white woman who lives in Snell-Hitchcock.
According to Carthans, the officer requested additional identification from him and asked the woman about her safety. As he reached for more documents in his pocket, the officer put his hand on his gun and snatched Carthan's wrist.
Carthans said the situation escalated until the officer, then joined by another policeman, told him to lie on the ground. When he refused to cooperate, the officers began to physically assault Carthans, pushing him down and kicking his torso. Carthans also claims that he was punched in the mouth and that his head was slammed on a police car.
Other UCPD officers soon arrived at the scene and separated the two parties. After a heated exchange in which he admits he acted belligerently, Carthans said the police let him go without placing him under arrest.
"The way [the officers] carried themselves made it seem as though they do this on a regular [basis]," Carthans said. "We need to put some heat on them and make them accountable for their actions."
Carthans was treated at University Hospitals for injuries and released later that night. He has filed complaints with both the Chicago Police and the UCPD.
While refusing to comment on the details of the incident, Rudy Nimocks, executive direction of the UCPD, said that an internal investigation is being conducted and will be concluded within the next few days.
"We take very seriously any allegations involving the misconduct of an officer," Nimocks said. "We make very penetrating and thorough investigations."
Carthans, a native of Chicago, said the police had harassed him before, but he had never been physically assaulted until the night of incident.
"I came to school to be a student, not to be beat up by the police," Carthan's said. "If I can stop this from happening to other students, then it will have been worth it."
Students from the SSA are organizing a campaign during the next week to raise awareness about the incident and gain signatures for a petition to be sent to the UCPD. Members from several campus groups will also distribute literature around campus, including Minorities in Public Policy, Black Law Students, and Minorities in Graduate studies.
An e-mail has also been sent out to a variety of campus list hosts briefly explaining the situation and seeking support from students and community members.
Nimocks said that, though he has seen such e-mails circulating, he is not upset about its effect on the public perception of the UCPD.
Many students are up in arms, and appear to be using Saturday evening's confrontation as an opportunity to make a statement about police brutality in general.
"This incident is not something you hear about and forget or let go," said Cythnia Lee, a second-year graduate student at the SSA. "Our immediate response was to think about what's next, and what can we do?"
Lee said that racial profiling might have played a role in the incident, adding that the support that many different groups have displayed demonstrates that the issue transcends racial boundaries. "It's not a black or white thing," she said.
Carthans also believed that his race might have played a role in the incident. "I know I don't fit the University of Chicago profile, but this isn't a gated community either," he said.
Both officers involved in the incident were black, Carthans noted, describing one as heavyset and the other of medium build.
In the coming weeks, SSA students plan to post flyers and eventually organize a demonstration and forum, according to the e-mail.
Carthans said he was in the process of finding legal representation to bring a case against the UCPD officers who assaulted him, but he has met with some difficulties. Many people he has contacted, including the ACLU, said that his injuries were not severe enough to merit a case.
In the meantime, Carthans is trying to stay focused on his schoolwork and keep a level head about the situation.
"This incident has helped me stay grounded more than it has been a distraction," Carthans said. "I'm just going to keep doing what I came here to do."