The UChicago branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) hosted the public forum “An Occupying Force: UChicago’s Role in Policing and Gentrifying the South Side” in University Church on Wednesday. Moderated by Nate Goldbaum, a leader within the branch, the forum featured an opening speech by Destiny Gowdy, a prominent ISO figure, regarding the recent student shooting followed by discussion facilitated by an array of student members, University faculty, and neighborhood residents.
“The shooting was a culmination of years of oppression that the University has inflicted on the campus and the community at the hands of the UCPD,” Gowdy said of the April 3 incident.
She then remarked on the relationship between the Hyde Park and University communities.
“The two are one and the same,” Gowdy said. “This may be one of the safest neighborhoods in South Side Chicago, but at what price and who is paying? The institution doesn’t seem to go out of its way to hide the fact that it is prioritizing property over people, going to great lengths including employing one of the largest private police forces in the nation to advance the militarization and criminalization of college campuses.”
After providing a brief history of the UCPD, Gowdy questioned the UCPD’s transparency.
“The protocols of the UCPD are not open to the public, [and] there is no community oversight,” Gowdy said. “The UCPD continues to enforce only in interest of the University, and in doing so you can see how they criminalize people of color and community members.”
The forum then moved to open discussion. Attendees raised questions about the University’s funding priorities, including the balance between the UCPD and mental health care or sexual assault prevention. They declared an overarching goal to entirely disarm, defund, and disband the UCPD by next fall.
Connor Bean, a Hyde Park resident and former University graduate student, criticized the state of UChicago’s mental health services.
“There’s a tradeoff between policing and student mental health with regards to what resources should be expended,” Bean said. “[Mental health] seems like an unwanted expense at this university in comparison to hiring hundreds of armed folks to be out on the streets patrolling [UChicago’s] property investments 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Everett Pelzman, a third-year in the College, stressed the importance of learning the history of the UCPD and its role in occupying the South Side. He also commented on the undergraduate reaction to the shooting.
“Where were the riots?” Pelzman asked. “The University police officers just shot a student. Where is this movement against the UCPD that we are talking about? We might learn something from the high school students in the community who led a march last Friday on the University’s Medical Center.”
Gowdy closed the forum by emphasizing the need to balance the University’s concerns and those of the greater Hyde Park community.