Editor’s Note: In an attempt to uplift and amplify the UW Black Student Union, the Opinion section is pursuing eight pieces that will address the UW BSU’s demands for the University of Washington. This piece covers the demand to break all ties from the SPD, what has been done so far, and the work the UW still needs to do.
The UW’s Black Student Union (BSU) laid out their seven demands for the UW’s leadership in July. In the four months since, there have been task forces proposed, town halls held, and seemingly empty promises made.
The first demand, to break all ties with the Seattle Police Department (SPD), is important for the safety and well-being of everyone on campus, but especially for the BIPoC community. The SPD has been historically anti-Black, leading to a large part of the UW community feeling unsafe on campus.
In the past, the UW has worked with SPD to have officers present at sporting events to serve as crowd control. Officers from SPD can also be called in to aid the UW Police Department (UWPD) with more serious crimes.
In an Instagram post, the BSU called for UWPD to stop handing people who have been detained over to SPD, to stop using SPD to respond to welfare checks under the Safe Campus program and public safety needs on campus, and to stop using SPD at sporting events.
“When a police force has a history that’s violent and anti-Black, we don’t want to interact with any of them,” Navon Morgan, vice president of campus affairs for the BSU, said.
In many ways, the response from the UW’s leadership has felt lackluster. There are a lot of “we hear you’s” and not as much direct action.
“There is no question that safety is our top priority,” UW President Ana Mari Cauce said in a town hall on policing and campus security. “Safety for our students, faculty, staff, and for all members of the community who visit our campus. And when I say safety, obviously, I mean physical safety, but I also think it’s important to recognize that it’s also important to feel safe.”
In light of the violent actions taken by the SPD against protesters this past summer, how can Black students feel safe when there are armed officers on campus?
In a letter responding to the demands made by the BSU, Cauce stated that there are no formal contracts between the UW and SPD –– and she has stressed this point over and over. However, there are informal agreements between SPD and UWPD, making it difficult to monitor the true nature of the situation.
Cauce also wrote that the UW will continue to work with the SPD to solve or prevent crimes that have taken place, or could take place, on UW’s campus.
One aspect of the BSU’s demand to break ties with SPD has been met by the UW. In the letter, Cauce pledged the UW would “not contract with the SPD for security at football games or any other events on campus.”
This is a good starting point toward breaking all ties with SPD, but it also leaves a lot of room for walking back or dulling the effectiveness of the statements made by the UW. According to an interview conducted with members of the BSU, they are still working on accessing public records to see if there have been any formal contracts between the UW and SPD.
The SPD is a racist, violent institution — that much has been made evident in the past several months of protesting. If you need proof that it is important to cut all ties with them for the safety of BIPoC members of the UW community, look up the names Charleena Lyles, John T. Williams, or the many others who were killed by members of the SPD.
As students at the UW, it’s all of our jobs to advocate and fight for the seven demands to be met, especially one as seemingly simple as not working with the SPD on any matters regarding the UW.
The mental and physical safety of every member of the UW community should be all of our priorities, and this is especially important to maintain for our Black students, faculty, and staff.
Put pressure on UW leadership. Keep them honest to their word of not entering any new contracts with the SPD. Every student at UW should have the environment they need to succeed, and the only way that can happen is if all students get involved in the fight.
Reach writer Zoe Schenk at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @schenk_zoe
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