The Association of Black Social Work Students (ABSWS) held a protest Friday night to honor Daunte Wright, a Black man who was fatally shot by police in Minnesota on April 11, and to advocate for better policing practices at the University of Michigan.
On April 11, Wright was pulled over for having expired license tags, upon which Brooklyn Center police found that there was a warrant for his arrest. He attempted to re-enter his car, which caused a brief struggle between the officers and Wright. According to the account of the officers, the officer then attempted to point a taser at Wright but mistakenly drew a gun instead, shooting and killing Wright.
The protest began at the Diag, with around 70 people in attendance and many holding signs. Rackham student James Hill IV — president of the School of Social Work Student Union, member of the Association of Black Social Work Students and another organizer of the protest — addressed the crowd on the steps of Hatcher Graduate Library.
“We are here to demand justice and respect for Daunte Wright’s life … , “ Hill said. “We are here to demand that the University address the large scale system-level problems that contribute to police violence. I am here for the collective vision that every coalition has come together to support the collective liberation of Black and brown people.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Social Work student Jazzy Rivas Dinkins — vice president of the Association of Black Social Work Students, student representative of the School of Social Work Student Union and an organizer of the event — said the event was held to address police brutality.
“We’re here to address the injustices of police brutality and police terrorism, and to advocate for the respect and justice for Daunte Wright’s life,” Rivas Dinkins said. “We wanted to address the police terrorism that’s happening elsewhere and see how we can address it in our own microcosm of a school.”
Rivas Dinkins said the organizers of the protest specifically want faster action on demands, such as anti-racism initiatives, presented to the administration last summer and a scholarship for children whose parents were victims of police brutality.
Social Work student Nevo Polonsky, a student representative in the School of Social Work Student Union and an organizer of the event, told The Daily the organizers also want to see the University conduct research on new forms of public safety.
“We know that policing is not the safest and the most effective way to promote safety and security.” Polonsky said. “We know that there’s hesitancy around broad scale reform because there is a concern of ‘What if this doesn’t work?’ … We want the University … to be the leader and looking for those alternatives, because this is a problem, and being a massive research university, we solve problems.”
The University’s Office of Public Affairs did not reply to request for comment in time for publication.
Engineering junior Khalif Adegeye, who attended the protest, said he wants to see the University take action to solve problems of systemic racism and police brutality.
“I’m an engineer,” Adegeye said. “I know about problem solving. It’s about getting to the root cause. The people who run this university are way smarter than me. I shouldn’t be able to come up with ideas and solutions better than hundreds of faculty who have been doing this for years. They should know better than me.”
Social Work student Courtney Grove-Dyer — an organizer of the event, field director of Black Radical Healing Pathways and social coordinator for the Association of Black Social Work Students — told the crowd about the dangers of being complacent.
“1,027 people were murdered by police terrorists last year,” Grove-dyer said. “There were only 18 days that no one was murdered by police. As a community, we celebrated George Floyd’s trial. But it was a small victory compared to the work that needs to be done. We must not remain complacent … We want freedom. We demand freedom. We deserve freedom. But we are not free until we can live in a society free of racism and free of white supremacy.”
Ross junior Manasi Sharma, board member of APIAVote-Michigan and board member of the United Asian American Organizations, spoke to the crowd about accountability.
“(We must be) demanding that institutions listen to us when we tell them what accountability looks like and the solutions that we want to see,” Sharma said. “We’re the ones who are disproportionately harmed by the solutions they choose to enact. There is no compromise when it comes to matters of lives and logic.”
Social Work student Diana Curtis, president of the Asian Pacific Islanders Social Work Coalition, told The Daily she came to the protest to show solidarity.
“When we heard a protest was happening, it was like a really big call to action for solidarity among all of the student groups in the School of Social Work,” Curtis said. “This year there’s a really big theme of advocacy, where people really want to be engaged with the community, especially when it’s hard to do virtually.”
The crowd then marched to President Schlissel’s house while chanting various slogans such as “No Justice, No Peace,” and “Say his name — Daunte Wright.” Some passersby joined in the chanting while many passing cars honked in support. The march was led by a group of students holding a long banner that read “Justice for Daunte Wright.”
At Schlissel’s house, U-M alum Anuja Rajendra, a board member of APIAVote-Michigan, told the crowd she wants the University to use its resources to further anti-racism research and alternative policing practices.
“(I want) the University to publicly commit to prioritizing research creating evidence-based alternatives to policing,” Rajnedra said. “We demand that the University reform its policing practices and contribute to the development of best practices for promoting safety and security.We are supposed to be leaders and best, so let’s start acting like it.”
Social Work student Katie Cox said she wants to see the University use its resources, including its $12 billion endowment, to support students of color.
“We’re supposed to be this premier university with all of these resources… a multi-billion dollar endowment, and you know, all of these research resources, and very, very smart professors,” Cox said. “We’ve hardly tapped into it when it comes to the demands and the needed change to make sure that our Black and brown students feel safe.”
The protesters then marched to the Campus Safety Services Building, home to the University of Michigan Police Department. LSA senior Thomas Vance is a member of the 20-person Advancing Public Safety at the University of Michigan task force, which was established earlier this year to review the University’s Department of Public Safety and Security’s (DPSS) current practices. Vance said the task force was denied several requests for extra time to review DPSS and provide recommendations.
“We were given four months to review DPSS and public safety on campus, (to) identify what’s working and areas of improvement and generate recommendations,” Vance said. “Despite multiple requests for timeline extensions, we were denied … (Professor) Earl (Lewis) lied on Wednesday when he said another proposal was on the table. There was a letter about a rigid timeline.”
Vance also spoke about a lack of cooperation and support from University administrators.
“This task force was set up to fail, (because there was) not enough time, a slow-ass bureaucratic process for data (and) co-chairs who will not step up to challenge,” Vance said. “(We also have) a Provost who refuses to listen to the people she put on the task force and a president who probably couldn’t care less. They’re more interested in calling it anti-racist and using it as a talking point, but they don’t give a shit about doing the work.”
The protestors then walked to the Fleming Administration Building, where Schlissel, Collins and many Regents have offices. There, Polonsky spoke about using power for positive impact.
“Power is often viewed as something negative, something that’s used over people,” Polonsky said. “And that’s because we often fail to use it with the people that actually need support. Right now we are those people. We have power … but the people that have the most power to actually create the change that we want to see are President Schlissel (and) Provost Collins, and they are failing to use their power in the ways that we actually need it.”
Rivas Dinkins also told The Daily that the University had failed to live up to its stated values of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“(The University) has anti-racism initiatives, DEI initiatives. But when you look deeper within what those initiatives are, they’re not enough,” Rivas Dinkins said. “They kind of address what the symptoms of what the issues are, but not the source of them.”
Daily Staff Reporter Justin O’Beirne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.