University of Michigan students are urging University President Mark Schlissel to take action and condemn the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department after a video emerged showing a white sheriff’s deputy punching a Black woman during an arrest last Tuesday in Ypsilanti Township.
Mass protests have erupted nationwide to shed light on racism and police brutality. The protests in Washtenaw County are parallel to the demonstrations occurring across the country after George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minn.
LSA and SMTD junior Andrew Gerace and other University students drafted a letter to Schlissel and shared it on social media for other University students to send, hoping to initiate a change in the University’s policies to take a stand for communities of color and to promote equity and inclusiveness.
“Knowing that the University of Michigan is an institution which at least outwardly says that diversity and inclusivity is a huge focus of its programming, I felt that we may have success in getting the University of Michigan to do something like the University of Minnesota did in regards to George Floyd,” Gerace said.
The University of Minnesota announced Wednesday they are limiting interactions and ending contracts with the Minneapolis Police Department. These actions include no longer using the police department for support at football games, concerts and other large events. Additionally, any specialized services such as K-9 explosive-detection units provided by the police department will be terminated.
Kim Broekhuizen, University of Michigan spokeswoman, said the University’s Division of Public Safety and Security is committed to ensuring the safety and security of the University community and recognizes the unique requirements of an educational environment.
“All U-M DPSS police and security officers are required to complete training in de-escalation techniques, implicit bias and crisis intervention,” Broekhuizen wrote. “They will continue investing in training and relationship-building to safeguard trust between U-M officers and the communities that they serve. DPSS has excellent working relationships with our local law enforcement partners.”
Broekhuizen further noted DPSS is dedicated to developing training programs, community events and strategies to strengthen the trust between the University and its community.
Public Policy junior Amanda Kaplan and LSA junior Saveri Nandigama, Central Student Government president and vice president, respectively, also released a statement Sunday afternoon condemning the “heinous and inhumane acts of racism and murder.”
Kaplan and Nandigama further detailed steps in how they hope to move forward as anti-racist allies, including breaking ties with oppressive police forces, providing safe learning spaces for students and dismantling systems of racism in social settings. The CSG leaders specifically noted a commitment to examining collaboration between Washtenaw County and the University.
“We commit to conducting an examination of every police force that works with UM,” Kaplan and Nandigama wrote. “We also want to work with UMPD to implement comprehensive anti-bias education. Finally, we will fight to sever relationships with departments that discriminate, stereotype, and/or actively threaten the lives of black students and other students of color.”
On Friday afternoon, Schlissel released a statement condemning the actions that caused the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota, of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Schlissel further emphasized the University’s role in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion within the community.
“Our mission is also why our work to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion must continue,” Schlissel wrote. “The University of Michigan has a critical role to play and an obligation to lead the kind of changes in our society that we all want to see. I know that our Division of Public Safety and Security is committed to being a continuing partner in this ongoing work.”
In response to Schlissel’s statement, Gerace noted the importance of not only addressing the national concerns, but also responding to the similar issues affecting the local community in Washtenaw County. He hopes the letter will urge Schlissel to change the University’s policies for people of color.
“On President Schlissel’s words, he’s talking about national issues, however we had something happen literally right near the University that his words would be much more impactful in shaping the circumstances around,” Gerace said. “Like many, he is calling out a problem and saying that the U-M should do something about it, but does not go far enough in pledging the University’s support in helping communities of color or making institutional change to actually accomplish change-making. He recognizes the power the institution could have in leadership yet does not use the power he describes.”
Summer News Editor Kristina Zheng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.