He needed help, and UChicago cops shot him

April 9, 2018

Students are standing in solidarity with a University of Chicago student of color who was shot by campus police officers while he was experiencing a mental health episode—and then was charged with aggravated assault. Below is a statement from the UChicago Socialists.

IN THE last few weeks, yet another series of mass shootings and police murders have forced the country to confront endemic problems of gun violence, systemic racism and police brutality.

Survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have forced a national debate on civilian gun control, but they have also helped elevate the conversation to address the constant violence of American law enforcement. Additionally, police shootings in Sacramento and Brooklyn have demonstrated the extent to which gun violence is inextricable from police violence.

On the night of Tuesday, April 3, University of Chicago (UChicago) police shot a student of color, Charles Thomas, in a Hyde Park alleyway.

The Chicago Maroon has subsequently reported that the student's behavior was related to a mental health episode. The Maroon showed conclusively that he posed no threat to the UChicago Police Department (UCPD) officers, whose incompetence and violent actions needlessly escalated a manageable situation.

Students march against police brutality at the University of Chicago
Students march against police brutality at the University of Chicago (Lee Harris | The Chicago Maroon)

We wish Thomas a full recovery from what we can only imagine has been an incredibly traumatic experience for him and for his loved ones. We stand firmly against the outrageous felony charges he faces--among them, aggravated assault of the officer who shot him.

THIS TRAGIC incident is indicative of a number of major problems at the University of Chicago. The shooting raises serious questions about the UCPD, a massive, private armed force that polices tens of thousands of people, many of whom are not affiliated with the university.

Its protocols are not public, and there is no community oversight of its practices (the token UChicago oversight committee that does exist is composed almost entirely of administration appointees).

The UCPD enforces the interests of the university, criminalizes people of color on the South Side and terrorizes local communities. While Black residents comprise 59 percent of the population in the area that the UCPD patrols, data from the first 10 months during which UCPD began publishing daily reports indicate that up to 93 percent of stops were of Black residents, demonstrating a pattern of racial profiling.

Furthermore, police aren't health professionals. Their actions often escalate conflicts, and their presence in poor and working-class communities is only a means to uphold and further the racial and economic inequality that exists on the South Side of Chicago. The communities that surround UChicago know only too well who the UCPD truly protects, and who they truly serve.

Tuesday night's events also confirm that the University of Chicago has failed to provide adequate mental health resources for its students.

There is significant stigma attached to mental health problems on campus, and students who do seek help face administrative consequences that traumatize students and threaten their enrollment at the university. It comes as no surprise, then, that UChicago's mental health first responders are police officers whose only de-escalation technique is lethal force.

In exercising such force, UChicago police perpetrate the same state violence that is committed against people like Decynthia Clements, a Black woman who was shot and killed last month by Elgin, Illinois, police as she exited her burning car along Interstate 90.

The violence of the UCPD is not separate from racist state violence in Sacramento, Elgin or Chicago. We demand that UCPD be immediately disarmed, come under both campus and community oversight, and ultimately be disbanded. To that end, we strongly support the demands of UChicago United, a coalition of multicultural student organizations on campus, and encourage everyone to stand in solidarity with them in demanding justice for this police shooting.

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