Students at Loyola University in Chicago are protesting the racial profiling and assault of two students of color by campus police following a demonstration on February 24 — and demanding that the university be held accountable for the actions of its officers and the climate that led to the brutality.
This was a blatant act of racism and brutality by a university whose own officials watched and did nothing to prevent the police assault, let alone step in to protect the students.
The officers arrested one of the students and tried to take him to a police station, but thanks to the collective action of some 25 students who blocked their vehicle, the student was later released.
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The confrontation began after a coalition of activist groups on campus had planned a protest at the entrance to the Norville Athletics Facility at the start of a basketball game to focus attention on the university’s use of $2 million of student tuition to pay for an additional student-athletes-only facility.
As the protest was winding down, protesters witnessed two Loyola officers detaining and frisking two Black men who appeared to be trying to attend the game. As other attendees streamed through the doors for the game, the two were pushed against the wall spread-eagle as the cops conducted a humiliating stop-and-frisk.
Protesters saw what was happening and began chanting to draw attention to it. Two of the demonstrators, both members of the Loyola Socialists, one of whom was Black, came closer to draw attention to this act of racial profiling.
In a city where 72 percent of people stopped by cops are Black, even though African Americans account for only 32 percent of the population, anyone seeing the police frisking people of color in public would be right to be suspicious.
The two protesters approached the officers and, standing at some distance, questioned police about why they were detaining the two men — who were then whisked away by police to continue their search out of sight.
At this point, an officer yelled at the Black student who was questioning officers, demanding to know if he was a student. Before he had time to answer, the officer grabbed him and, with the help of two other officers, shoved him onto the ground face-first and handcuffed him.
By this point, many students who had been at the protest had come over to see what was going on. Video shows an officer singling out a Latina student, grabbing her by the collar and forcing her up against a wall.
In addition to the officers and students who were looking on, Assistant Dean of Students Jessica Landis can be seen in the video watching the assault and doing nothing to intervene.
Officers took the first student and put him in a campus safety vehicle. But before he could be taken to a police station, the crowd of students, protesters and passersby surrounded the vehicle, blocking it from moving and chanting, “Let him go!” and “This ain’t right!”
Inside the vehicle, an officer insulted and denigrated the student, having previously threatened him with expulsion.
After about half an hour of standing our ground — and fruitless attempted conversations with Dean of Students William Rodriguez, who dishonestly claimed that there was “nothing he could do” — our collective action finally worked: Rodriguez decided to direct the officers to let the student go.
Collective action and solidarity was the only thing that prevented the student from facing potential criminal charges. However, Dean Rodriguez and Assistant Dean Landis wouldn’t confirm in a meeting with students afterward that no disciplinary action would be taken against either student.
Loyola’s administration has responded to this incident not by apologizing, but trying to justify it. In a statement, the university claims that students “attempted to interfere with Campus Safety officers” and that the “individuals initially failed to identify themselves as students, but were later confirmed to be such.”
The statement ignores the fact that the students did nothing to physically interfere with officers, but were merely attempting to question them. It also ignores that the students were never given a chance to identify themselves before being seized by officers. In fact, video shows one student yelling “I am a student!” as he was being held down.
The university is blaming the victims in order to justify the use of violence against students who did nothing more than question campus safety officers about their conduct. This sends a chilling message to all students — especially students of color, who have now heard from the university administration itself that they can be violently assaulted by campus police, and the administration will defend its officers.
This disregard for the safety of students of color on campus, as well as inaction of administrators in the face of blatant racial profiling, is appalling. In the era of the Black Lives Matter movement, the attempt to ignore and even justify these practices by a university which claims to stand for social justice is the height of hypocrisy.
But the hypocrisy doesn’t stop there. Loyola’s “Plan 2020,” meant to lay out the university’s goals for the coming years, includes “prioritiz[ing] access to education for those from underserved communities as well as the tools to promote success for all students.” The document goes on to ask how Loyola could “become a beacon of hope for others and an instrument for preparing young men and women for the project of building a more just, humane, and sustainable world?”
The obvious gap between this rhetoric and the university’s actual record of disregarding the safety of students of color must be challenged by students, faculty, staff and the broader community.
Repression against student activists is familiar to those organizing at Loyola.
In 2015, three Black students faced suspension for helping to organize a Black Lives Matter demonstration in solidarity with protests at the University of Missouri. A student movement that erupted in 2007-08 specifically challenged what student activists called widespread racism and racial profiling on campus.
After the release of the student from the custody of campus officers, the crowd that helped block the police car convened a meeting. The group issued the following demands:
1. A statement of apology on behalf of the entire university (not just Campus Safety) taking full responsibility for their actions, and promising that they will never physically assault students again;
2. No police or university repercussions for [the students in question], as they did not violate federal or Illinois law, or the [Loyola University of Chicago] Community Standards;
3. Hold LUC Campus Safety accountable for the actions they took against [the students in question];
4. Establish legitimate, direct channels for complaints against university power structures and associated faculty, staff and employees, with student ability to open investigations, as well as the ability to actively engage in these investigations with transparency and clarity from administrators handling said investigations;
5. Reaffirm and materialize LUC’s commitment to students of color as stated in Plan 2020.
We do not want empty words of commitment and unity. We want transparent, well-defined goals that are a promise to do better. The students of LUC will hold you accountable for these goals and we demand action now.
The Loyola police should be held accountable for this racist act against two students who did nothing wrong whatsoever. We believe the three officers involved in this incident should be fired immediately.
Considering that this was not only an attack on students of color, but also represented a continuation of the repression of student activism on campus, the Loyola Socialists further demand the immediate granting of registered student organization status to the Loyola Socialists and any other student activist group denied such status.
Time and again, campus safety officers on Loyola’s campus have proven themselves to be a force for violence and repression, particularly against students of color, rather than promoters of safety. It’s clear that police have no place at an institution of learning — and should be removed from campus altogether to actually prioritize student safety.
The stated justification for the initial stop-and-frisk at the basketball game that led to the confrontation was that the two men were “scalping tickets.” Whether or not this was true, there is a wider context: Loyola has been steadily expanding and buying up land in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood — a historically low-income and racially diverse neighborhood. Poor and working-class residents of color bear the brunt of this gentrification.
Meanwhile, Loyola claims to be a university focused on “promoting social justice” and the “a commitment to act for the rights of others, especially the disadvantaged and the oppressed.”
The racial profiling that sparked the attack on students speaks to the contradictions of a university that claims to support the oppressed, but profiles them when they show up to a basketball game. Loyola cannot claim to promote a social justice worldview for its students, while assaulting and arresting them for standing up for justice.