As calls for police reform and abolition have grown louder following the police killing of George Floyd, students and faculty are seeking oversight over the University of Minnesota Police Department.
Student leaders are in the preliminary stages of drafting a University Senate resolution to create the UMPD Community Police Accountability Board, which would adopt rules and regulations for the department and review investigations and complaints against it, among other responsibilities.
The resolution had been in the co-authors’ minds for a long time, but George Floyd’s killing spurred them to take action.
“We saw a call to action, and so we wanted to act,” said Briggs Tople, a co-author of the resolution and incoming Student Senate Consultative Committee chair. “We understood that the best way that we could was to use the tools that we had at our disposal … which was to try to use student advocacy to push for a progressive cause on our own campus.”
The board would consist of elected at-large students, multicultural student group representatives, faculty, union workers, neighborhood representatives and administrators from several University offices. The structure is based on existing police advisory boards at peer schools such as Northwestern University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Michigan.
While still in its early stages, the co-authors have consulted with several University stakeholders to draft the current version of the resolution.
“This has been a continued conversation with ensuring that this committee can be established to bring about transparency on campus,” said Janet Nguyen, a co-author of the resolution. “We're trying to build dialogue and conversation about tangibly creating this and bringing about attention from the University offices, administration and the Board of Regents.”
Although the resolution is still in its preliminary stages, it has already garnered more than 60 students, student groups and faculty as co-sponsors, including incoming undergraduate student body President Amy Ma, College of Liberal Arts Student Board President Kaitlyn Minarsich and the Multicultural Greek Council.
Sonali Pahwa, co-sponsor of the resolution and associate professor of theatre arts and dance at the University, sent a letter to the President’s Office on June 8 supporting the resolution along with the signatures of 37 CLA faculty members.
“I've lived in this country now for 25 years, and I've really come to realize that the American police is in many ways enforcing racism and racist violence,” Pahwa said. “Now there's a space for a larger conversation about this. Certainly the George Floyd killing opened up that space, but, I mean, I've been at the U since 2014, and this is already the third police killing of a Black man that I've witnessed while living in this city. So, it's been a powder keg for a while.”
University President Joan Gabel replied to the email saying she has received multiple student proposals regarding UMPD in recent weeks.
“... We are leaning into senate processes in order to ensure a shared governance approach with all voices represented,” she said in the email.
The co-authors are hoping to bring the resolution to the University Senate in the coming months, after corresponding with other student groups and members of the University community.
“We wouldn't want to push through a resolution or do a lot of work without making sure that their voices are like the ones that are represented in these types of pushes,” Nguyen said.