Brown Africana Graduate Student Statement for Police Divestment

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We share a statement penned by Africana graduate students at Brown University in response to the latest acts of anti-Black police and vigilante murder and the subsequent national uprising. The statement exercises the responsibility to act from where we live, work, and study by joining students across the country in proposing several steps to terminating the police-university relationship. The Africana graduate students join the ever increasing commitment to community health by choosing divestment. 

We share with the aim of being in conversation and solidarity with students across Brown who are also challenging the university to divest from policing in this moment.

We, the graduate students of the Department of Africana Studies at Brown University, write to you as a community under duress. It is our families, our neighbors, our people who are left to survive an unrelenting regime of anti-Black vigilante and state violence. It is our families, our neighbors, our people who are forced to witness the profane reproduction of murder across mass and social media outlets in the name of “evidentiary material.” It is us. We write to condemn fleeting memories and calls to wait our turn. We write to amplify the national cry erupting from Minneapolis, Louisville, and Atlanta, a cry that refuses normalized oppression and the mandate to bear our scars for the pursuit of truth and incremental progress. Enough is enough

Denouncing the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade (and the murders of countless others before them) starts with organizing from where we live, work, and study. The increasingly militarized repression of the 2020 Uprising has accelerated calls by students across the country to abolish the police and the carceral state. In this spirit, we uplift and echo the demands of students at the University of Minnesota who have called for and achieved an end to contractual ties between the university and the Minneapolis Police Department. As they wrote in their demand, “We no longer wish to have a meeting or come to an agreement, there is no middle ground…This is not a problem of some other place or some other time.” By the same token, we are not requesting the appointment of committees or the opening of “dialogues” by our own university. We urge Brown to immediately divest from and sever its ties with the Providence Police Department. This is not a time for compromise or indecision. It is a time for action. 

In turning our attention to our own backyard, Brown University and the Providence community more broadly, we recognize the sustained efforts of Black students and community organizers in challenging anti-Black carceral practices and policies in Rhode Island and beyond. In 2006, the Coalition for Police Accountability and Institutional Transparency held a rally where protestors shared stories of racial discrimination by police officers. The organization was established “in response to allegations of institutionalized racism and abuse by the Department of Public Safety and the Providence Police Department.” 

In 2013, students and local organizers converged on List Art Center to successfully prevent a lecture by then New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly, a staunch supporter of “proactive policing” and the disgraced Stop and Frisk policy. In 2015, students hosted a campus Blackout to decry institutional and interpersonal racism at Brown following University of Missouri protests against ongoing incidents of anti-Black harassment and the loss of healthcare benefits for graduate workers. That same year, the Coalition of Concerned Graduate Students of Color at Brown University issued a statement demanding thorough and visible implementation of diversity and inclusion initiatives in response to the institution’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP). In 2016, Brown students pressed for collective safety through the disarmament and demilitarization of campus police. 

As members of the Brown University student body, we are here, once again, to affirm Black lives and to demand transformative change towards the liberation and protection of Black people transnationally. 

The Brown University Department of Public Safety is a nationally accredited, fully functioning police department with police jurisdiction on campus and its adjacent streets and highways. In fact, Brown University is the only private college in the state where campus security employees are sworn police officers with arrest powers. The use of firearms by on-duty campus police makes Brown University complicit in perpetuating fear, power hierarchies, and discriminatory penal codes in our academic and social environments. In tandem with the Movement for Black Lives and students across the country, we call for the termination of university-police relationships and the complete restructuring of public safety at Brown, wherein: 

1) All formal contracts and relationships with the Providence Police Department are immediately severed.

2) Campus security employees are disarmed and no longer licensed as Rhode Island Special Police officers.

3) Brown University redirects funds from the Department of Public Safety to invest in the health and wellbeing of Black students and community members. This includes using the redirected funds to support community organizing, collective healing, and reparations in the form of a fund for Black Providence residents displaced by the university, as well as the termination of programs such as Coffee with a Cop, Cooking with Cops, Cocoa with BroPo, and Pizza with the Chief to aid in the funding of community-led alternatives to policing.

4) Brown University severs its relationship with Safariland CEO Warren Kanders ‘79, whose military equipment has been used by law enforcement officers to inflict violence upon civilians on an international scale. 

Divesting resources from carceral practices not only means investing in community health but can also open the door to honest conversations about our financial responsibilities to the city and state we call home. “If Brown University paid taxes on all of its 192 properties,” The Indy reported in November 2019, “the city of Providence would receive 38 million annually.” Instead, Brown pays $6.7 million in Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) to the city each year (These figures were drawn from reporting at Inside Higher Ed). This distribution of resources contributes to the harmful conditions that leave Black, Brown, poor, LGBTQ, immigrant, disabled Rhode Islanders vulnerable to predatory policing. Decarceration is about both divesting from practices and places that promote violence, poverty, and exclusion and allocating those resources into the services, institutions, and initiatives that sustain the life of the entire community–not just the privileged few. Brown University must make amends not only for its historical entanglement with slavery but also for its contemporary practices of stripping resources from Providence’s Black residents. The history and heritage of College Hill is Black. We demand that the university acknowledge and take accountability for its continued role in the displacement of countless Black residents through its gentrification and “urban renewal” projects. While this cannot be made right, the least that Brown can do is create a reparations fund for individuals and families whose lives have been drastically impacted (and policed) due to the university’s expansion over the years. The elimination of all Brown funding for policing can make a substantial contribution to this reparations fund. 

To conclude, we call on Rhode Island leadership to pursue measures that “reduce the unaccountable power of police” as outlined by the Providence Democratic Socialists of America. These measures include defunding police departments across the state, refusing and returning financial contributions made to political campaigns by police unions, and removing police from our public schools. Their letter includes a list of all elected public officials that have received campaign donations from police unions and the amount donated. As of the release of our letter, Minneapolis Public Schools have terminated all contracts with the Minneapolis Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Department’s budget is being reduced by $100-150 million. 

The time is now. 

In the fight for freedom, 

Graduate Students of Brown’s Department of Africana Studies 

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