The George Washington University.
Groups of college students across D.C. are sending a clear message to their universities: Cut ties with D.C. police and reform on-campus policing.
"I just think it's absurd that every single black student could name a negative experience with [campus police]," says Peyton Wilson, executive vice president of the GW Black Student Union.
The push comes as D.C.'s local Black Lives Matter chapter calls for a number of police and criminal justice reforms, including defunding the Metropolitan Police Department, in the wake of George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis. In recent days, students from American University, George Washington University, Howard University, University of the District of Columbia, Georgetown University, Gallaudet University, and Catholic University of America have all sent letters to either their school administrations and MPD, or both, demanding an end to the relationship between D.C. police and their campuses. Their letters also ask for other reforms to campus police departments, including reducing the presence of on-campus police in residence halls and improving officers' sensitivity and racial bias training.
In most circumstances, on-campus police are expected to lead the response to any call on school grounds in the District.
But a 2011 order by MPD outlines that the department's officers may respond to on-campus incidents when they're invited by campus officials, dispatched by the Office of Unified Communications or an official of MPD, or when "exigent circumstances exist."
Students say tensions have been rising around how police interact with students for months.
Wilson points to an incident in February when a campus police officer was placed on leave after videos appeared to show him pushing a student down a flight of stairs during a climate protest, as reported by the GW Hatchet.
"It was GWPD not really taking the care that they needed to handle students and to protect students," Wilson says. The subsequent call by students to reform policing on campus is "just a buildup of frustration," he says.
Wilson was part of a group of students calling on George Washington University's administration to not only reduce the presence of MPD on campus, but also reform on-campus police practices—including by requiring on-campus police to attend events led by black students out of uniform and by requiring officers to identify themselves when responding to an incident.
"One of our demands that's most important to me is coming out to our events out of uniform," Wilson says. "A lot of our black students come from communities that are over-policed ... So, it's kind of hard to see police officers on campus as the individual when all you can see is the uniform."
Wilson tells DCist that conversations with the administration so far have been productive. She was part of a recent phone call with GW Police Chief James Tate, who joined the school in January, as well as the Associate Vice President for the Division of Safety & Security Scott Burnotes during which Wilson says Tate agreed to many of the demands — particularly having officers engage with students out of uniform more often.
"The two of them seemed upset and quite frankly embarrassed by the way that GWPD was operating before. And so, that made us feel good because, when that frustration is consistent between the both of us, that means we can both be committed to making things better for our student body," Wilson says.
A GWU spokesperson sent DCist Burnotes' response to the GWU Black Student Union, in which he confirmed that he met with Wilson and other students about their concerns and said conversations will continue with student leaders.
"We acknowledge that there is room for an improved relationship, and are excited about the opportunity to have this discussion," Burnotes wrote.
Meanwhile the NAACP chapters on Howard and American's campuses have called for the relationship between their campuses and MPD to come to an end entirely, pointing to the University of Minnesota, which has limited its ties with the Minneapolis Police Department in recent weeks. A form letter circulated to American University alumni reads: "MPD's racism is well documented. In 2019, 70% of MPD police stops were of Black people, even though Black people comprise less than half of D.C.'s population."
On June 4, Howard University students took part in a phone jam, during which students were encouraged to call President Wayne Frederick and demand that Howard no longer partner with the Metropolitan Police Department.
"After seeing the violence that MPD has enacted on protestors in the past several days, and knowing that MPD has killed at least four Black people since 2018 (Eric Carter, Jeffrey Price, Marqueese Alston, and D'Quan Young), Howard should no longer partner with MPD," a script circulated by students recommends they say on the phone.
Kristen McPike, a Howard University graduate student, took part in the calls and has also used her social media to call on Howard to cut ties with MPD.
"The question is: is school the place for police at all?" McPike asks. She doesn't think so. "All students deserve to attend schools where they feel safe and supported."
Instead of budgeting money on Howard's police department, McPike wants to see her university invest in mental health resources, technology infrastructure, and financial aid.
One area of concern echoed by students on D.C. campuses is how both on-campus police and MPD interact with students during mental health crises, as well as their presence in residence halls.
In a letter sent to American University's housing and residence life, nearly 60 resident assistants called for a decreased MPD and campus police presence within the dorms. A resident assistant, who agreed to speak anonymously to DCist, citing concerns of retaliation from the school, says they were horrified by a 2019 incident in which a student was removed from her apartment by AU on-campus police, as reported by The Eagle.
"She was screaming. It was awful," the resident assistant says, adding that incidents like these make students fearful to call their RAs for help.
"At the end of an incident [where police are called] residents will feel exposed," the resident assistant says. "Especially students of color who may have experienced any kind of trauma relating to police — they don't get any kind of counseling. Sometimes it's even more relevant to have a mental health professional there than an officer."
Wilson brings up similar concerns with having police inside residence halls.
"I would just be chilling in my room, walking out to go to class, and I open my door and there's an officer there and I get scared," Wilson says. "These are people's homes."
Myciah Brown, president of the Black Student Alliance at Catholic University of America, tells DCist that policing on campus can make black students feel like they don't belong or that their existence on campus is being questioned — particularly when black students are stopped by campus police over trivial matters.
"It's like, they saw [a student] get into a car that looked a little too expensive and now [campus police] is over there talking to them in the parking lot. It's those small microaggressions," she says.
Catholic University of America and American University didn't respond to a request for comment about students' demands. At Georgetown University, a university spokesperson tells DCist that the administration and on-campus police have begun meeting with student leaders virtually to discuss their concerns about MPD, which includes a patrol of MPD officers, reimbursed by the school, who monitor the neighborhoods surrounding Georgetown.
"In light of recent events that have unfolded in Washington D.C. and across our nation, we will engage with students and other members of our community as we reevaluate and enhance the training required for any MPD reimbursable detail officers used by the University to ensure that implicit bias, de-escalation and other elements are required," the spokesperson said in an email.
A Howard University spokesperson also says the school respects the concerns and calls for justice voiced by students, specifically around the role of MPD:
"The University is committed to engaging in a productive dialogue with students, faculty and staff to learn more about how we can address their concerns and educate one another. As President Frederick wrote to the campus community two weeks ago, we are all saddened and disgusted by the brutal murder of George Floyd and countless other Black men and women. We are all hurting, and we all recognize a need for change."
Students from each of the universities tell DCist they'll continue to press their schools on their demands, a push which Brown says is out of love for her school and wanting to see it become a better place for future students.
"Just because students are finding issues with what's going on at their university does not mean that they necessarily hate their university," she says. "When you're really invested in something, you want to see it grow."