Editor’s Note: This article contains mentions of police brutality.
There is no institutional reckoning about the role of policing in our community.
This is not to minimize the work of the countless organizations, including on campus, that are grappling with systemic racism. Still, the University – the powerful institution that guides our lives as students, staff and faculty – has made little effort to reckon with the complicated role of police in perpetuating violence.
On January 10, 29-year-old Tyre Nichols died in the hospital after being attacked by police in Memphis. Body cam footage reveals police beating Nichols after a traffic stop on January 7, during which the police alleged the motorist was driving recklessly.
Public institutions have the unique and powerful ability to impact our community in far-reaching ways. And while it is each of our responsibilities to hold police and elected officials accountable, police brutality is an institutionally facilitated and perpetually excused tragedy.
As a public institution – especially one designed to foster new ideas and complex conversations – UNC needs to do a better job facilitating conversations about police brutality, protecting community members of color and highlighting the disparity in which police brutality impacts Black Americans.
The Guardian reported that police killed 1,176 people last year – equivalent to almost 100 lives a month. Even so, a study published in The Lancet claims that over 50 percent of police killings go unreported or misclassified in the U.S. National Vital Statistics System. Out of those deaths that are reported, Black Americans are 3.5 times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts.
Law enforcement is plagued with problems rooted in bias. A lack of accountability or prosecution for offenders, racial profiling and inadequate institutionalized training all contribute to the fatal outcomes we see in the news. Major institutions and elected officials can use their influence to address these problems, especially at the local level.
The University, specifically, can focus on educating community members on what they can do to reduce instances of dangerous encounters. Administrators can facilitate collaborative spaces with Black community members to hear what safety resources are missing, and make an active effort to better meet these needs.
UNC can reevaluate its relationship with UNC Police and the Chapel Hill Police Department to produce a campus environment that is safe, not surveilled and carceral.
Nichols' death, along with those of others who have died by the hands of police, is an irreversible and devastating loss. We need more than just a letter from the Chancellor, soon to be lost in our inboxes, when injustice occurs.
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