Cameron Pollack / Sun File Photo

In a semesters-long push for police reform, members of the Student Assembly are calling to disarm the Cornell University Police Department.

November 15, 2020

S.A. Debates Stand Still Over Calls to Disarm CUPD

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Student Assembly members kicked off their latest meeting with calls for the University to disarm the Cornell University Police Department — the assembly’s latest move in a semesters-long push for police reform.

The discussion follows the assembly’s late October resolution that demanded the CUPD cut ties with the Ithaca Police Department, following several IPD arrests of protesters. For the past year, student activists have demanded various changes to CUPD.

In March, the S.A. passed a resolution calling for an oversight committee composed of members from Cornell’s governing bodies and CUPD. In June, Do Better Cornell demanded a similar committee — which University administration had not addressed — and called for the disarming and defunding of the Cornell police. This resolution, in part, builds from previous demands. 

Uche Chukwukere ’21, the S.A. vice president of finance, introduced the resolution to disarm CUPD — citing the history of policing as rooted in maintaining slavery. 

“Policing has upheld a lot of racist laws and policies that have disproportionately affected people of color, especially Black and brown people,” Chukwukere said. “That’s something minority students here still worry about.”

Lucy Contreras ’21, first generation student representative at-large, pointed to more immediate motivations for the resolution, explaining that other universities have disarmed their police forces, including Portland State University after the fatal shooting of U.S. postal worker Jason Washington on campus grounds in 2018.

“We don’t think that Cornell should wait for a tragedy like this to occur for us to disarm the CUPD,” Contreras said.

Contreras also said student advocacy groups at Harvard University, Yale University and the University of Chicago are already campaigning to have their on-campus police disarmed or disbanded.

Youhan Yuan ’21, international students liaison at-large, questioned how well the campus police would monitor campus without the option of force. Moriah Adeghe ’21, ex-officio member, responded by asking assembly members to recall a time where they needed both police assistance and police lethality.

“How often are lethal weapons necessary when police are brought to any type of situation? When was the last time police used a gun to protect you?” Adeghe said. “The police can do their jobs without lethal weapons. In my lifetime, I’ve never seen the police actually pull a trigger on a gun.”

Other members discussed the role of police in responding to mental health incidents and pointed to nationwide incidents of lethal weapons used during non-criminal calls. 

“We could look at the recent incident in Philadelphia as an example, where a mentally unstable Black man clearly needed to simply be detained and receive medical assistance,” Chukwukere said. “He didn’t need armed police officers there to eventually gun him down, and his family has made that clear.”

Freshman representative Amari Lampert ’24 asked if there was already a system in place on campus for people to respond appropriately to mental health incidents on campus. Fellow freshman representative Kayla Butler ’24, said that Cornell was already discussing a “police alternative” unit, but did not offer further specifics.  

The resolution’s discussion was heated, as other assembly members opposed disarming the campus police. Many representatives said they were apprehensive about the resolution, raising concerns about campus safety.

Dillon Anadkat ’21, undesignated at-large representative, said the campus police should be armed without lethal weapons by default, but should have it as an available option when necessary. 

“When responding to something that is clearly a case of violence or an attack, maybe we should have the police able to appropriately arm themselves before approaching the situation,” Anadkat said. “I’d say that we’re lucky that we haven’t needed CUPD in the past to protect from an attack, but we should keep the armaments as an option because such an attack is still possible.”

The assembly agreed to further discuss CUPD disarmament at its Nov. 19 meeting, when the S.A. will vote on the resolution.  

Correction, Nov. 16 4:06 p.m.: A previous version of this article included a sentence incorrectly attributed to Moriah Adeghe ’21. This quote has since been removed and replaced.