Interruptions, hostility and heightened tensions set the tone for Thursday’s Student Assembly meeting — which ultimately saw a resolution to disarm the Cornell University Police Department fail by razor-thin margins.
The three-hour meeting touched upon questions of sexism, white supremacy and the role of police, as assembly members and students alike condemned — or defended — CUPD’s use of weapons.
Thursday’s meeting, which took place in the midst of semi-finals, continued a discussion from last week after significant back-and-forth among the assembly. The resolution built on the assembly’s semesters-long effort for police reform, but was thwarted by several assembly members.
After last week’s meeting, several opponents of the disarmament resolution wrote a counterresolution — that was not brought to the rest of the assembly — and met with CUPD Chief David Honan. Disarmament co-sponsors claimed the meeting was “behind closed doors,” as they were not invited or informed.
Disarmament opponents eventually invited Honan to speak through a “highly irregular” procedure, said S.A. president Cat Huang ’21.
“Normally, you would schedule [presentations] through the Office of the Assemblies, looping in the executive vice president and president,” said Uche Chukwukere ’21, vice president of finance. “Those protocols were completely overridden, and they did that specifically so they could ram him in.”
S.A. leadership was informed of Honan’s presentation less than 48 hours before Thursday’s meeting, when one member informed executive vice president Noah Watson ’23, who sets meeting agendas.
Before the meeting, Huang called the procedure “unacceptable,” especially because the resolution was inherently related to policing. She felt S.A. members — especially those who are Black, Indigenous and people of color — were “being silenced and intimidated, by the fact that police are asserting their presence,” and worried some would feel scared about participating with an officer present at the meeting.
During the meeting, Huang sent an anonymous Google form for community members who were uncomfortable speaking to send questions to Honan. The form garnered approximately 30 responses, indicating the “numerous people who were nervous,” according to Huang, about Honan’s presence.
During his presentation, Honan outlined what he saw as the consequences of disarming CUPD, saying that CUPD would no longer be able to respond to calls of armed individuals or violent felonies, do traffic enforcement or respond to panic and burglar alarms.
“Can my officers do their job unarmed?” Honan said. “The answer is no.”
Tomás Reuning ’21, LGBTQIA+ liaison at-large, opened the Q&A portion of the session by pushing against that claim: “In the past 25 years you’ve been on the force, how many times have you personally discharged your weapon?”
Honan’s answer was zero — he said he couldn’t assert that it would never be necessary because of police work’s nature. For the rest of the Q&A, S.A. and community members continued pressing Honan about the police budget and the validity of his safety concerns.
Eventually, Chukwukere called Honan’s presence a “disgusting display of privilege” and an “act of violence,” calling for a vote to conclude his presentation and open up discussion to the over 200 community members.
Shortly after the first few open comments, Zion Sherin ’22, a community member and co-sponsor of the counterresolution, said Huang was unfit to chair the discussion. Sherin specifically cited Huang’s role as a co-sponsor of the disarmament resolution as proof of her bias.
A couple more piled on, demanding Huang step down. Huang quickly cited the S.A. rules on the matter and referenced a resolution earlier that meeting — one that established the bylaws of the Office of Student Government relations — of which she was a co-sponsor.
Savanna Lim ’21, who was appointed to fill a School of Architecture, Art and Planning representative vacancy during the meeting, rebuked the criticisms of Huang. She said she had “never seen anything like this” during her four years on the S.A.
Lim pointed to former S.A. president Joe Anderson ’20, who “frequently” co-sponsored resolutions he chaired without objection.
“I do think it was very strange and gendered that I was asked to step down as chair by a community member,” Huang said after the meeting. “Everyone knows the rules, I am within my right to chair the meeting. It felt really disrespectful that they would continue to undermine me.”
But the meeting continued, as members maintained the same contentions over the resolution.
Community members with “Back the Blue” and “All Cops Are Bastards” as their Zoom screen names became embroiled in the rest of the discussion which included personal testimonies and general animosity.
The final vote itself was mired in procedure, with representatives cutting in to clarify how the assembly would decide. Lucas Smith ’22 called for a “sense of the body” vote — which would have pushed the decision on the resolution to next week and required a campus-wide survey — but this was ultimately rejected, and the vote continued by roll-call.
But even the final vote wasn’t final: S.A. parliamentarian Michael Stefanko ’22 reiterated rules about the chair voting, and Watson ultimately motioned for a revote due to confusion over proxy votes.
Eventually, the resolution failed 14-15-1, and the assembly tabled the rest of the resolutions — which never saw any discussion — to the next meeting.
Tensions flared after Huang left the meeting, as attendees voiced displeasure about and made threats over the results of the vote.
“Cornell voted to maintain white supremacy, but who’s surprised,” one attendee said. “You all were posting about Black Lives Matter, it’s all performative for you,” another said.
Meghna Maharishi ’22 contributed reporting.