December 2, 2020

GUEST ROOM | Why South Asians Need to Support Disarming and Defunding CUPD

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The systematic policing & brutality towards the justice system’s apathy for and state surveillance of South Asian people in the United States is a history that is traumatic but often forgotten within our community. The Department of Homeland Security and its Transportation Security Administration were created in 2002 as a government response to 9/11. South Asians know how it feels to travel while brown and the deterioration of our civil rights that followed post-9/11. The racialization of the War on Terror disproportionately affects Muslims (and those mistaken as Muslims), and the first hate crime-related murder after 9/11 was that of Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh man. NYPD continues to spy on Muslims by inflitrating mosques and various New York City colleges’ Muslim Student Associations. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and India were explicitly named by the NYPD as “ancestries of interest.” Sureshbhai Patel, an Indian grandfather in Alabama, still awaits justice after being so violently assaulted by a cop in 2015 that he needed spinal surgery. Significantly, he was assaulted because he was mistaken for a Black man. Cornell’s South Asian Council was founded as the fifth independent ALANA umbrella and broke away from the Cornell Asian Pacific Student Union by an international student because of his own experience with the American criminal justice system.

Believing that the police are inherently and undoubtedly serving to protect the people is a thought rooted in privilege and ignorance. Resolution 11 highlighted and emphasized the vicious past of policing nationally, as well as the current issues regarding policing on university campuses. Although South Asians are not racially profiled to the extent that our Black, Latinx and Indigienous community members are on college campuses, it is still an issue that is prevalent in our communities at-large and warrants an appropriate response on behalf of South Asian students who are (ostensibly) of color but forget that whiteness is not only a color, but also a mindset. It is the rampant Anti-Blackness within our own communities which detaches us from our identity as People of Color so greatly that we forget that only the end of anti-Black racism will liberate all of us from white supremacy.

Black activists, past and present, have paved the way for South Asian Americans, and there is no way to claim any progress for racial justice that has been made since then without remembering this. South Asian America relied heavily on the Civil Rights Movement which ultimately allowed racist immigration and labor laws to be struck down, even extending to the safety and inclusion of all marginalized people at college campuses. It is even more concerning that South Asians on campus find themselves engaging and resonating with Black social spaces (which are safe for us in ways that white spaces are not), and yet do not stand up for issues that affect their communities. It is ironic that Black students have so graciously allowed South Asians safe spaces for us to learn, develop and cultivate our own identities while disrespecting current activism which will change the trajectory of race relations in this country. 

The intimidating and threatening presence CUPD has for BIPOC cannot be reformed because reform tolerates injustice instead of demanding the abandonment of a system that exacerbates violence by responding with it in kind. Abolition as a long term goal understands that our material conditions will improve only if and when funds are divested from the police and prisons into other social programs and safety nets. Disarming the police is only the first step in ensuring the root causes of the prison industrial complex. With Resolution 11, disarming the campus police would have pressured administration to shift the power dynamics towards students’ actual safety and addressed the violent threat that cops with lethal weapons on campus pose to us.

The South Asian Cornell community should consider what stance it is taking by withholding support for Resolution 11 and campus wide abolitionist reform as led by the Cornell Abolitionist Reform Society and BIPOC leadership. South Asian S.A. members must reevaluate their stance on the issue and recognize the privilege which is attached with voting “No” on a resolution which would have transformed the reality for BIPOC on campus. It is imperative that we understand our own advantages in a system supported by the continued oppression of marginalized communities, and use our power and resources to be in solidarity with the movements that benefit us too.

Atif Akhter is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and is the incoming Co-President of the South Asian Council, the umbrella board for all of Cornell’s undergraduate & graduate South Asian clubs, teams, and organizations. Comments may be sent to opinion@cornellsun.com. Guest Room runs periodically this semester.