Haven, Cornell’s LGBTQ+ student union, co-hosted an event on police abolition with the Cornell Abolitionist Revolutionary Society as part of the organization’s Queer Month event series — fostering discussion on the relationship between queerness and justice systems.
The Ithaca Pantheras moderated the event that explored queerness and its relation to policing, including the Ithaca and Cornell police departments and how Greek life is related to the exclusionary practice also seen in justice systems.
According to Serene Kabir, a Cornell law student, queer people often feel policed by certain societal norms.
“When I think of policing, it’s really trying to control people and have them fit within a certain standard of behavior and identity,” Kabir said. “I think queerness is really just inherently pushing those boundaries.”
The moderator, who requested to be unnamed to avoid the targeting of their organization the Ithaca Pantheras, discussed how society creates obstacles for queer people that contribute to structural mass incarceration. They said that many queer people expereince being unhoused after they come out, sending them to act in ways that may be perceived as illegal to make ends meet. LGBTQ+ people are overrepresented throughout the U.S. criminal justice system.
“Those lines of work [are] ostracized by just society and then deemed illegal. And then, boom, thrown into the prison system,” the moderator said.
They also noted the connection between colonialism, homophobia and transphobia, saying that the prison industrial complex was created through slavery and that there is a defined class stucture of those who are expendable and those who are elite.
“To successfully subjugate the colonized people, the European colonizers force the colonized to let go of their cultures, their practices and beliefs in order to usher in a more binary version of society,” said the moderator.
Nadia Vitek ’22, a member of CARS, said they believe that capitalism thrives on oppression and exploitation through categorization. They mentioned the story of Chanel Hines, a Black trans woman who was shot in Canandaigua, N.Y. in November 2020 by her parole officer, as an example of how the queer community is marginalized in the justice system.
Breanne Kisselstein grad posed a question to the group about how the Cornell University Police Department relates to the conversation of the power structure that exists in policing.
“We aren’t free until we’re all free,” the moderator said. “Even if it is [CUPD’s] own jurisdiction, it’s operating within the city of Ithaca. Being able to abolish the police in Ithaca, as a whole, if we could do that, abolishing the police on campus really won’t be that big of a next step.”
The conversation turned to the Antonio Tsialas case, with a few people in attendance saying this is an instance in which the CUPD showed its ineffectiveness.
When Tsialas was found dead in October 2019 after a “dirty rush” event, the CUPD conducted over 100 interviews, including members of the fraternity involved, Phi Kappa Psi. After a year of investigating, the CUPD ruled the death an accident, so no charges were pressed.
“First and foremost, I just want to say that incident shouldn’t have even happened,” said Joshua Garcia grad. “People ask me ‘What would you do about this?’ I’m just straight up abolish Greek life, because like that’s what led to this incident even happening.”
The discussion turned to how Greek life and policing play a similar role in societal hierarchies of power.
Jenn Reed ’23 shared their experience with rushing. Greek life made Reed feel excluded based on their gender and sexuality after they came out as non-binary and lesbian. Due to the social dynamics of Greek life, Reed said they felt forced to perform within more traditionally feminine and heterosexual boundaries.
The moderator closed the discussion by sharing information on how to get involved with abolition work through the Ithaca Pantheras or through CARS.
“Your voice is just as important as the person next to you, especially in abolitionist spaces, no matter what they know,” the moderator said.
Correction, March 16, 3:50 p.m.: A previous version of this story misstated information about where Chanel Hines was shot. It previously stated Rochester, but the correct location is Canandaigua, N.Y. This post has since been updated.