Although its got a new sports facility and a recently renovated Engineering and Technology building, Eastern Michigan University (EMU) has been known more for the ongoing austerity its workers and students face. If the administration isn’t selling off rights to its parking or dining halls or dorms, it’s firing secretaries in departments whose secretaries are already shouldering unsustainable workloads.
To those of us who live in neighborhoods that surround the campus, there’s something else EMU is known for: its cops who pull over Black motorists every single day of the year. I can’t remember the last time I saw an EMU police cruiser parked behind the pulled-over vehicle of a white motorist. Why are campus cops even making traffic stops? You’re not alone if you too have asked yourself, What exactly is the EMUPD’s mandate?
In addition to harassing Black motorists, students, and other folks on the margins of campus, we know EMUPD officers like to park with their vehicles facing kids who skate in campus parking lots. They also sometimes speed through our neighborhoods, at wildly high rates of speed, to assist the Ypsilanti Police or the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office, with whom they’ve got a “joint policing agreement.”
“But what about violent crime, like rape?” asks my neighbor when we’re chatting about the idea of the EMU police force being dismantled some day. I told her my study of precisely that question tells me that policing agencies aren’t crime deterrents, as illogical as that may feel. What’s more, we’re also learning that EMUPD and its brass either don’t do what they’re paid to (investigate sexual assaults on campus), or they actively abet alleged rapists, as was the case recently with Deputy Chief Daniel Karrick and others.
McWilliams had a relationship with EMU Deputy Chief Karrick from working at the Westland Police Dept together. The suit alleges that McWilliams met Karrick after the social media posts accused him of rape, after which “Defendant EMUPD started a criminal investigation into JANE DOE 1’s boyfriend for allegedly publishing posts on social media about McWilliams and Hernandez” … EMUPD Detective Susan McLennan is assigned to the case of the boyfriend, and is quoted as telling another law enforcement officer: “Oh, does it involve D’Angelo McWilliams, the deputy? Because I took that report where he is accused of being a rapist and I had to get him out of it.”
The presence of these crooked cops sure as hell isn’t preventing rape on campus. Instead, EMU cops are doing what American cops do: harming and harassing the marginalized while protecting only private property and/or those who wield power, which is often just themselves.
Musing further about who EMU’s cops do and don’t protect, here’s a paraphrase of an incident we learned about on social media, because it resonates with the concept of “public safety,” which ostensibly is the reason EMU doles out large amounts of cash annually to compensate its roughly fifty (you read that right) police employees:
An Ypsilanti resident is driving back into town via its north entrance, and on Oakwood, near the Student Center, sees a young Black man handcuffed in the grass, with two EMUPD officers standing above him. The resident pulls their car over and walks over to film what’s happening, which upsets Sergeant Nate Stead, who tells them they should leave immediately, and then says to his partner, Officer Shereen Hussein (who seems to have a daily quota for tickets/arrests of Black motorists), “Haven’t we seen this person before?” At this point, other community members as well as family members of the handcuffed kid have arrived and are also bearing witness. Sergeant Stead becomes outraged that this group is trying to figure out with the tow-truck driver whether they can carry the kid’s motorbike home to save his family the impound fees, and Stead walks over to confront them.
Not only has he got no mask on, but when he bumrushes the Ypsilanti resident, Sergeant Stead spits on the ground, a pantomine of toxic masculinity that is also an explicit threat of COVID transmission. Officer Hussein isn’t wearing a mask, either.
Is this “public safety”? Its opposite: violent personal liberty. Cops exist to protect capital and its owners/managers, and to amass and flex their own power and privileges while doing so. No amount of polite public outcry is going to change this. Did these cops expose the kid to COVID when they ferried him to jail? Do the regents of the university want a young person to die because of their encounter with an EMUPD officer, over an infraction, like Daunte Wright did? Is that what will move them and their administrators to rid this learning environment of firearms, black-and-green cruisers, Metro SWAT team training drills, and the EMU police academy? Do they want to continue to pay for and oversee a police force that’s got a commanding officer such as Stead, who like Derek Chauvin clearly has a hot temper and a control fetish?
What could change the institution of campus policing is the divest and abolish movements that have been bourgeoning since last summer. One of these constellated movements goes by the name Cops Off Campus, and its ideas, taking root across the country, offer the students and workers of EMU, as well as the residents of Ypsilanti, a roadmap for defunding and eventually abolishing another police force it never needed.
Why even is there an EMUPD? In the 1960s, the story goes, police were increasingly summoned to university campuses to repress student protest. It didn’t take long for college presidents and regents to start acting on the urgings of law-and-order types: tell your governors you want your own police force. The rest is history: in 2021, almost every American four-year academic institution has its own law enforcement apparatus.
Who better than students and educators themselves to take on these violent and unnecessary behemoths on their campuses? The University of Chicago’s police force “has a history of policing Black and brown people on campus, questioning their purpose in buildings, once even forcefully arresting a Black student in the library for making too much noise. Their presence is even more pervasive for the South Side residents within the force’s three-mile jurisdiction.” University of Chicago students and local residents organized to disband and abolish the UCPD. “Instead of an armed force, the [group] advocated for an unarmed emergency response force … ‘better trained and equipped to handle particular, commonly occurring University-related situations.’”
Northwestern students, on the other hand, laid the foundation for a decidedly militant approach to demanding the abolition of their university’s police force: “By building and nourishing a sense of shared community and mass participation in this insurgency against policing on/off Northwestern University campus, these daily convergences—in both their formal and informal iterations—may serve as the catalyst for escalation of an insurrectionalist abolitionist process at colleges across Illinois, or perhaps the Midwest generally.”
Organizers for the Cops Off Campus movement in the University of California system describe how problematic it is that money meant for educating students instead is diverted to policing and therefore to violence rather than care or safety: “This money goes toward initiatives like predictive policing technologies, surveillance softwares, and community policing partnerships. These harmful carceral alliances not only inflict violence; they also extract money from the students and communities without keeping them safe.” Students and workers at some thirty other universities are in the midst of planning for the defunding and shuttering of their campus police departments.
The opening passage of Reclaim UC’s “How Much Money Does the University of California Spend on Its Police Departments?” offers a concise vision of the end of campus—and all—policing:
The ongoing rebellion against the police, which was kicked off by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, has effectively generalized the demand to “defund the police.” This demand articulates an abolitionist politics that looks to build a world without police, a world where police are no longer necessary. The politics of reform has failed, as Mariame Kaba argues in a recent New York Times op-ed. “The surest way of reducing police violence is to reduce the power of the police, by cutting budgets and the number of officers.” Instead of spending that money on policing, it could be redirected toward other programs and necessary services like health care, education, and housing. “If we did this,” writes Kaba, “there would be less need for the police in the first place.”
Eastern Michigan University needs to devote its resources to student learning and well-being. It doesn’t need police. And if our informal polling of students and faculty means anything, the EMU community doesn’t even want law enforcement on campus. We want care, not cops.