CHICAGO (CBS) — Dozens of students at the University of Chicago led a protest rally on campus Friday, demanding the school’s police force be disarmed, and more funding be dedicated to mental health services, after a 21-year-old student was shot by police this week.
The student protesters said they’re angry over many incidents, including Tuesday’s police shooting just north of campus, and believe officers should have handled Tuesday night’s incident without resorting to gunfire.
The protesters said, not only should university police not be armed with guns, they should have their jurisdiction reduced. Students noted, while the university campus generally is bound by Cottage Grove Avenue, 60th Street, Dorchester Avenue, and 55th Street, the police force has the authority to patrol as far north as 37th Street, and as far south as 64th Street.
“They should at the very least not have any guns. They should not have the complete impunity to surveil, harass, and attack people all the way up to 37th and all the way down to 64th,” protest organizer Tunisia Tai said.
The rally was a response to Tuesday’s shooting of 21-year-old student Charles Thomas by university police a couple blocks north of campus.
Thomas was walking up and down Kimbark Avenue between 53rd and 55th streets Tuesday night, bashing cars and apartment building doors with a large pipe or crowbar, according to police and witnesses.
When police responded, they confronted Thomas in an alley, and an officer shot him in the shoulder when Thomas ignored orders to drop the weapon and charged at police.
Lakeisha Hamilton, a community activist in the Kenwood and Hyde Park area, said it was clear from police dashboard and body camera videos of the incident that Thomas was suffering a mental health crisis.
“The university would not give a damn,” she said. “You’re an institution that can educate all of us on what to do when someone is having a manic episode. We are the first responders. We can be at the side of our friends and loved ones. Your officers need to be assisting us, so that we can help our loved ones, so that no one gets sh384127ot.”
“You’ve got to get it together, and do better. You’re at the forefront of medicine, but you’re not at the forefront of this. Get it together today,” she added.
Paola Del Toro, a member of the group Students Working Against Prisons, blasted police for charging Thomas, when his family and friends have said he was clearly suffering a manic episode Tuesday night.
“This incident is a direct reflection of everything we stand against. The victim was charged with a felony, despite the fact that he was the one in danger,” she said.
Del Toro said more needs to be done to come up with alternatives to calling the police when someone is suffering a mental health crisis.
“We need to create these alternatives, and move us away from the police state that ultimately needs to be eliminated,” she said. “The fact that the victim was charged shows that police presence only brings more harm and violence into situations that require de-escalation. We can and must imagine and achieve a community and a world with accessible and reliable mental health resources; a community that takes care of each other, and knows each other, who can come together to collectively organize.”
Students questioned a statement from the university that officers followed protocol when they confronted Thomas.
“If protocol means that someone is shot for having a mental health crisis, it makes it clear the police do not keep any of us safe, and only protect the interests of those in power,” Tai said. “We refuse to let this incident and all other incidents of police violence fall to the wayside. We refuse to let the University of Chicago and UCPD off the hook.”
In addition to demanding the university police force be disarmed, and its jurisdiction reduced, students called for an independent elected body to oversee the department. They also called for the university police department to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and for the school to increase funding for mental health services, including responders trained in crisis intervention.
Students also demanded the university stop forcing students to take involuntary leaves of absence, which can be ordered for disciplinary violations.
“Deterring students from seeking out on-campus mental health services is harmful and not effective,” Tai said.
The university did not immediately respond to requests for comment.