Oct 23, 2020 | NEWS | By Isabel Hicks | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian
“There is nothing such as Blue Lives Matter. You have chosen this job. A job that comes out of slave catchers. We did not choose white supremacy and colonization.”
People exchanged fiery words in the Zoom chat during Wednesday night’s town hall about police reform at Colorado College when attendants spotted the blue lives matter flag hanging in the background of the college’s former Campus Resource Officer, Jason Newton.
Newton defended himself. “I also have a black lives matter flag behind me as well,” he said, and proceeded to hold up a sign in the signature BLM font that read “We Got Your Back: Black Lives Matter.”
The emotionally charged town hall reflected the urgency with which some students are working to address CC’s relationship with the Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD). Currently, the main liaison between CC and CSPD is a position called the Campus Resource Officer (CRO), a CSPD officer who works on campus approximately 40 hours a week. The current CRO is Sid Santos, a CC graduate from the class of ’94.
The student-led Collective for Antiracism and Liberation (CAL), a group that formed last summer during the Black Lives Matter protests to advocate for police reform on campus, organized Wednesday’s meeting. Over 120 people attended and it ran almost an hour longer than scheduled.
CAL joins several other colleges across the country, such as Northwestern and the University of Minnesota, whose students are pressuring administrations to sever ties with police departments. This fall, CAL released a student proposal for a revised contract with CSPD. The contract was already under review this year by members of the administration.
The key components of the CAL proposal are:
- Only hire one officer, the CRO, and reduce their on-campus hours by 40%
- Do not allow the CRO to carry deadly weapons on campus
- Remove the clause in the contract that does not allow CC to take legal action against CSPD
- Require the CRO have a bachelor’s degree in one of the following: criminal and constitutional law, sociology, psychology, or conflict resolution
- Require that a Campus Safety Officer be present during any on-campus or campus-adjacent interaction between CSPD Officers, the CRO, and Colorado College students, faculty, staff, and community members
- Create a Campus Oversight Board that observes, reviews, and reports on the actions of the CRO and Campus Safety Officers throughout the year
Over 580 people signed the proposal, and a number of other clubs at CC., including Prison Project, Sunrise, and Colorado College Mutual Aid, endorsed it.
Last April, then Dean of Students Mike Edmonds asked Campus Safety Director Maggie Santos and Michael Sawyer, a professor in the Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies department, to do a comprehensive review of CC’s relationship with policing in order to make a recommendation for the new contract.
Rochelle Dickey, Acting Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Life, will review the recommendation and pass it on to the acting co-presidents, who will make the final decision and then submit the contract to CSPD on Dec. 15.
In an interview, Sawyer discussed the intention behind the CRO position.
“The Campus Resource Officer is, in many ways, a privilege that we enjoy that other people in Colorado Springs don’t,” he said. “We don’t have to imagine the incidences across the country where vulnerable populations call the police for assistance and then they become the victims of police violence. The Campus Resource Officer is meant to prevent that from happening.”
In the past, CC has also contracted with CSPD for seven officers to patrol campus-adjacent areas on “high-impact nights.” These officers and the CRO are entirely separate from Campus Safety, which is the college’s private police/safety force. The CAL proposal does not include anything that would impact Campus Safety directly.
Sawyer also did not hesitate to point out the unrealistic components of CAL’s proposal. “The demands that they presented, some of those I think are appropriately presented to City Council rather than Colorado College,” he said.
Colorado College can set up standards as to who the CRO happens to be (such as requiring them to have majored in a particular field) and can reduce the hours they spend on campus. They can implement trauma-informed and anti-racism training for officers. However, requiring that police not carry guns on campus is not something the school is able to do, Sawyer said. Neither is CC in charge of the number of police officers that attend large campus events, something that is set by city ordinances. And CSPD determines the CRO’s salary, not the college.
“That’s why I’m saying it’s so important to be in conversation with state legislators, the governor, [and] activists who work at the level of the state, because that’s where they’re making decisions about what policing looks like,” Sawyer said. Dickey added that the professor has agreed to help students connect with activists in the community working on police reform measures that the college can’t control.
Last Monday, Dickey sent out the administration’s official response to the CAL proposal.
“Concerns around anti-Blackness and systemic racism are at the forefront of our commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution and we have a lot of work to do,” the letter read. It went on to say these concerns prompted the review of the CSPD contract by Michael Sawyer and Maggie Santos.
“The proposal from CAL aligns perfectly with our desire to hear concerns, and to gather information on how best to proceed,” the letter continued. It ended by saying key members of the administration were eager to attend the Oct. 21 town hall to discuss the issue further.
Members of CAL organized the town hall to facilitate a conversation about the issue at hand. Co-Presidents Moore and Edmonds, the Diversity Equity and Inclusion team, Dean/Provost Garcia, Professor Sawyer, and Santos were some of the administration present. KKTV reported about the objectives of the town hall Wednesday morning.
The meeting was organized so that after CAL explained their proposal and reasons why they thought it necessary, anyone could submit questions for the student activists or members of the administration.
Some people voiced extreme concern about the school’s lack of communication on their plans to protect BIPOC students during the tumultuous election season, referencing President Trump’s comment this month for the Proud Boys and other white supremacists to “stand back and stand by.”
Nikkita McPherson, a student success specialist in the Advising Hub, requested that the school send out an email outlining the steps CC plans to take to protect BIPOC students during the election. Acting co-President Mike Edmonds said he will work with communications to send out that message.
Sophie Cardin ’22, one of the students with CAL, said a lot of the pushback CAL received has been about student’s genuine fear for personal safety. She said some people expressed they wanted to have someone to protect them in the case of assault, shooter violence, or other violent crime.
“What I would say to reassure those people is that we actually have a really low incident of crime on Colorado College campus,” Cardin said. “Most of the crimes that we do have are sexual assault and intimate partner violence, which are not things that police deal with [at CC].”
Dickey said that contracting with the seven CSPD officers was in part requested by students. For example, often on high-impact nights, students would invite 50 people to a party and have 200 people show up on their lawn. “[They] need some help with this for the safety of [their] guests, and [they] don’t want a whole bunch of strange people in [their] house. It doesn’t feel safe to [them],” she said. “We just wanted to make sure that students were being safe.”
For Sawyer, trying to figure out how to dismantle the institution of the police is the most important path forward. The contract review represents a concrete first step toward that overarching goal, he said.
“I think that the question is how do we understand what the words public safety mean,” Sawyer said. “If we think public safety means that if a person is having some type of crisis that you call people with guns to kind of deal with it, I don’t think that that’s in the best interest of the public, and it also is not safe.”
The professor emphasized how organizing against police brutality needs to go beyond the borders of our campus. “Working to dismantle the relationship between police and police unions, getting rid of qualified immunity, figuring out how to hold police officers accountable for their transgressions of the law — all those kinds of things really have to happen,” he said. “Then we won’t have to worry about what a Campus Resource Officer is doing.”
To Cardin, the relationship between anti-racism and CAL’s contract proposal is critical. “I don’t think that you can be anti-racist and actively invest in institutions that are systemically racist,” she said. “Students really have a sense of urgency about anti-racism, and I think that the school hasn’t taken advantage of that urgency.”
Lorea Zabaleta ’23 agrees with Cardin on the importance of prioritizing anti-racism in the contract negotiations. She signed the proposal to show her support. “It’s really clear … the connection between police and being a racist institution,” Zabaleta said. “So just the idea of this proposal or something like it feels inevitable in a school that’s attempting to be anti-racist. It just makes sense to me.”