The Racist Roots of Campus PolicingRoundup
tags: racism, Police, University of Chicago, colleges and universities, University Police
Eddie R. Cole is associate professor of higher education and organizational change at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and the author of The Campus Color Line: College Presidents and the Struggle for Black Freedom (Princeton University Press, 2020).
Last spring, the police killing of George Floyd, on the heels of officers shooting and killing Breonna Taylor and so many other Black people, spurred a summer of protests across the United States and abroad. In response, numerous university presidents and chancellors, as well as elected officials and corporate executives, publicly acknowledged the realities of police violence aimed at Black Americans. Some academic leaders even said, “Black Lives Matter,” a phrase that college administrators had typically avoided in the years before Floyd’s killing.
But then what?
In the past year, many of these same academic leaders have been less quick to implement operational changes to make anti-racism and Black liberation on campuses a reality. This has particularly been the case with campus police, whose departments have continuously received increased funding from administrators. For instance, in 2018-2019, the 10-campus University of California system spent approximately $138 million on policing. Yet despite concern about coronavirus-related budget cuts, most UC campus police department budgets were projected to increase in 2020-2021.
The steady increase of spending on campus police is not limited to the University of California. It is a national trend that reflects a long tradition of White administrators’ and White trustees’ disregard for Black lives on their campuses.
Campus policing is rooted in conflicts between institutions of higher education and the Black neighborhoods near where they are often located. And tensions between universities and Black communities are rooted in deep-seated discriminatory policies in housing. Since well before World War II, Black people demanded an end to racist restrictive covenants and redlining, practices in which Whites denied certain groups access to, or levied higher rates for, home loans and insurance based on neighborhoods. At the same time, many urban universities quietly supported these practices. In 1937, an editorial in the Chicago Defender, titled “University of Chicago and the Black Belt,” described how over “the last four years, a sinister movement, designed to impose further residential restrictions of Race citizens on this metropolis, has gained considerable impetus" — something the university played a role in.
Black residents’ demands for an end to racist housing practices quickly became relevant to White university leaders as overcrowded Black neighborhoods encroached on their campuses. This dynamic resulted in limited housing options that sometimes meant White faculty members and students chose universities not located in the heart of American cities. This issue was accelerated when, in 1948, the Supreme Court’s Shelley v. Kraemer ruling deemed restrictive covenants unconstitutional. While this was a success for the burgeoning civil rights movement that would theoretically allow Black Americans more easily to purchase homes, it posed a problem for universities worried about maintaining White control of neighborhoods around their campuses.
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