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U. of C. Students Say Administration Missing Point of Protests

By Sam Cholke | May 14, 2013 8:56am
 University of Chicago students criticized the administration at a Monday meeting for not looking into police policies after complaints of excessive force during a hospital protest in January.
University of Chicago students criticized the administration at a Monday meeting for not looking into police policies after complaints of excessive force during a hospital protest in January.
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DNAInfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — University of Chicago students and faculty on Monday criticized what they said was the administration's missing the point of civil disobedience on campus.

Professors and students were sharply critical at the first meeting of a committee charged with assessing, among other things, whether protests should be limited around laboratories and hospitals on campus.

“I thought your committee, if it’s genuinely concerned, should be looking into free speech and efforts that curb free speech,” said Bruce Lincoln, a professor at the Divinity School.

Lincoln and the students charged that the committee should instead be examining the university’s private police force after complaints about officers using excessive force at a protest on Jan. 27.

“I kind of feel like a lot of this is for show,” said Toussaint Losier, a graduate student at the university who was charged with resisting arrest and trespassing during the Jan. 27 protest at U. of C. Medicine's new hospital a month before the facility opened.

The resisting arrest charges against Losier were dropped, and he was sentenced to one day of court supervision for trespassing during an action calling for adding trauma care services at the new Center for Care and Discovery.

Losier submitted to the committee university police reports on his arrest that he alleged contained fabrications by officers.

The reports offer differing accounts of what happened. Some officers claim in the reports that Losier did not ask for a representative from the university to intervene, while others say he asked multiple times.

University policy is to bring in a dean to address concerns involving students before the police are called.

A video shot by a protester shows Losier attempting to lead protesters away from the hospital after being ordered by police to leave. In the video, an unidentified officer then grabs Losier and leads him back toward the hospital, where two officers shove him to the ground.

The police reports say Losier refused to leave and then resisted arrest, which is why the officers pushed him to the ground and handcuffed him.

Many students at the meeting, citing the inconsistency of involving the deans in such instances, were skeptical that any suggestions the committee makes in its final evaluation would be enforced by the administration.

“The shocking thing that’s occurred to me since the Jan. 27 demonstration is the lack of dialogue about the issues that sparked the demonstration,” Losier said. “I think its unfortunate that the way the university is talking about this is about closing down space for free expression rather than dealing with the issues presented during the protest.”

David Strauss, a law school professor and chairman of the committee, said an independent investigator is reviewing police actions at the event, and the committee is charged with coming up with policies for when police become involved in curbing civil disobedience.

“The use of violence of any kind, university-affiliated or not, should be avoided unless absolutely necessary,” Strauss said.

He suggested video surveillance could provide an unbiased record of a protest.

Students said they were wary of any surveillance after the university resisted releasing hospital security camera footage when complaints of police misconduct arose after during the Jan. 27 protest and an undercover detective attempted to infiltrate a February protest on the Quad.

Strauss said that the committee cannot speak for the administration. But university President Robert Zimmer and Provost Thomas Rosenbaum have been forceful in decrying recent actions by the university police, he said, specifically when the university detective posed as a protester without authorization from her superiors.

Strauss said the committee has the provost’s attention and would consider the concerns in making its recommendations.

“The provost does not impose on a bunch of us — who would rather be teaching and doing scholarship — and have us draft a report only to throw it in the wastebasket," Strauss said. "He’s just not going to do that.”