Saturday, May 10, 2014

Comments delivered to the Board of Regents by SDS activist Johnathon Walker

Here is a copy of the remarks delivered to the Board of Regents on May 9 by U of M student and SDS member Johnathon Walker. 

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I’m Johnathon from Students for a Democratic Society.  I guess I told someone that I was going to talk about the budget. But since I don’t really know much about the budget, I’m not going to do that. Although if you pay me $150,000 I’ll happily speak about something I don’t know anything about. Kind of like Condoleezza Rice speaking about justice. 

Instead, I’m going to focus my comments on one issue that really pissed me off. It’s an issue that I even brought to the President of the University, but he hasn’t done anything about it.

On a cold Monday in February, I entered Wilson Library and went up the stairs to find a place to study. That day, I witnessed a violent act of police brutality directed at a library patron that involved being slammed into the wall by two officers, an invasive and unjustified pat-down, and forced eviction from the library. All of this for reading books and appearing to be homeless. I later called UMPD, to file a complaint regarding the conduct of its officers. Dave Wilske confessed that there’s nothing in library rules, university policy, or state statute that warrants the eviction of people experiencing homelessness from public space, but explained that UMPD has been under tremendous pressure from the administration to “take extraordinary security measures.” He then went on to explicitly state that, quote, “some degree of class profiling is necessary to ensure the security of campus,” end quote.

Shortly after this incident occurred, we learned that the Board of Regents supported Kaler’s new security platform which involves locking down buildings, expanding the police force, and collaborating with the brutally racist Minneapolis Police Department. But none of this makes any progress at addressing the root causes of crime—a double nexus that involves not only material conditions of deprivation but also the denial of dignity. Indeed, since the closing of the General College and with skyrocketing tuition, in many ways the University has been the principal propagator of this double nexus in the Twin Cities.

What this really amounts to is the University’s latest attempt at exclusionary education. While the University purports to be a place of diversity, opportunity, and access, the reality is that the University today doesn’t exist to provide a free and safe space to think and speak critically—it exists to make money. And those who inhibit the university’s quest for profit are silenced and kept out. Shortly after this incident took place, I was approached by another student who explained that it’s not the presence of community members on campus that makes her feel unsafe, but rather police officers running around with guns and barking orders at innocent people reading books that makes her feel unsafe.

As I said from the outset, the administration and police have known of this incident for a long time. They have done nothing. Pamela Wheelock told SDS that she would reply to our letter, but we’re still waiting to hear from her three months later. And Kaler told me during office hours he was going to “take care of it,” but instead he just blew it off, hoping we’d forget, and had a member of his staff try to calm me down. So I decided to take this opportunity to remind him that we haven’t forgotten about it, and that we won’t.

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