Students want to hold police accountable

Students United Against Police Brutality aims to ensure that students are treated fairly.

Sarah Connor

Rows of pairs of shoes lined the Washington Avenue Bridge late last month, each pair representing a life lost in the United States since 2000 as a result of police brutality.

Amid national controversies involving police officers, a group of social-justice-minded students at the University of Minnesota, Students United Against Police Brutality, is hoping to bring awareness to issues regarding police misconduct, racism and corruption in the campus community and across the country.

Eric Schiltz, the group’s founder and vice president, said the students teamed up last spring after several of them were inspired by the Twin Cities-based Communities United Against Police Brutality meeting they attended as part of a University service-learning requirement.

“I was really moved by a lot of the stories I heard regarding police misconduct, and it was an education for me as someone who had never experienced police brutality,” he said. “I felt like it would be a good outlet for students to have a campus chapter.”

To ensure that the University’s police department is acting appropriately with students and the community, the group’s president, Eric Bauer, said it’s currently looking into complaints against the University of Minnesota Police Department and any instances of police misconduct through the Data Practices Act.

With the findings, the group wants to identify any potential trends of police targeting against specific demographic groups, he said.

Though the students aim to hold the UMPD accountable, they are not working against University police, Bauer said.

“We want to make it very clear who our group is and that we are not against police or anti-police,” he said. “And that quite frankly, UMPD, while there may be some concerns, is almost certainly much better than other police forces.”

UMPD could not be reached for comment by press time.

Bauer said the group is also helping students better understand their rights and equipping them with information on how to effectively use the Data Practices Act through training sessions.

Along with ensuring that police treat students fairly, the group wants to address what members call racial profiling in the University’s crime alerts last fall, Schiltz said.

After a number of last fall’s crime alerts included descriptions of black men as suspects, members of the University’s black community raised concerns about racial profiling on campus.

“We’d heard a lot of stories about people on campus getting profiled as a result [of crime alerts],” Schiltz said. “And that’s led a lot of people to have more prejudices against black people on campus, especially black males.”

Outside of the University, Bauer said he hopes the group will also be able to help improve relations between the University and the neighboring Cedar-Riverside community.

“The two communities are very distinctly separate, and there are a number of issues raised that we are trying to move forward upon regarding how some of the policies and actions of the ‘U’ community have negatively impacted the Cedar-Riverside community,” he said.

The group hasn’t formally reached out to Cedar-Riverside or University leaders to address their concerns, Bauer said, but he said he’s formed personal relationships with some members of the West Bank neighborhood that he hopes will help with the group’s efforts.

Since the 10-person group is still relatively new, its focus for the coming year will be boosting membership through reaching out to the campus community, Bauer said.

Natalie Goodwin, a University freshman, said she joined the group the first week she arrived on campus after researching social justice issues in high school.

“I learned how deep and widespread the issues are, but also how invisible they had been to me,” she said. “I realized I couldn’t continue to be blissfully unaware as I had been, and I had to help any way I could.”