Unofficial, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's annual holiday dedicated to day-drinking and debauchery is upon us. UIUC is often promoted as one of the top party schools in the country. Reasons for this reputation being events such as Unofficial, as well as the minimum age for entry into bars on campus being 19 years old. Although much attention comes to this school because of its party scene, much less attention is given to the historic and continuing criminalization of the Black community on this campus.
The relationship between the various local police departments and the Black community of Urbana-Champaign is a tale of discrimination and oppression that is far from new. A report by community organization, CU Citizens for Peace and Justice, has documented instances of police misconduct over the course of four decades. In 1970, there were two Black men killed by Champaign police. One of the men was 23 year-old Edgar Hoults, and he was shot in the head by Champaign police execution style according to Black witnesses. Another instance took place in 2009 when Kiwane Carrington, an unarmed 15-year-old boy was killed by police when he was forced onto the muddy ground after seeking shelter from rainstorm at a house where he frequently stayed.
Data gives even more context on the injustices Black people face from the police here in Champaign-Urbana. According to a Spanish-language Chicago-based news site,VíveloHoy, who submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the police departments of Champaign and Urbana, Illinois,looking for five years of arrest data broken down by race:
“The two towns [of Urbana and Champaign] are 16 percent black, according to the 2010 census, but, in each of the years the data covered, more than 40 percent of the arrests were of black people. The disparities were not equal across crimes, and one in particular stood out: Jaywalking. Yes, jaywalking. At 89%.”
Furthermore, in 2017 Black drivers were 62 percent more likely to be stopped than expected based on the city's driving population of Urbana-Champaign. With all this data on the disproportionate targeting of black people in the Urbana-Champaign community, it's not surprising that these acts would seep into the University of Illinois campus.
If you ask a Black student who has been to parties hosted by other Black students, they will tell you a similar story. That story being that our parties are shut down for no reason. In 2017, the Pretty Nasty event hosted by the Black fraternities, Omega Psi Phi and Kappa Alpha Psi is just one instance of countless examples of the unnecessary and excessive policing of Black parties. Not only were there over 14 police vehicles present at this event where no incident had taken place, but the police canine was also stationed in front of the door barking at students as they exited the Canopy Club (you can hear the dogs barking in the video below.) Even after the crowd had dispersed, police still followed party goers to the location of the after party. Before the after party could truly began, the police shut it down. Police stated that the party was “overcrowded” and at max capacity. A white fraternity member on campus has told me that once a party at his fraternity’s house was 3 times capacity, and only firefighters responded to the scene. As your time on campus continues, pay attention to how often and how quickly police arrive at parties of predominantly Black people/people of color in comparison to predominantly white ones (or if they ever do at all.)
(In the video above you will see the mass amount of police that were outside of the Pretty Nasty event in 2017, as well as, Justin Grey, member of Kappa Alpha Psi, discussing the police shutting the after party down in more detail.)
What are we to do when a police officer harm one of us? Seeing this continuum of police brutality, the lives of Black people are at constant risk. I am challenging us as a Black student collective to create safer spaces. Recording police interactions where you see a bias turnout is a start in which I offer. Perhaps even training several students to hold cop watches in order to make sure police officer are not threatening Black bodies. In my eyes, seeking safer measures is a step towards taking back the spaces we are in. When we begin to combat over-policing on our campus, it also necessary to uphold the safety of community members in Urbana/Champaign. We as a student collective only facing a small margin of what community members face daily.
In closing, over the course of this Unofficial weekend please stay safe, stay vigilant, and always stay Black!