It’s been two weeks since 24-year-old University of Chicago alum Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng was shot and killed during a robbery in Hyde Park. This tragedy happened nearly two hours after a shooting on 53rd Street. Although no one was hurt, a couple of businesses and cars were damaged. Zheng’s murder also happened several hours after a 31-year-old man died earlier that day in a stabbing during a domestic incident near 53rd and Cottage Grove.

All three instances of violence happened on Nov. 9, within a mile of one another. No arrests were made in the 53rd Street shooting, a 28-year-old man was taken into custody but later released without charges in the stabbing, and 18-year-old Alton Spann has been arrested and charged with Zheng’s murder.

These incidents sparked a divide between residents in the Hyde Park area who are either pro-police or anti-police. The University of Chicago is located in Hyde Park, an affluent and culturally diverse neighborhood that neighbors Kenwood, also an affluent community, and Woodlawn and Washington Park, two communities grappling with poverty and crime.

For the last year or so, organizers — locally and nationally — have been demanding the reallocation of police budgets to community services through the #DefundThePolice campaign and reshaping public views on incarceration through talks of abolition.

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So in the wake of those three violent acts, when the UChicago community called for more police and surveillance, it set off an ongoing question that’s been circulating since the 2020 summer uprisings: who keeps us safe? Do police keep communities safe? Do more policing and more dollars for police budgets reduce crime or prevent it from happening? 

On Nov. 16, the group We Want Safety held a rally that drew criticism because of the anti-Black rhetoric used by some participants. The rally’s slogan “We are here to learn not to die,” was insensitive to the predominantly Black communities surrounding UChicago that routinely experience gun violence. There’s also evidence that this rhetoric was used in social media posts according to UChicago’s Organization of Black Students.

“We have seen the knee-jerk reaction of division, anti-Blackness and white supremacy in the face of crisis,” Lauren Dotson, a UChicago student with #CaresNotCops, said during a Nov. 19 protest on campus. “We have seen names followed by BA’s, MD’s, and PhDs use their institutional power to call for more police as a means of safety. We have seen people who refuse to actually listen to community voices continually spew ignorance, doubts and hate.”

At a Nov. 17 webinar, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and UChicago Police Department (UCPD) announced steps to keep UChicago and surrounding communities safe, including: more foot and police patrols on and near campus between UCPD and CPD, a new 24-hour strategic operations center for UCPD, more security cameras and license plate readers around campus, plus additional transportation options for the UChicago community. UChicago will also expand the free Lyft ride program for students.  

UCPD is one of the largest private police forces in the nation. In addition to university property, the department’s jurisdiction extends north to 37th Street, south to 64th Street, east to Lake Shore Drive and west to Cottage Grove Avenue. UCPD has the power to search, ticket, arrest, and detain people. Since UCPD is a private force, it is not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.  

During the webinar, both police departments said they will work together to increase police patrols and add more surveillance cameras. However, both police departments have a history of brutality and discrimination — for instance, CPD is still grappling with community distrust after the murders of Laquan McDonald, Rekia Boyd, Adam Toledo and many others; victims of former CPD commander Jon Burge’s torture; and the revealing of decades of racist police misconduct and excessive force in a 2017 Department of Justice report that resulted in a federal court-ordered consent decree.

UCPD came under fire for shooting Charles Thomas, a UChicago student who was having a mental health crisis, in 2018. And in 2019, just blocks away from campus, 22-year-old Myles Frazier was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer. He worked at UChicago doing odd jobs. 

“This idea of more license plate readers, more pod cameras, will make us all safer,” CPD Supt. David Brown said during the Nov. 17 webinar. “Without question, it’ll make us safe. So we are urgently looking for places to put more cameras, both outside the campus of the University of Chicago and on the campus.” 

Brown also noted that he had added six officers to the 2nd District, which includes UChicago, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Washington Park and Grand Boulevard. Ten more officers will join the 2nd District by year-end, he said.

“There’s already technology in this neighborhood that does not work because police do not work,” Vee Morris-Moore, a member of Assata’s Daughters and lead organizer of the UChicago Trauma Center Campaign and Fearless Leading by the Youth, said at the Nov.19 protest. During last week’s webinar Brown credited already existing surveillance cameras and license plate readers in the neighborhood that led to the arrest of Spann.

Vee Morris-Moore a member of Assata’s Daughters and lead organizer of the UChicago Trauma Center Campaign and Fearless Leading by the Youth speaks about their experience organizing the UChicago Trauma Center Campaign on Friday, Nov. 19.

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The city of Chicago has an estimated 30,000 surveillance cameras that are connected to the command center of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, according to an op-Ed opposing more policing, written by UChicago grad students for South Side Weekly. 

CPD also relies heavily on ShotSpotter, a technology system that is used to detect gunshots. That technology has been heavily criticized because ShotSpotter technology is in primarily Black and brown neighborhoods in Chicago and because the majority of alerts from the system turn up no evidence of gunfire or gun-related crime, according to an analysis from the MacArthur Justice Center

“There are two major police departments in this neighborhood already, and if they worked, we would not be warning young people every single week in this neighborhood, whether it’s on this campus or three blocks out,” Morris-Moore said.  

Adding more police and more surveillance cameras is concerning to UChicago United’s #CareNotCops campaign and community-based organizations such as GoodKids MadCity, Assata’s Daughters and more.

These groups fear that increasing surveillance and police officers will cause undue harm to the communities of color that surround the university, and who continue to be targets of racial profiling, brutalization, and harassment at the hands of both police departments. 

According to a 2018 South Side Weekly news report,From 2010 to 2015, the percentage of UCPD traffic stops that were of Black people ranged from seventy-one to seventy-seven percent.”

During the Nov. 19 protest, #CareNotCops shared their demands: an end to expanded policing and surveillance, university support for community-led initiatives that address gun violence such as GoodKid MadCity’s Peace Book ordinance, that the university immediately disarm UCPD and reduce its budget by 50%, and for that police department to be disbanded by 2023.

“As Black people, we understand the feeling and the passion behind wanting to be safe, but when you promote things like you’re here to learn and not to die, you have to think about what that says to your neighbors who are up the street,” Morris-Moore said on Friday.

The Triibe reached out to We Want Safety for comment, but the group didn’t respond by press time. They released a statement on Nov. 20. At a press conference on Nov. 22, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ) and UChicago’s Organization of Black Students spoke out against the anti-Black rhetoric, denouncing increased policing and surveillance in Hyde Park and neighboring communities.

Additionally, in an open letter addressed to UChicago president Paul Alivisatos and UChicago Provost Ka Lee, hundreds of UChicago faculty members urged university officials to make violence a top priority, calling for more police and to extend UCPD’s boundaries.

The thing is, proving that police presence leads to crime reduction is complicated, according to Robert Vargas, associate professor of Sociology at UChicago. 

Vargas referenced a well-known 1970s experiment conducted at the Kansas City Police Department. The Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment was designed by the Department of Justice to measure whether or not police patrols in 15 Kansas City police beats had an impact on crime, citizen fear of crime, community attitudes toward the police, the delivery of police service, police response time, or traffic accidents.

The experiment found that increasing or decreasing patrols did not affect any of those factors. 

As to what is happening now on UChicago’s campus right now, Vargas said asking if police will keep Hyde Park or the campus safer isn’t the right question, because it’s seeking a solution to the problem by focusing on one sole treatment — more police and more surveillance. 

But the better approach to the problem is to consider that there could be a multitude of solutions, he added.

“The abolition movement, over the last couple of years, has been trying to get people to consider the question of, ‘OK, what if we invested in all of these other things besides policing? Like, health care, jobs, mental health, education, and housing,’” Vargas said. “What if we invested in all these other things and see if that made people safer?”

is a multimedia producer for The TRiiBE.