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Student group calls for disbanding of DUPD, other actions by Duke

The Duke Black Coalition Against Policing (BCAP), a student group, issued a list of demands July 8 that calls for the Duke University Police Department to be disbanded and for the University to implement new initiatives to support the community.

The demands, addressed to University administrators and Duke’s Board of Trustees, allege a “history of police violence” at Duke. To move forward, the demands propose a three-part approach for Duke to sever “its ties to all systems predicated on policing and imprisonment,” including greater transparency, divestment from any ties to the “military and prison-industrial complex” and a plan to abolish DUPD.

BCAP’s demand letter also criticizes the University’s response to student activism and demands a reevaluation of the Office of Student Conduct and the suspension of Duke’s picketing, protest and demonstrations policy. The group requested a response from the University by July 21 and for Duke to release a variety of information by Aug. 17.

“We can’t disclose our future steps, but we want it to be clear that our work will not end if the University fails to respond to us,” the organization wrote in an email to The Chronicle.

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, did not comment on specific demands but wrote in an email that Duke administration “is reviewing the statement and will engage directly with the student organizations involved.”

DUPD Chief John Dailey also did not address specifics of the letter, but he wrote in an email that “the campus police has the same goal as others—a safe and just community that allows Duke University to provide education, research and healthcare that helps the world.”

“Being open to listening, to understanding and to changing for the good of Duke is central to what we do,” Dailey wrote.

More than 700 members of the Duke community had signed on in support of the demands as of Wednesday evening, according to a public list made available by BCAP. The list of demands is also signed by more than 40 campus organizations, including the Asian Students Association, the Black Student Alliance, the Duke Climate Coalition, Alpha Phi Alpha, Zeta Phi Beta, Duke’s National Pan-Hellenic Council, Duke’s NAACP chapter and several selective living groups.

“If the Duke administration chooses to ignore our demands, they are ignoring all of us,” BCAP wrote in their email.

The list of demands, broken up into “disclose, divest and disband,” cites past events including police use of riot gear, tear gas and clubs against students during the Allen Building Takeover of 1969; arrests of gay men for the crime of “homosexuality” during the 1960s by the Duke University Security Division, a precursor to DUPD; and the fatal shooting, by a DUPD officer, of Durham resident Aaron Lorenzo Dorsey near Duke University Hospital in 2010. It alleges a “pattern of racial profiling” including the 1986 arrest of a Black law student by Duke Public Safety, another DUPD precursor.

The disclosure section of the demands asks that the University release information about its finances in relation to DUPD and disclose any financial ties to entities affiliated with the “military and prison-industrial complex,” including U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement, the Department of Defense and private prisons. This information, along with DUPD employment and conduct records, should be publicized by Aug. 17, the demands state. 

BCAP also urged the University to privately notify all international and undocumented students, faculty, staff and contracted employees of any protections in place for them in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE raids against undocumented individuals, and the now-abandoned ICE directive that would have caused international students studying under F-1 visas to lose their visa status if they took only online classes.

Provost Sally Kornbluth and Executive Vice Provost Jennifer Francis sent an email to international students July 8, before the new ICE rules were rescinded, informing them that Duke would offer a combination of in-person, online and hybrid courses in Fall 2020, and that the University was “deeply committed to supporting its international students.”

The University filed an amicus brief Sunday in support of a lawsuit challenging the visa regulations. At a Tuesday hearing on the lawsuit, a federal judge announced that ICE and the Department of Homeland Security had agreed to rescind the new rules.   

The divestment section calls for the University to cut ties with the Durham Police Department and Allied Universal, a private security contractor that has worked on campus since 2005. BCAP also demands that Duke end its relationships with “any other county, local, state, and federal police and surveillance agencies.” 

The group also demanded that the University end any financial ties with entities that contribute to the “military and prison-industrial complex” and suspend any research and development that supports it.

Funds should then be redirected to “institutions that uplift and support the wellbeing of the Durham community” and resources for marginalized students, the demands state. 

These resources include expanded mental and physical health services, improved accessibility for disabled students and hiring more staff to support survivors of gender and sexual violence. 

The organization also urged the University to clearly define its policies around sexual assault investigations, including pursuing investigations without survivors’ consent, and to clarify the steps that the University must legally take under Title IX before a survivor provides information about their assault. The updated Department of Education guidelines for Title IX are scheduled to go into effect Aug. 14.

BCAP also demanded that Duke invest in pre-existing ethnic studies programs, including African and African American Studies, and “establish Asian American Diaspora Studies, Latinx, and Indigenous studies departments and resources.”

The final pillar of the demands calls for the University to immediately disarm DUPD and cut the department’s annual budget by half, as well as release a plan by Fall 2021 for the abolition of the department. 

In their email, BCAP described the process of writing the demands as “painful” but “necessary,” and the result of “research, reflection, and conversation with Duke students, alumni, faculty, staff, and folks from other colleges and universities who have stepped up to do this work”. They characterize the demand letter as a “living document” that is inspired by previous campus activism and intended to inspire future organizers.

“We ask that you read our demand letter in full,” the organization wrote. “In them are our labor, anguish, and hope. Listen to us.”

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