Penn President Amy Gutmann responded to her participation in a protest that sparked national headlines at a meeting with The Daily Pennsylvanian staff Thursday afternoon.
At her annual holiday party in December, Gutmann participated in a die-in that was staged by various student groups.
“No person, whether guilty or innocent, should be left unattended to for four and a half hours, which is why I laid down in solidarity with those who I have great empathy for,” she said.
“We need to show our empathy for everyone who suffers in our society,” she added. “I think it helped bring the community together, and I am very proud of our community.”
Gutmann expressed her support for Penn Police, saying “one can stand in solidarity with both those who protect our lives and those who feel vulnerable.”
When asked for further comment on whether she had reconciled with Penn Police at the end the one-hour meeting, she responded, “I think I answered that,” and left the room.
Tensions between Penn Police and Amy Gutmann rose in December following the die-in, leading the Penn Police Association President Eric Rohrback to write a guest column in the DP.
“To have her participate in such a disrespectful act is not, in any way, ‘support,’ and proves that she does not have the backs of ‘her’ officers,” Rohrback wrote. “It is a slap in the face to every person that wears this uniform and serves this University.”
Rohrback said in a phone interview following Thursday’s meeting with Gutmann that the president has not reached out to bridge the tension between her and the department’s patrolmen.
“I have not heard one word from her. She has not sent me a letter, an email, a text message, nothing,” he said.
When presented with Gutmann’s rationale for participating in the die-in, he said, “That makes no sense. She’s an adult. She’s the president of this University. That could be her belief. But she doesn’t have to show sides.
“The die-in was a protest against police for shooting an unarmed black man,” Rohrback said, “It’s not about him laying there for 4 hours.”
Rohrback said he has spoken with Vice President of Public Safety Maureen Rush about the issue. Following Rohrback’s letter to the DP, Rush sent an email to the Penn Police force that was also published, emphasizing the President’s support for the police.
“VP Rush is trying to keep the peace. She’s not taking sides,” Rohrback. “She explained that Amy Gutmann has our best interests at heart and that she’s pro-police, but this was a bad way of showing it.”
Rohrback says that while Penn Police are still upset about Gutmann’s participation in the die-in, they will continue to protect the Penn community. “They are still upset over it, but we’re professionals and we’re still out here doing our job.
“Service from the police department has not slowed,” he said. “We haven’t backed down any.”
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