In response to President Amy Gutmann’s participation in the Student Labor Action Project’s (SLAP) and Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation at University of Pennsylvania’s (SOUL) die-in at Gutmann’s holiday party this past December, Eric J. Rohrback, president of the Penn Police Association (PPA), published a guest column that articulated his vehement opposition to the peaceful protest.
Rohrback’s article states, “No one condones police brutality. Nevertheless, conveniently glossed over by the protesters and many media accounts are these facts: The grand jury report disputed all eyewitness testimony and fully exonerated the officer ... In sum, the President of such a prestigious and diverse University should rely on facts instead of what she thinks will play to the public.”
At the request of Mr. Rohrback, we have compiled a list of facts that we deeply believe the PPA should rely on. It is our belief that “[p]olicing an open, urban, multicultural and densely-populated university environment such as Penn,” as the Penn Police Department website states, requires a commitment to protect all its community members, especially when that West Philadelphia community is predominantly Black and Brown.
Fact: “According to the FBI’s most recent accounts of ‘justifiable homicide,’ in the seven years between 2005 and 2012, a white officer used deadly force against a black person almost two times every week.”
Fact: “Of those black persons killed, nearly one in every five were under 21 years of age. For comparison, only 8.7 percent of white people killed by police officers were younger than 21.”
Fact: “These numbers are likely underestimates, as police departments self-report these statistics, and only 750 of the 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the US participated.”
Fact: “In 2013, New Yorkers were stopped by the police 191,558 times. 169,252 were totally innocent (88 percent). 104,958 were black (56 percent). 55,191 were Latino (29 percent). 20,877 were white (11 percent).”
Fact: “In a 2010 study, of the 6,613 law enforcement officers involved in reported allegations of misconduct that met NPMSRP criteria for tracking purposes, 9.3% of cases were involved in sexual misconduct.”
Fact: “Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to ‘indict a ham sandwich.’ According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.”
Despite proof that the experiences of Black Americans with law enforcement is not some delusion or willful self-victimization, police officers such as those in the PPA continue to overlook institutionalized discrimination that has “justified” the brutalization of minorities. On the surface, Eric J. Rohrback’s argument hinges on the perceived “disrespect” of President Amy Gutmann’s decision to stand in solidarity with members of the Penn community. This group was not comprised of some “mob mentality” as stated by Rohrback, but instead was comprised of students who passionately fight for the humanity and rights of all Americans.
What Rohrback and the PPA’s argument really boils down to is this: Law enforcement feels entitled to engage in whatever force they deem necessary in policing black communities. If this force results in citizens being beaten, harassed, threatened, murdered and having their constitutional rights violated, then so be it. Cases of choking an unarmed father over loose cigarettes or shooting a 12-year-old with a toy gun is simply them “doing their jobs.” Any questioning of these abuses is seen as “disrespect” as stated by Eric J. Rohrback.
The letter from the PPA is not simply about the protest at President Gutmann’s holiday party. It is also a statement of their solidarity with police officers such as Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo. In condemning our President’s participation in the die-in, Rohrback affirmed that he believes that black lives do not and cannot matter, because if these lives did matter, it would uphold the ugly truth behind the information presented above.
As long as officers claim they are easily frightened by Black and Brown bodies to the point of using excessive and lethal force, we will assert that our lives matter.
Victoria Ford and Nikki Hardison are a College and a Wharton senior, respectively. Their email addresses are firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. “The Vision” is a column for black voices that appears every Tuesday.
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