145 days ago, Northwestern students released a petition demanding the abolition of the Northwestern University Police Department.
14 days ago, Northwestern Community Not Cops began protesting daily.
Seven days ago, University President Morton Schapiro sent a campus-wide email stating he has “absolutely no intention to abolish [ NUPD]” and calling the protests an “abomination.”
“I absolutely stand by exactly what I said.”
Schapiro’s email came after the Oct. 17 protest, when demonstrators tore down and burned the masked-shaped “We’re N This Together” sign hanging from the Weber Arch. As students marched through Evanston to Schapiro’s house, some tagged sidewalks and buildings, including Weber Arch and NUPD headquarters, with “Fuck 12,” “Abolish NUPD” and more. Protesters left the burnt sign in front of police officers stationed outside of Schapiro’s home.
“I am disgusted by those who chose to disgrace this University in such a fashion,” Schapiro said in his email. He condemned the actions of the protesters and implied that they were instigated by “outside activists.”
Despite Schapiro’s statement in the email, the goals of NUCNC, an abolitionist group, remain unchanged. The group says it intends to keep protesting until Northwestern agrees to disarm, defund and disband NUPD and reinvest funds in Black students while developing a new system for student safety.
Schapiro sent his email late Monday afternoon. Less than five hours later, more than 200 students gathered in front of his house as NUCNC organizers read their statement in response and held the pizza party they had originally planned for the night.
“We condemn Morton Schapiro’s silence – a convenient way for him and his administration to ignore our demands until we act in a manner that he deems ‘menacing,’” the statement said. “It is an even greater insult that the first time he has chosen to engage with our efforts, he has drawn on racist, coded language that has historically been used to justify and uphold white supremacy.”
In its statement, NUCNC called for Schapiro’s resignation – #ResignMorty trended briefly in Illinois on Twitter Monday night. A member of NUCNC who wished to remain anonymous said that seeking Schapiro’s resignation is not a core goal of the group and was instead “a reflection of how people are very disappointed in [his] leadership.”
The email marked the first time Schapiro had publicly responded to the group since June 3, when the group sent a petition that has since garnered over 8,000 signatures to Northwestern’s administration. In its statement, NUCNC said Schapiro did not attend the town halls that organizers and administrators hosted over the summer. He did attend the community dialogue hosted on Oct. 20, the day after he sent his email.
“I absolutely stand by exactly what I said,” Schapiro said at the community dialogue.
“It is a president’s job to spearhead anti-racist change.”
Schapiro’s email mobilized both students and faculty to voice their support for the protests and criticize the intensity of the language Schapiro used. The email motivated some students to support the movement at Monday night’s protest.
“I don’t think I was planning on going to the protest that day. After I got [the email], I was like, I’m going to get up and go yell at his house now,” an NUCNC member said.
On Tuesday, faculty and affiliates of the African American Studies Department expressed their concerns with the email. They contrasted Schapiro’s weak response to NUCNC’s June 3 petition, as well as their own Oct. 15 letter outlining steps the University should take to improve life for Black students with his “prompt and strongly worded denunciation of nonviolent student protests.”
“You have made it clear that you will use the power of your office to ‘shame’ and thereby control dissent, but we must speak truth to this misguided power,” the African American Studies Department wrote. “We condemn your failure to lead and imbue Northwestern with a grander and more humane vision for the present and the future.”
As of Oct. 25, at least six other major letters from Northwestern faculty and students condemning Schapiro’s email have been released.
The Anthropology Department, the Asian American Studies Program and the Latina and Latino Studies Program released statements Friday expressing support for their colleagues in the African American Studies Department and student protestors. Faculty from the Political Science Department also released a statement saying they “dissent” from the views expressed in Schapiro’s email and called his response “antithetical to the spirit of strong, visionary, and compassionate leadership.”
“It is a president’s job to spearhead anti-racist change, and not to stymie it,” Political Science faculty wrote. “We expect more.”
“We are outraged by this mischaracterization.”
In his email, Schapiro wrote that protesters' chants of “piggy Morty” Saturday night came “dangerously close to a longstanding trope against observant Jews like [himself].” While “pig” was first used as an antisemitic attack in the Middle Ages, NUCNC maintained that its use of the word was in reference to Schapiro’s alliance with campus and local law enforcement. The term “pig” has also been widely used since the early 1800s as a derogatory slang word to refer to police officers.
In its response, NUCNC also condemned Zionism as part of its abolitionist stance, which garnered criticism from some Jewish members of Northwestern’s community. The Executive Board of Wildcats for Israel criticized NUCNC’s separation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism in its statement and lamented that this discussion has shifted the conversation away from abolishing NUPD.
“We acknowledge that there are nuances in distinguishing anti-Semitism from anti-Zionism; however, the two often manifest together,” Wildcats for Israel’s Executive Board wrote. “When anti-Zionism is invoked in an attempt to avoid an unequivocal condemnation of anti-Semitism, the line between the two has been crossed.”
A group of more than 90 Jewish students, faculty and alumni released a public letter Wednesday that condemned the language Schapiro used and expressed support for the protests.
“We are outraged at this mischaracterization,” the letter said. “There is a long, sordid history of White Jewish leaders using antisemitism as a cudgel to denigrate Black radical protest and sow divisions among communities otherwise allied in the fight against White supremacy.”
The group also acknowledged the variety of views on Zionism in the Jewish community and supported NUCNC’s separation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism.
“We’re winning the fight and the game.”
On Saturday night, as Northwestern played Maryland in the first football game of the season, protesters gathered around Ryan Field, chanting “Same story every time, being Black is not a crime,” and “Stand up, fight back.”
“We are also in solidarity with the Black football players and the message they posted recently,” an NUCNC organizer said when the group circled up to take a brief rest halfway through the protest. At one point, a protester yelled that Northwestern was winning and protesters broke out in chants of “’Cats Not Cops.”
Demonstrators clashed with police officers on bicycles as they tried to pass the police line. Some protesters yelled insults at a police officer who pushed his bike against the crowd while other protesters attempted to de-escalate the conflict. This led to a standoff between the protesters and at least 35 police officers, some in riot gear and others with K-9 units. Other police officers on foot and in vehicles surrounded the protesters from all sides.
The protesters then drew back and moved to the west side of the stadium where they identified Northwestern’s Chief of Police Bruce A. Lewis and demanded he release the NUPD budget.
“Who needs a hundred police officers at Northwestern's football game?” an NUCNC organizer said to the group of protesters.
On its path to abolition, NUCNC is also focused on short-term goals, including increased dialogue with administration and the disclosure of NUPD’s budget. On July 24, Provost Kathleen Hagerty said there would be “no problem” with releasing the budget. It has still not been shared publicly, and in the community dialogue Tuesday, administration pushed back the estimated release date to “middle or late November.”
“The starting stuff is something like releasing the [NUPD] budget and then cutting that budget, reigning in the reach that NUPD has over Northwestern and the Evanson community,” the NUCNC member said. “And that way, you could scale NUPD down until it is not necessary.”
“No justice, no peace, abolish police.”
This past Wednesday, protesters marched from Floyd Long Field to the home of Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty. Evanston police have joined NUPD at NUCNC’s protests. The June 3 petition also calls on Northwestern to sever all formal and informal relationships with the Evanston Police Department and the Chicago Police Department.
NUCNC members led protesters in chants of “Black lives matter” and “No justice, no peace, abolish police” before emphasizing that their efforts are “interconnected with the struggle to abolish Evanston police” and criticizing Hagerty’s statement on Saturday’s protest in which he said that “damage to [the Evanston] community isn’t supporting Black lives.”
“It was this man who said our actions would stop the actions of Black Lives for Evanston,” an organizer said Wednesday night to the group of protesters gathered in front of Hagerty’s house. “Well Mr. Hagerty, we’re here to tell you that we’re not gonna stop until we abolish the motherfucking police.”