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Black Student Groups Want M.I.T. To Disarm School’s Police and Possibly Abolish Them

June 19, 2020

Two black student groups at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are calling for school administrators to consider disarming most of its police officers and possibly abolishing the police department altogether.

A 1,930-word online petition of the executive boards of the MIT Black Student Union and the MIT Black Graduate Student Association has gotten about 3,500 signers and has been endorsed by 82 student organizations at the university so far, according to organizers.

The petition refers to incidences of what the organizers describe as racial bias, including times when university police officers challenged M.I.T. students on campus on the assumption that they might not be students.

The petition, titled “Support Black Lives at MIT,” demands more transparency on how the university funds its police department and who works for it. It also demands studies pointing to fundamental changes to the police.

“We can consider retaining just a fraction of armed police for patrols at certain hours or locations,” the petition states. “Moving towards this model would stand to improve community relations with the MITPD, allowing a more even power dynamic between the community and the police as public servants, and would create a pathway for tense situations or false racially-targeted allegations to be defused without a weapon.”

But the petition also contemplates “the defunding or abolition of the police” after what it calls “a robust research investigation.”

Organizers demand that university administrators reallocate money spent on the police department toward mental health counseling, racially separate spaces and housing, and“anti-racist scholarship.”

The petition does not mention Sean Collier, the M.I.T. police officer who was shot and killed by the Boston Marathon bombers in April 2013 while he sat in a patrol car on campus. Collier, 27, was about two weeks from starting his dream job as a police officer with the city of Somerville.

John DiFava, the chief of police and director of public safety at M.I.T., recently wrote an open letter condemning the killing of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer, acknowledging the pain that some African-Americans feel toward police, and embracing change.

“I know I speak for every officer in our department when I say that we stand together with the MIT community on the side of justice and human decency,” DiFava wrote. “Our job – one we take very seriously – is to keep our community safe. That means every member of our community, without exception and with absolute respect for the dignity of all.”

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