U. of C. protesters demand police disarmament, mental health resources
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University of Chicago students and faculty members on Friday demanded disarmament of campus police and greater funding for mental health resources after the police shooting of a student who ran toward officers during an apparent mental health crisis.
At a campus rally, organizers expressed anger over the shooting of fourth-year political science student Charles Thomas, who is currently hospitalized at Northwestern and faces felony and misdemeanor charges. About 200 protesters marched across the quad to deliver a list of demands to university officials at the administration building.
Their demands include reducing funding for the University of Chicago Police Department, disarming officers and requiring the department be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. They also want more counselors and trauma-informed responders to de-escalate emergency situations. The list was endorsed by several groups, including Black Lives Matter Chicago and multicultural student coalitions.
“UCPD should not be first responders; while their mere presence escalates a situation, they should at the very least not have guns,” Tunisia Tai, a fourth-year student at the university, said.
University spokesman Jeremy Mainer said in a statement that the administration’s mental health resources are “extensive and guided by national best practices,” and include counseling services without a waitlist. The officer involved in the shooting, according to the statement, had received 40 hours of crisis intervention training.
Kathleen Thomas, Thomas’ mother, told the student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon, her son never displayed mental health issues before but there is a history of bipolar disorder in their family.
Daniel Lastres, a roommate of Thomas, said when Thomas went to the university for counseling services, he was referred to resources outside the university.
“We are shocked to learn that serious criminal charges have been filed against Charles, adding further and intensive distress to an individual who needs our care, not our criminalization,” Lastres said.
Guy Emerson Mount, a postdoctoral fellow who had Thomas in a history of hip-hop class, said Thomas never seemed like a troubled student and it was likely a one-time crisis situation.
“Charles is not to blame for ignoring the officer’s requests during that mental health emergency,” Mount said.
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