by JOSEPHINE JOHNSON
On Sept. 29, the UMW chapter of the NAACP released a report evaluating the UMW Police Department. The report includes data collected from 400 UMW students who were asked to record their opinions and experiences with UMW Police.
The NAACP was inspired to write the report by current events and the fight for equality in America.
“After seeing the national uprisings that took place following the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and the tear gassing of UMW students and other young people in the Fredericksburg area on May 31, we knew we could not stay silent while tragedy was taking place all around us,” said sophomore Maya Jenkins, the NAACP vice president and member of the UMW Police Community Advisory Panel. “These events forced us to look within our own environment to reflect on the lack of safety we feel on this campus. We thought the best way to start was through looking at our own police force.”
UMW Police Chief and vice president of public safety Michael Hall has read the report, and believes that most issues could have been resolved through discussion.
“We’re going to look at the data they have and see if we can find a balance,” he said. “There’s some things in there that had that group come and had a conversation… we could have worked through a lot of things.”
Hall also spoke on concerns of a bias present among UMW Police officers.
“I have a diverse department both gender and racially. However, at this time the department is actually understaffed and underfunded due to budget constraint,” he said.
The NAACP’s report focused on issues affecting students of color but also mentions incidents of sexual misconduct from police.
Hall briefly spoke of an incident involving a former UMW Police officer who was accused of sexual assault in 2016. The officer was found not guilty.
“That officer was vindicated in court… the officer is no longer employed here… I’m not getting into that,” said Hall. “I don’t dwell on that but I don’t dismiss that.”
The report calls for a reallocation of funds going to UMW PD. The NAACP has concerns about police officers who are dispatched to respond to situations of emotional distress, and suggests that funds from the UMW PD should be invested in a crisis prevention program, as well as invested into the Talley Center.
Hall believes that the UMW PD’s current budget is low and should not be reallocated.
“If we take [the UMW PD budget] and distribute it over to organizations and groups and stuff, that’s fine! But then, who does what we’re doing now?”
Hall assures that UMW PD is not like any more well known corrupt police forces.
“Let’s not apply a national problem here,” he said.
Members of the NAACP believe that UMW should be doing more to protect their students of color.
“It is not the silence or the empty statements that hurt [Black students]. It is an illusion of understanding,” said Jenkins in the conclusion of the report. “You profit from our diversity but only care at our memorials. These solutions are expensive, but we are owed.”
The NAACP says it will not stop the fight until changes are made.
“We will continue to press the University to provide the safety they pride themselves in for all students. We will hold the University accountable for their actions, and will work to create dialogue to make sure our demands are met,” she said.
Junior sociology major and president of UMW NAACP Brianna Reaves feels passionately about the NAACP’s fight for equality.
“The work that we do in our community and for our people is not easy, it is necessary,” said Reaves. “Most importantly, the work that we do is not about us. It is about investing justice, safety, and hope back into the Black community’s future by doing the hard work and having the tough conversations. When we show up, we show up for those that have come before us and will come after us; and we encourage those watching on the sidelines to step up to the plate and help us do the same—we cannot hide or be still in the presence of Revolution, we must move.”
Emily Bowerman contributed to reporting for this article.