By Irene Rotondo
Tuesday, June 23 marked the second installment of “Conversations On Race,” this time hosted by Director of the Counseling Center Brian Krylowicz, Director of Spiritual Life David McMahon, Director of Inclusion and Engagement Calvin Hill, and guest-speaker Springfield College Public Safety Lieutenant Joseph Tiraboschi.
This particular installment was titled “‘Defund’ the Police,” a sensitive topic of conversation borne from the current Black Lives Matter movement.
Before attending the Zoom meeting at 6 p.m., participants were encouraged to listen to a podcast called, “The Case for Defunding the Police” hosted by Michael Barbaro which also featured guest-speaker John Eligon, a national reporter and “correspondent” covering race for The New York Times.
This podcast defined exactly what “defunding the police” means in the first three minutes and proceeded to explore the societal effects of “defunding,” alongside the potential to develop new, better organizations in place of the police force.
Shouts of, “DEFUND THE POLICE! NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!” and similar chants are heard and videoed throughout Black Lives Matter protests across the country. However, to a person who does not understand what this phrase means, it could come off as a radical sentiment.
McMahon stated that his understanding of the phrase was, “For some… [that means] abolishing police, but in other places, it’s really about moving some of the funding that is currently directed towards policing communities, providing other services.”
Essentially, “defunding” the police is exactly that – the exorbitant money that is directed towards the police department in towns and cities would be allocated into other under-funded departments.
Dr. Anthony Hill, a participant in the Zoom meeting, stated that ⅓ of all money in towns and cities goes to the police department. To combat this, Hill suggested communities should “reimagine public safety and public force” by “controlling the narrative” and deciding where the funding should be going.
The idea is to feed more money into social outreach departments, mental health professionals, or other roles that police officers often find themselves taking over in regularly during calls.
The next step would be having those departments available on scene in calls or situations where their specific type and quality of care is needed. This will cause less violent interactions between civilians and police officers.
Nicole Bowman, a third-year graduate student attempting to achieve her Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy at Springfield College, commented during the forum that she had created a heavily peer-reviewed template of a letter.
It could be submitted by anyone to their own personal U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, or City Council. The letter, filled with demands, detailed the change Bowman hopes will take place involving the police force across the country.
“I got the idea for a template letter after I received one from a friend about a month ago,” said Bowman. “That letter was intended to be sent to the Minneapolis PD asking for them to charge the officers who killed George Floyd with murder…. Then I thought, what if I made one that didn’t just advocate for one person, but everyone who has lost their life to police brutality, has been falsely charged and imprisoned, has been a victim of excessive force, and challenge the system entirely with evidence to back up my points.”
Ocean Eversley, another participant in the meeting, offered her perspective as a 62-year-old Black woman on her experiences with white police officers. She stated that she had recently witnessed her older white male neighbor in a physical altercation with a 25-year-old white male.
The 25-year-old white male was supposedly on drugs. Eversley’s neighbor reportedly told her to call the police and upon their arrival, the white officer asked Eversley if she was the 25-year-old man’s girlfriend.
“To me, that’s stereotyping,” said Eversley in the Zoom meeting. “He just assumed that a woman of color would be dating someone in their 20’s that’s a drug addict, alcoholic – and what I mean is, he was wild. And I’m dressed as I normally dress, very nice, and he [the officer] just automatically thought that that was the caliber of a man that I would be dating.”
Following Eversley’s personal account of racial issues was K’ylah, a recent Springfield College graduate and former RA. As one of three or four black RA’s at the time, K’ylah noted the disrespect and racism that she witnessed fellow Black students face from Public Safety Officers.
“I think the fear that the officers have of just, like, a black person, I feel like that’s a huge issue. If you’re already fearful of someone because of the color of their skin, you’re going into the situation scared, you’re not going to deal with the situation logically… me being the Black RA and calling public safety in a situation, they’re questioning me like I’m the one that probably did something.
“I’ve seen situations where Black students get in trouble for the same thing white students get in trouble for and [Black students’] consequences are more severe… consequences is consequences no matter what you look like,” said K’ylah.
“I even see the way Public Safety talks to Black students versus white students as an RA, because I usually just stand to the side and let them do what they have to do, but I see it. They talk to the Black students with more force, talk to them like they’re guilty without even investigating, without even looking in the room first. It’s like they’re banging on their doors… Public Safety barging in, they don’t even talk to [Black students] like they’re humans,” she added.
Lieutenant Joseph Tiraboschi offered not a defense for Public Safety, but answers to some of the questions being posed during the meeting.
“We do have a complaint form that you can fill out and submit through the Public Safety website, and we do investigate it to the fullest of our abilities. We have body cameras that we wear on every call so that we can review the footage of the calls that happen on campus, we have cameras throughout the campus… we also interview people involved in the incident so that it is documented properly,” he said.
Tiraboschi stated that the aforementioned incidents were “shocking” to him, but said that people’s experiences were their experiences and they will look intently at incidents to “make a difference.”
Unfortunately, improvement takes time, and Springfield College, nor any of its administrators and staff, cannot offer complete and perfect solutions, and are not experts in the diffusion of racial issues.
Ideas to help, such as delving into structural and institutional change, were mentioned, but the entirety of the Springfield College community must work together alongside the Public Safety department if they want to become an anti-racist community.