This past week, thousands of protestors across the country gathered to protest the indictment of the three Louisville Metro Police Department officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor on charges related to her murder. While some NYU students were arrested at protests and shared experiences involving police misconduct — having hand injuries from zip ties that were put on too tightly, being dragged across the pavement by the legs by a police officer and being forced to remove their masks and stand closely to unmasked officers, NYU has yet to release a statement on the NYPD’s unnecessarily violent response to the protests. NYU also has not released a statement on Breonna Taylor’s violent death at the hands of law enforcement or on the indictment of the officers who killed her.
Rather than directly support students protesting at the numerous Black Lives Matter protests that took place over the summer, NYU has handed out water to the NYPD during a protest and ignored the joint request from the Union for Graduate Employees (GSOC-UAW) and the Incarceration to Education Coalition at NYU to cut ties with the NYPD.
NYU has taken some steps toward supporting Black students. These include updating this semester’s required first year reading to “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson in the wake of protests and establishing a one-credit course on anti-racism. But NYU’s decision not to issue a university-wide statement condemning police brutality and addressing Breonna Taylor’s murder suggests that the university is still not willing to fully stand in solidarity with Black students.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a police officer earlier this year, NYU released a statement addressing its relationship with the NYPD. The university also stated that police officers are only present at university events like commencement and move-in day to provide security, and the university has no control over the police presence in the public parks and streets that surround NYU’s buildings. University President Andrew Hamilton also released a memorandum that mourned Floyd and discussed how NYU can use reason and discourse to address “the inequities of the criminal justice system.”
What’s missing from both of these messages is an explicit discussion and condemnation of police brutality. Hamilton chose not to mention police brutality in his message on Floyd’s death — instead vaguely discussing racism in the criminal justice system.The statement on the NYPD steers clear of any mention of police misconduct and brutality at all. This suggests that even though NYU acknowledges Floyd’s death as a tragedy and claims to support Black students, they are still not willing to condemn the racist policing system that endangers their lives.
Beyond that, NYU has chosen to remain silent on Breonna Taylor’s death, despite the fact that only one of the police officers was indicted –– and only for the shots that missed Breonna’s body. NYU has also chosen not to speak out in support of its own students whose lives were endangered at the hands of the NYPD this past week. While NYU administrators claim to want to address the inequities in the criminal justice system, the fact that they have still not issued a university-wide statement condemning the NYPD’s violence and addressing Taylor’s killing suggests otherwise.
How can NYU support Black students and play a role in fighting racism in the criminal justice system — as it claims to want to do — if it won’t even condemn police brutality or acknowledge ongoing instances of police violence?
NYU cannot control whether or not the NYPD is present on public streets in the city, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t condemn police violence. NYU’s quickness to stand up for Black students only when there’s an opportunity to be performative while refusing to take substantive actions suggests that NYU will not care about its students when it might harm its image. If NYU wants to be perceived as an institution that supports its students of color, specifically its Black students, then it needs to do so. Without a strong condemnation of the police violence inflicted on its students and divestment from the NYPD, NYU will continue to fail its Black students.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 28, 2020 e-print edition. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]