Amid nationwide protests and calls for systemic change over the police killings of Black civilians, Black Emory students and organizations have denounced the Emory Police Department (EPD), demanding the University disarm and defund EPD.
When Emory Police Chief Rus Drew came to Emory in 2016, he told the Wheel that EPD must be proactive in addressing race relations and building trust on campus. Four years later, many students, namely Black students, still do not feel safe in their presence.
“They remind me of when I’m back at home in my community. It just reminds me of surveillance … their presence can just be unsettling,” Emory NAACP President Zakiya Collier (21C) said. “It just reminds me of that when I see them because I can’t divorce the two entities.”
In nine demands addressed to the University, a coalition of Black student organizations insisted that Emory “take immediate actions” to disarm and defund EPD and reallocate funding toward “equipped crises-prepared professionals.”
At a June 11 virtual student discussion about police brutality, Black Student Alliance (BSA) Vice President Kyle Truevillian (22C) explained the arguments behind efforts to disarm campus police.
“There’s no reason for these police to be militarized — them having guns,” Truevillian said. “We are all unarmed students … we do not pose a threat to society. I should not have to be questioned if I’m on campus if I’m a little bit darker than other people.”
The demands reflect what some Black students believe is a strained relationship with EPD. Emory NAACP Political Action Committee Chair Ronald Poole (23C) said he believes Black students at Emory are disproportionately profiled and surveilled by the police, noting that he thinks EPD’s presence has disrupted normal learning and residential environments.
Young Democrats of Emory Vice President Eden Yonas (22C) said at the virtual student discussion that it’s difficult to tell if Black students are disproportionately profiled or abused as there is not enough public data on EPD’s conduct toward People of Color. She also noted that Black students’ previous experiences with police justify their general fear of EPD, even if they have not had any direct encounters with EPD officers.
In accordance with the Clery Act, a federal regulation requiring the disclosure of information about campus security, the University must keep records of all crimes reported to EPD in the past 60 days and publish a yearly report on crime statistics. However, there is no public information available on the number of EPD stops, use of force statistics, internal policies or other policing data and EPD is not subject to the Georgia Open Records Act.
In response to an interview request regarding hiring practices and training, Vice President of Academic Communications Nancy Seideman wrote in a June 16 email that prior to joining, all prospective officers complete a psychological exam to evaluate the candidate’s bias.
Officers participate in ongoing implicit bias training and training in de-escalation tactics and EPD officers completed twice the number of training hours required in 2019, she wrote. Seideman did not respond to further questions about use of force statistics, chokehold policies or a request for interview by press time.
Within the past year, EPD officers have engaged in tactics such as alleged racial profiling that have drawn public criticism.
In July 2019, Dennis McKinley, owner of The Original Hot Dog Factory in Atlanta, wrote in an Instagram post that while he was at Emory University Hospital for a doctor’s appointment, he was detained by EPD Officer Beth White, who falsely accused him of stealing a sandwich at the hospital cafeteria.
“There were a number of easy resolutions that could have deescalated the unnecessary racial profiling and my detention by this officer,” McKinley wrote. “Instead, this Emory police officer chose to abuse her power.”
McKinley’s lawyer, Michael Sterling, told the Wheel in a June 16 email that he couldn’t discuss the incident because there is a “confidential settlement in place.” Officer White did not respond to the Wheel’s request for an interview.
In November 2019, the police force hosted a mock “Nerf gun fight,” which received considerable censure from students of color for its insensitivity.
“I think it was completely tone deaf,” BSA President Amon Pierson (22C) said of the mock gun fight. “I don’t know what they were thinking inviting a campus to a Nerf gun fight where Black and Brown people are gunned down by police every day.”
The enumerated demands also stipulate that the University evaluate the impact that EPD and the Atlanta Police Department exert on Emory’s learning and residential environments, based on the results of a forthcoming student survey created by Emory NAACP.
Another list of demands penned by a group of student social justice organizations also asks the University to “implement more rigorous implicit bias training” for EPD officers, provide more public data on the use of force by officers and create more methods for community members to report instances of unjust policing.
Eight days after Floyd’s death, Drew wrote a message to the Emory community, stating EPD is “appalled” by the actions of the Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd’s killing. He said EPD’s “legitimacy and effectiveness” depends on maintaining community trust.
Drew encouraged community members to meet with the Emory Police Council for Community Engagement, a 24-member group composed of students, faculty and staff that meets once a semester to provide feedback to EPD on community relations and safety issues.
Emory College Republicans President Jasmine Jaffe (22C) disagreed with calls to abolish EPD or police departments generally, arguing that they provide safety against people who aim to do harm.
“Abolishing Emory PD does a lot more harm than good to our Atlanta community than it does to our campus,” Jaffe said. “I don’t see that reform solving anything other than hurting our community.”
Pierson said that although his view of EPD may differ from other Black students on campus, he has never felt comfortable with the private police force.
“I’ve always been scared of Emory PD. They are not a source of safety for me. It’s not something I look to if something goes wrong,” he said. “My hesitations with them happen all the time, especially with them having such a presence on campus.”