Cops Off Campus demonstration calls for abolition of UIPD

The Iowa chapter of Cops Off Campus, partnered with the Iowa Freedom Riders, held a demonstration on the Pentacrest Sunday night, where speakers called for the defunding and abolition of the university’s police department.


Jerod Ringwald

Members of the Cops off Campus organization speak to the crowd during a protest on the Pentacrest in Iowa City on Sunday, July 4, 2021.

Lauren White, Politics Reporter

Adorned with signs that said “No Justice No Peace” and “UIPD and ICPD are the same,” the Iowa chapter of Cops Off Campus partnered with the Iowa Freedom Riders to advocate for the abolition of the University of Iowa Police Department.

One of the members of Cops Off Campus said to the crowd that students of color on campus do not feel safe having the campus police department, and that their fear does not make them clinically paranoid or a burden to the system. 

“I cannot succeed or reach my full potential when I’m asked to be in survival mode multiple times a day when I’m surrounded by cops on a campus that threaten my sense of security and safety,” the member said. 

The demonstration was held on Independence Day, three days after the ”Back the Blue” act went into effect. 

The bill, signed into law on June 17, makes inciting a riot a felony offense, grants immunity to drivers who may harm a protester who is blocking the road, increases penalties on destruction of property, and penalizes drivers who may elude a non uniformed officer in an unmarked police vehicle. 

Another law signed on the same day, HF 708, created a law enforcement equipment fund in the Iowa Department of Public Safety. This fund was seeded with $5 million in this year’s budget. Iowa City increased their 2022 police budget by 2.5 percent at the beginning of the year. 

UI student Shannon Walsh, a speaker at the demonstration, said money that currently goes to the UIPD could be used to fund resources that students at the university desperately need. 

UIPD currently has a budget of over $8 million that comes from student tuition and fees. 

Walsh said through gathering information and grievances, students on campus said they wish the university would expand mental health services and resources for food and housing insecurity in the city rather than fund the campus police department. 

“The whole point of this organization is to see what we can put in place of the University of Iowa Police Department, to take that money and put it towards something that students actually need,” Walsh said. 

The event was symbolically held on July 4 as a way for people of color to share that they still do not feel free in their own communities. 

“I am not proud to be an American, and I hardly know that I am free,” a member said. 

UI graduate Kennisha Entsminger, who also spoke at the event, said due to injustices across the country – such as indiginous people being forced to live in reservations, lacking proper medical care, and the use of excessive force by officers – they do not think that the U.S. is as free as others think it is. 

Under 30 percent of students at the UI identify as any non-white ethnicity. Entsminger said they believe the university does not follow through on its support for students of color on campus, which has caused a disproportionate amount of minority students to leave the university. 

“Primarily, the number one reason for any student leaving the university is for mental health reasons, and the university does not support the students of color that it claims to value,” Entminger said. 

Entsminger said they have not seen the university make any progress towards defunding the police department throughout the year that students at the university have been protesting for it’s dismantling. 

“The primary reason is just money and the Board of Regents, so whatever the Board of Regents decides is a good idea— which is usually whatever the governor and state legislature decide is a good idea — is what the university will do,” Entsminger said. 

Another frustration that speakers had was the lack of transparency from the UI administration. David Drustrup, a member of the Reimagining Campus Safety committee, said the original intention of the group — which consists of students, staff, and faculty — was to critique the University of Iowa police department and propose a new system for how to conduct the department.

Drustrup said four out of five students and three out of five general responders – which included students, staff, faculty, and alumni – requested that the UIPD be abolished completely. 

He became disappointed with the group, he said, when it watered down the desires of students to create a more “rational” plan that does not include abolition.

“While students’ information and input was taken in, it was not reflected in the final report. They sort of acknowledge that students largely wanted to defund, but then none of the recommendations reflect that,” Drustrup said. 

Because of his disappointment, Drustrup said he and another member have decided to remove their names from the proposal. 

Another aspect of the “Back the Blue” act cuts off or withholds funding to any city in Iowa that reduces their law enforcement budgets disproportionately to the entire budget as a whole. Because of this law, Drustrup said, the committee was unwilling to send in a proposal that requested the abolishment of the UIPD. 

He said a step in the right direction would have been for the university administration and the Reimagining Campus Safety Committee to vocalize public support for students. 

“The first thing for the administration and the powers that be at the university to do would be to take the sides of the students, really, and begin to put pressure on the entities that are going to resist it,” Drustrup said. “…But people from around the university can decide to say, ‘You know what these recommendations are not good enough, because they don’t encompass what the students actually wanted, which was defunding and abolishing UIPD.’”

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