UMass Amherst Student Organizations Come Together in Starting Conversations on Police Reform and Abolition on Campus

By: Elienishka Ramos Torres

On Wednesday, July 15, 2020, “Re-imagining Public Safety,” a zoom meeting hosted by several UMass Amherst student organizations, provided participants with an insight on their current goals of police abolition within the UMass community. 

The student organizations involved in organizing and sponsoring the event included UMass Democrats, UMass Amherst chapter of NAACP, the Restorative Justice Taskforce, and the Prison Abolition Collective. Greek organizations involved included Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc., and Kappa Phi Lambda Sorority, Inc. 

The meeting began with an introduction of all the organizations involved. While each organization focused on specific activities and practices, each shared similar values of anti-racism and education. 

Joshua Badal-Rodrigues, president of La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc., stated that the Latinx diaspora needs to begin to help Black Latinx people who have been “stuck trying to educate our white Latinx communities, while also trying to dismantle the broken justice systems that have been constructed to hurt us.”

The co-sponsors for this event included social-oriented, advocacy, and direct action groups at UMass. “These groups have been doing great work around racial justice, police defunding and abolition, in different ways”, said UMass Democrats president Andrew Abramson. 

The UMass Democrats led with a short presentation that informed participants about the current state of police abolition across the country, and in Amherst. Defund 413, a local Amherst coalition,  has demanded that the $2.5 million budget of the Amherst Police Department be cut by 52%, and reallocated to community care in the city. 

Students of color have expressed urgently that the university’s administration has been neglecting them, forcing student organizations to foster a better environment. This neglect does not go unnoticed as many students recall a racist message written in a residence hall targeting black students in Fall 2018. In response to the fear blanketed across campus for months, the UMass chapter of NAACP was founded. However, the frustration of that incident continues to follow UMass because little disciplinary action was taken to prevent a similar incident from happening. 

“[By] centering and taking the lead from the Black, Indigenous, People of Color activists and organizers we are moving towards a more equitable system which has been missing for far too long,” Shared Sonya Epstein, a member of the Restorative Justice Taskforce. Once again, student organizations are completing the task of creating an environment that is safe for marginalized students, as a way to enforce the slogan “Hate has no Home at UMass.”

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