Two petitions demanding that UR permanently ban firearms for the Department of Public Safety (DPS) have been circling UR.
The two petitions published on June 2 — one as a Google Form, the other an SA IMPACT petition — were written in response to a May 30 email from University President Sarah Mangelsdorf and Vice-President for Equity and Inclusion Mercedes Ramírez Fernández. The email itself was a response to the recent Black Lives Matter protests. It announced that the Office of Equity and Inclusion will be hosting “a series of roundtable podcasts to bring together the voices and views of our community.”
Both petitions request that UR:
- Make the Frederick Douglass Institute (FDI) a full department.
- Hold Black student groups like the Douglass Leadership House (DLH) to the same standard as other student organizations.
- Hire more Black faculty.
- Build a new dorm to stop students from moving into the 19th Ward, and support Black-owned businesses in College Town to avoid further gentrifying these areas.
- Be more open to interaction with people in the city of Rochester.
- Make racism a punishable offense in the code of conduct.
Google Form petition
The six-page Google Form begins with a tl;dr reading, “We don’t want your podcasts. We want anti-racist action.” Class of 2020 graduates Brianna Terrell, Naomi Boxman, and Sharline Rojo Reyes — none of whom are Black — drafted the Google Form. Perry was invited to give feedback on the already written drafts, something that he said he appreciated, because “[this way] it didn’t have to be emotionally [laborious] for the two Black people that were added to the group.”
In addition to permanently disarming DPS, the petition requested that UR “cut all ties with” the Rochester Police Department (RPD) due to its “egregious history of police brutality.”
The most recent example of that history involves the Black Lives Matter protests in Rochester, which turned violent after protestors reached the Rochester Public Safety building. RPD said in a statement to the Democrat and Chronicle that their use of pepper spray projectiles was “in response to destruction of property (police cars and other vehicles), along with bottles, rocks, and fireworks being thrown at police officers and peaceful protesters.”
“When the community attempted to peacefully protest the injustices of George Floyd and others, they were met with violence and hatred,” the petition says. “The RPD escalated an amicable gathering of community members into a chaotic riot.”
The petition also notes the Police Accountability Board’s lack of power. The Board was founded in January 2020 and lost the ability to legally discipline officers that same month.
The petition cites the unannounced K-9 training drill, conducted by the RPD on UR grounds, as well as the WCSA website’s assertion that “all events [are] subject to Rochester Police Department (RPD) involvement if factors deem appropriate,” as evidence of an agreement between DPS and the RPD.
Said agreement, including “any previous contracts, events, security operations, and any additional relations that were inclusive of RPD, barring any reporting structures,” should be terminated, the petition says.
In an email to the Campus Times, Director of Public Safety Mark Fischer refuted that, saying , “The University does not contract with RPD for sporting or special events or any other activity on our campus.” He clarified that the only agreement between the two departments is who has jurisdiction over the public streets close to UR, and that DPS is the “primary responder” in these areas.
He added that the K-9 training drill was “implemented without any DPS knowledge,” and said that “it is our understanding that the failure to notify DPS about this exercise was immediately addressed by leadership within the Rochester Police Department.”
The Google Form offers those who sign it the opportunity to give “testimonials,” which were compiled in a Google Doc. Read the testimonials here.
The page was updated on June 3 to note that some of the testimonials had been flagged as fake, because they were antagonistic and signed with names such as “George Floyd,” “Current Medical Student,” “1st Ward Resident,” and “You all are idiots.” All of the flagged comments assert that the RPD can’t be racist because both the mayor of Rochester and the chief of the RPD are Black. According to the update, it is still not clear whether these comments were all made by one person or by a group of people.
“We have chosen to keep their comments in the testimony, highlighted in red, to make everyone aware that in the face of brutality white infiltrators will detract from the conversation and make fun of black pain,” says the update.
Perry drafted the IMPACT petition himself, then sent it to its other contributors, including Kimberly Bojorquez, former president of the Spanish and Latino Students’ Association (SALSA), current co-presidents juniors Steven Colberg and Katherine Serna, class of 2020 graduate and former Minority Student Activities Board (MSAB) vice president Iltaff Bala, senior and MSAB vice president Talia English, senior and former Douglass Leadership House (DLH) vice president Ivana Baldie, junior and DLH vice president Andre Hodges, senior and Pan African Student Association (PASA) president Brian Yegela, and Black Student Union (BSU) vice president junior Mauricio Coombs.
Unlike the Google Form petition, the IMPACT petition also includes a final demand: “DO NOT BE AFRAID TO MENTION THE MOVEMENT.” This demand criticizes Mangelsdorf and Fernández for never mentioning the Black Lives Matter movement in their May 30 email.
“There is a whole community of Black lives in UofR and Rochester, students, alumni, faculty, and their lives MATTER,” reads the petition.
Bojorquez said that she was frustrated by the low ratio of signatures to students attending UR. The petition is now at 1,064 signatures, while there are 6,535 students enrolled in the undergraduate class.
Some campus organizations have been silent, she said, and haven’t put the petition on their social media because “they haven’t come out with a statement.”
“We are not asking for a statement,” she wrote, “we are asking for you to stand behind our words and make a promise to do better. We don’t need your sympathy, we need your action. Your basic humanity.”
Students air grievances on FaceBook prior to petitions
In a video posted to his Facebook, Perry discusses his problems with the email sent by Mangelsdorf and Fernández, many of which mirror those expressed in both petitions.
At the end of the video, he asks viewers to list or post photos or videos of any other grievances against UR in the comments. “Especially if you have that video of when the international student was getting arrested on the [UR] campus for being on campus without some ID,” he says, referring to the arrest of then-junior Mohammed Rifat in 2018. “And then the Public Safety officer tells one of the international students that he has to stop recording — which is against his rights, his legal rights — let’s address that. That can be addressed. But [UR] wants to make a podcast.”
In the comments, students brought up their own experiences with DPS.
“I was approached and was asked for ID by Officer Reed randomly walking into OBrien,” wrote commenter Angel Carrasquillo. “He said it was suspicious that I walked in behind another pub safety without swiping in even tho she held the door for me. Then continued to follow me to my room demanding ID and threatening to write me up.”
Senior Sakhile Ntshangase commented that he was present when his friend had been locked out of her car, and was surprised when the DPS officer called to unlock the door brought a gun.
“It took him about 5 minutes as he struggled to open the door and the whole time I was wondering why the hell would you bring a gun to a lockout,” Ntshangase wrote.
Mangelsdorf and Fernández’s response to the petitions
In response to the complaints about DPS, a second email from Mangelsdorf and Fernández sent June 8 said that the Public Safety Review Board (PSRB) would be meeting within the next few weeks to “determine ways in which our Department of Public Safety can contribute further to our campus discussions and actions around race.” Fernández will be representing the Office of Equity and Inclusion as a newly appointed member of the PSRB. The email also outlined other initiatives the University would be taking.
Bojorquez was again disappointed by the June 8 email. “It was made clear that our voices were overlooked yet again,” she wrote. “We outlined specific actions they need to take to make us feel safe and heard. They NEED to stop the proposals to arm public safety.”