The Weekly: Week Six Recap

Alex Chun and Haley Fuller

Students led by NU Community Not Cops are marching every day until Northwestern abolishes University Police. The Weekly: Week 6 Recap breaks down this week’s protests and President Schapiro’s response.

ALEX CHUN: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Alex Chun.

HALEY FULLER: And I’m Haley Fuller. This is The Weekly: a podcast that breaks down our top headlines each week.

ALEX CHUN: During these past two weeks in Evanston, hundreds of students have protested with student group NU Community Not Cops. The group is planning to protest every day until Northwestern gets rid of University Police. The NU Community Not Cops protests come after a summer of unmet demands from student activists. In July, the University promised to release their police budget — a commitment they still haven’t followed through on. On Monday, October 19, University President Morton Schapiro responded to the protests with a strongly worded email in which he stated that he was “disgusted” by the weekend protests. Northwestern’s Associated Student Government then held a previously-scheduled community dialogue on Tuesday, October 20. Here’s what Schapiro said that night —

MORTON SCHAPIRO: I stand by every single word, I read it over again, several times, since it’s been so mischaracterized. The reality is, I wrote this, I thought long and hard about it, I absolutely stand by it.

ALEX CHUN: So, for this week’s episode, we’re chatting with assistant campus editor Tal Schatsky and reporter James Pollard, who covered the protests and the University’s response.

HALEY FULLER: On June 3, a petition demanding the University divest from law enforcement and invest in Black students’ wellbeing was circulated. The authors included data looking at arrest patterns from Evanston and Chicago Police. A previous analysis done by The Daily found that during field stops conducted by University Police in Winter Quarter this year, one in every four students stopped were Black. For context, Black students make up around 6 percent of the student body.

ALEX CHUN: And shortly after the petition was made, NU Community Not Cops was formed. James, can you tell us a little bit about who they are?

JAMES POLLARD: Yeah, it’s a group of students who are prison-industrial complex abolitionists working to defund the Northwestern University Police Department.

ALEX CHUN: What were some of the first actions the group took?

JAMES POLLARD: So the June 3 petition circulated and garnered over 8,000 signatures. And the next big action came on June 19 – the same day of virtual commencement – when about 70 students marched around Evanston and called on the University. Again, they repeated their goal to divest from all law enforcement agencies at Northwestern, and they hung from the Arch a sign saying “Divest from death, invest in Black lives.” Five days later, in a meeting with administrators, some students brought up that petition, and noted that it hadn’t been responded to directly and called on the University again to create a policy that protects student protesters on campus, allocate significant resources and funds to local activist groups that support the Black community, and again reiterated their goal to disarm, defund and disband the Northwestern University Police Department.

ALEX CHUN: So, after months without seeing their demands met from the University, the daily protests started on October 12. Tal, you covered the protest that took place last Saturday, October 17. Now, this protest is particularly notable — two days later, University President Morton Schapiro condemned the protesters’ actions in an email to the Northwestern community. Could you tell us about the energy of the protest the night of October 17?

TAL SCHATSKY: So one thing I will say, Alex, was that it seemed to me that the governing feeling of Saturday night was one of mutual care and support and community. The group started with some remarks from leaders in the group. And among those remarks, they emphasized things like social distancing and caring for each other, and people had snacks and water. And, they reminded everyone to back up and wear masks, and masks were mandatory. They also started by singing the Black National Anthem, and talked about how they were all in this fight together, and that the purpose of the night was to be there to support Black and Brown students — unequivocally, that was the purpose of the night.

HALEY FULLER: A lot happened that night. Can you walk us through October 17?

TAL SCHATSKY: So the crowd started to form at about 9:30 p.m. outside Foster-Walker, and at its peak, we estimated around 300 students. They moved out from the Foster-Walker Complex area and moved west toward Ridge Avenue, walked down along Ridge and eventually passed by the University Police Department. That was where a lot of the spray painting started — on the street outside and on some surrounding street signs, mostly abolitionist messaging, mostly anti-capitalist messaging. Then the group walked east on Davis Street — same kind of stuff — and eventually regathered around Fountain Square and moved toward the Arch. Two students climbed the side of the Arch, pulled down the sign, a group formed around it, and then it was burned by members of the group, and then, as the group reformed, moved toward President Schapiro’s house. There was just a lot of speeches, a lot of commentary directed towards the administration, towards President Schapiro himself, towards the police presence outside his house. Members of the group then left the burned remains of the “We’re N This Together” flag at the feet of police officers who were guarding the front of President Schapiro’s house behind a University Facilities barrier.

ALEX CHUN: Saturday night’s protest ended a little after midnight. Then, on Monday, October 19, President Schapiro sent an email with the subject line, “Weekend Protests in Evanston.” And he specifically called out the protest that happened on Saturday night. In the email, President Schapiro opened by saying he had received many messages of concern about the protests. And he also wrote, “While the University has every intention to continue improving NUPD, we have absolutely no intention to abolish it.”

HALEY FULLER: There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding this email, with some publicly supporting Schapiro’s stance and others condemning the email. So let’s dive into some of the specifics of his words that sparked discourse.

ALEX CHUN: Now, President Schapiro wrote that some of the protestors appeared to not even be members of the Northwestern community. This argument has been called out by some students on social media as being disturbingly similar to the outside agitator argument historically used to discredit protests. James, could you give us some context on that?

JAMES POLLARD: Yeah. Historically, I think leaders have tried to suggest that outside agitators, people not from the communities that they’re accountable to, are the ones creating the ruckus, you know, creating the uproar. And so in that sense, President Schapiro suggesting that these student protesters are outside agitators is not something new. And it seems in some ways to be an attempt to deflect responsibility to respond to this group. If they aren’t students, as the University president, he doesn’t have to respond to them. But it is a student-led group.

ALEX CHUN: Tal, what else is notable about President Schapiro’s email?

TAL SCHATSKY: I think it’s worth it to kind of take our way back to the language. So basically, President Schapiro introduced this moment, saying, “I want to offer a personal illustration of the pain these protesters have caused. Many gathered outside my home this weekend into the early hours of the morning, chanting ‘F— you, Morty’ and ‘Piggy Morty.’ The latter comes dangerously close to a long standing trope against observant Jews like myself. Whether it was done out of ignorance or out of anti-Semitism, it is completely unacceptable.”

HALEY FULLER: So how did NUCNC respond?

TAL SCHATSKY: Later that day, Northwestern Community Not Cops releases a press release about five pages long where they address the email, including this claim. And they say, “The term ‘pig’ has been used by Black radical movements for generations to invoke the structural violence that police officers present in the context of our protests, which are very clearly in response to anti-Black police violence on campus and in Evanston, this was the meaning invoked. Morton Schapiro was called a pig by members of our campaign because he aligns himself with law enforcement and prioritizes police and private property over the lives of Black students.” They also said that Northwestern Community Not Cops condemns anti-Semitism. They said that unequivocally. This is one more quote from the statement, “Morton Schapiro is inciting division by casting abolitionist activists as enemies to Jews and therefore ignoring Black Jewish people who live at the intersection of anti-Semitism and anti-Blackness.”

HALEY FULLER: And later that Monday night, there was another protest. Can you describe the atmosphere then?

JAMES POLLARD: Monday night, there were 12 Field Force officers, five other officers already stationed at President Schapiro’s house. And at that intersection, there were seven other cop cars, two of which were K-9 units. And I will add actually about Monday’s protest – if you’re trying to understand the general vibe of this movement and these actions, is it was billed as “dinner with an administrator,” and by the end of the protest, it really resembled a block party. They were handing out pizza, water. “Gasolina” and “WAP” and other music was playing and people were just interacting.

ALEX CHUN: So, the next Tuesday, on October 20, Morton Schapiro received a letter from the African American Studies department on campus. James, could you tell us about what the letter said?

JAMES POLLARD: The African American Studies Department sends a letter to President Schapiro in response to his email that was obtained by the Daily and later, with their permission, published in full. And in that letter they say, they were “extraordinarily troubled” by Schapiro’s email and referred to the months of “actual violence perpetrated against marginalized groups throughout the summer.” And they also noted that there were, there were times when he was silent, such as when the Women’s Center was Zoom-bombed on a call in May, or when U.S. President Donald Trump made threats to critical race theory more recently in September, and a quote that really stuck out to many students was when the department wrote, “It is only when your own pleasant suburban life was disrupted by student protesters that your expression of outrage and dismay to our university community rose to a level beyond the banal, the tepid and the timid.”

ALEX CHUN: Later that same day, Tuesday, October 20, ASG held a previously scheduled community dialogue where students could ask President Schapiro questions. This community dialogue occurs every quarter, but ASG worked to change the format this time, so that the number of attendees wasn’t restricted.

MORTON SCHAPIRO: The reason I’m looking forward to this, I think, is virtually every one I’ve attended, I’ve learned something. I’ve listened, and we’ve learned some things that we could do.

HALEY FULLER: The community dialogue took place over Zoom. Associated Student Government President Juan Zuniga and ASG Executive Officer of Justice and Inclusion Daniel Rodriguez moderated the town hall and asked questions that students submitted into the chat feature.

ALEX CHUN: So, one point of contention surrounded Northwestern’s resistance to release the University’s police budget. Tal, can you tell us more about this?

TAL SCHATSKY: There was a meeting in July in which (Provost) Kathleen Hagerty explicitly stated that they would have no problem releasing the budget, and it still wasn’t released. And so in Tuesday’s community dialogue, students pressured the administration to provide a timeline and to give them an exact date, at which point (Senior VP for Business and Finance) Craig Johnson responded saying they could have the budget released by mid- to late November around Thanksgiving.

HALEY FULLER: Students also asked if Morton Schapiro had engaged with abolitionist and anti-racism works. How did he respond?

TAL SCHATSKY: President Schapiro responded to that question, saying that he had watched the documentary “13th” on Netflix, which is a documentary that talks about mass incarceration, and many students responded to that saying that that was insufficient.

ALEX CHUN: Students also asked Morton Schapiro for a response to the letter sent to him by the African American Studies department that day.

MORTON SCHAPIRO: I read the thing, you know, I’ve gotten a lot of emails about it. And, you know, some of it makes me think that they didn’t really read it all that carefully. You want honesty? I don’t walk back a single word.

HALEY FULLER: NU Community Not Cops asked Schapiro to engage with their demands and respond to their grievances on his use of language. However, during the community dialogue, Schapiro stated that he stands by every word of his email, even after student and faculty backlash.

TAL SCHATSKY: Something that’s notable about that response is his use of the word “disgust,” was widely criticized in his original email.

ALEX CHUN: And despite this criticism, Schapiro reused the word “disgust” during the dialogue.

MORTON SCHAPIRO: Picture your own parents and your own siblings, and some people coming out and yelling that filth to them in the middle of the night and waking them up and see how they would feel. I mean, I think it’s so easy to say, “He’s White, straight, rich, whatever, you know, male,” whatever it is, but that’s exactly what people ask not for people to do to them. So to do it to me, I think it’s disgusting. It’s disgraceful. And it was, you know, I absolutely stand by exactly what I said about that.

HALEY FULLER: Since Tuesday, October 20, President Schapiro has received both public support and condemnation for his email. On Wednesday, October 21, student group Wildcats for Israel published a statement criticizing NUCNC’s statement in response to President Schapiro’s email.

ALEX CHUN: Also on Wednesday, about 90 Jewish students, faculty and alum signed a Letter to the Editor in support of NU Community Not Cops, which was published in The Daily. And graduate students in Northwestern’s Political Science department wrote an open letter to President Schapiro, calling on him to support student protests. The Anthropology department, Asian American Studies Program and Latina and Latino Studies Program each posted letters on Friday, stating that they supported their colleagues in the African American Studies department and condemned racism, as well as urging Schapiro to engage with student protestors. Beyond letters, many parents on the NU Parents Facebook group have weighed in on the protests. The discourse by students and alumni has continued into Reddit and Twitter as well.

HALEY FULLER: The stories surrounding these protests are still developing, but for now, NU Community Not Cops plans to march every day until Northwestern abolishes their police force. The Daily will be covering these issues further, so for a deeper dive into the protests, check out our daily coverage.

ALEX CHUN: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Alex Chun.

HALEY FULLER: And I’m Haley Fuller. Thanks for listening to another episode of The Weekly. This episode was reported on by Tal Schatsky, James Pollard, Alex Chun and myself. This episode was produced by both Alex Chun and myself. The audio editor of The Daily is Alex Chun. The digital managing editors are Molly Lubbers and Jacob Ohara. The editor in chief is Marissa Martinez.

Email: [email protected] and [email protected]
Twitter: @apchun01 and @haley_fuller_

Referenced Stories:
President Schapiro stands by controversial email condemning protestors in Community Dialogue
— African American Studies faculty members send response to Schapiro email
NU Community Not Cops calls on President Schapiro to resign following his condemnation of abolitionist protests
President Schapiro says Northwestern has “absolutely no intention” to abolish NUPD
Disarm, defund, disband: Students are marching every day until Northwestern abolishes NUPD
Political Science grad students call on Schapiro to work with student activists, enact concrete policy change