Daniel Biss discusses policing, racial equity and town-gown relations in Northwestern forum


Maia Spoto/Daily Senior Staffer

Mayor-elect Daniel Biss spoke with Northwestern Students and faculty at a Q&A forum Wednesday.

Yiming Fu, Assistant City Editor

Mayor-elect Daniel Biss stressed the need to find policing alternatives, address the city’s racial inequities and improve town-gown relations during a Wednesday forum with NU students and faculty.

The forum was co-hosted by the University’s Community Engagement Coalition and NU College Democrats. Medill senior Alex Moore and Weinberg senior Flannery Cusick moderated. 

When asked about Evanston’s most pressing issues, Biss pointed to affordable housing, public safety and policing. Biss also discussed the impact of University Police on the city, and said the department is helpful in reducing some of Evanston Police Department’s responsibilities, but can be “problematic.”

“Northwestern University is a private university. It is not a government. It is not run by people who are accountable to the public,” Biss said. “Therefore, it’s a little weird that they have a police department.”

While Biss doesn’t support police abolition himself, he said he “respects the work of abolitionists.” The police are not equipped to handle every emergency, he said, and as mayor, he plans to transform policing in the city by shifting responsibilities for issues like traffic incidents and mental health crises away from EPD. 

Cusick, who identified as being pro-abolition, disagreed with Biss’s general viewpoint, but said it was “refreshing” to see his well thought-out stance against abolition.

“I was still very happy with how he answered that question because I think something we’ve seen with Northwestern administration recently is that they don’t really give weight to these ideas and to abolition specifically,” she told The Daily.

As a whole, Biss said despite the city’s claims of “assess(ing) every decision through an equity lens” — a phrase he said is a “really big exaggeration” — local government needs to do a better job of following through and implementing concretely equitable policies.

Biss pointed to affordable housing as an area where policies have consistently failed Black communities, despite progressive outward-facing rhetoric, as well as the absence of a school in the 5th Ward. Since 2019, community members have pushed to open a STEM school in the ward. 

In an interview with The Daily, Moore said he felt Biss was ready to tackle issues of equity in Evanston, and was impressed by the politician’s passion and thorough responses. 

“Biss wasn’t just talking like a normal politician,” said Moore, an Evanston Township High School graduate. “He actually sees the problem and wants to address it.” 

Cusick said Wednesday’s conversation with Biss is part of a larger series of forums hosted by CEC aimed at connecting local leaders and NU community members to discuss ways students can be more involved in the city. 

Biss also encouraged students to connect with local organizations, including Citizens’ Greener Evanston, whose work aligns with their interests and values.

“Your life as an undergrad will be more fulfilling if you are in some way rooted in the place where you are going to school,” he said. 

Biss said he is excited to see more high school and college students involved in politics, and looks at youth groups like Evanston Fight For Black Lives as leading the way to progress. 

When asked about ways to navigate the relationship between the city and the University, Biss said there are many opportunities for collaboration between Evanston and NU students.

Biss begins his mayorship in May. The University will have a new president starting in fall 2022. With both institutions going through leadership shifts in such a short period of time, Biss and NU’s next president have the potential to implement significant change.

Biss said the University benefits if Evanston has a financially sound and stable community, and NU students bring diversity and new ideas to Evanston. 

“We need each other,” Biss said.

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