UMD Students Gather For Emergency Town Hall Meeting (Pictures and Interview)

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Students listen as Chief Mitchell speaks to the student population about new weaponry (Jessie Karangu/Pulsefeedz)

by JESSIE KARANGU

As students congregated Nyumburu Cultural Center, there was a sense of urgency and anger held by many in attendance towards the police, towards the university, towards Darren Wilson and to some extent towards themselves as a faction. Everyone’s discontentment spilled into the mic at Monday night’s emergency town hall meeting which was called into session to discuss the Ferguson grand jury decision as well as a protest which occurred earlier in the day.

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It was a packed house at Monday night’s town hall meeting discussing the demilitarization of UMPD (Jessie Karangu/Pulsefeedz)

The protests were held to stand against new weaponry which the University’s police department has invested in. According to the Baltimore Sun, the University has “a $65,000 armored truck, 16 “riot type” 12-gauge shotguns, 50 M16 rifles, and a handful of other items.” Many students expressed that they feel uncomfortable with the UM police department’s newest toys due to the way Ferguson’s police department has used similar type of weaponry to combat protesters in their respective city.

Moriah Ray, a student activist and member of UMD’s chapter of the NAACP, says that UMD’s increase in weaponry comes at a very weird time. 

“Is there a crazy crime rate going on at Maryland? Why do they feel the need to mobilize more weapons? It’s not a coincidence that the year we hit 13 percent in the black population, they decide to get more guns. It’s no coincidence and I don’t think that should be overlooked.”

Students await decision to be made on Darren Wilson as the meeting progresses (Jessie Karangu/Pulsefeedz)
Students await decision to be made on Darren Wilson as the meeting progresses (Jessie Karangu/Pulsefeedz)

To say that the meeting went without a hitch would be an inaccurate statement. Tension was palpable in the room as organizers of the protest expressed their frustration with the lack of attendance among members of UMD’s black community.

Many, including local rapper O-Slice, questioned why students were quick to become activists on social media but failed to show up during actual rallies and events.

“Twitter activism needs to die. Everyone was mad as hell when Troy Davis died but who has talked about him in the last three years?,” the female lyricist said.

Other students questioned the methodology of even having a protest before they got a chance to meet with UMPD to hear their side of the story.

Chief Mitchell addresses student's concerns at town hall meeting regarding demilitarization of weapons (Jessie Karangu/Pulsefeedz)
Chief Mitchell addresses student’s concerns at town hall meeting regarding demilitarization of weapons (Jessie Karangu/Pulsefeedz)

Chief David Mitchell of the UMPD made an appearance at the meeting and answered questions throughout the session. At one point, Mitchell’s comments were interrupted by two students who were very spirited in voicing their beliefs that the police department has a problem with racial discrimination. Mitchell vehemently denied those beliefs but also asked students for their assistance.

“I want to hear your complaints. I can’t act on what I don’t know,” Mitchell said.

Towards the end of the session, the group’s exasperation turned from the police department to President Loh and the school administration. During Monday’s protest, students entered the Main Administration building hoping to express their thoughts to the university’s President but were instead met with a locked door.

O-Slice reacted to President Loh’s disappearance saying, “you can get a selfie with President Loh at the gym or at a game but when protesters want a piece of paper signed he’s nowhere to be found.”

After the meeting, students continued discussing the issues that mattered to them outside of Nyumburu's main room. (Jessie Karangu/Pulsefeedz)
After the meeting, students continued discussing the issues that mattered to them outside of Nyumburu’s main room. (Jessie Karangu/Pulsefeedz)

Meeting attendees ended their town hall in accordance and agreed to a boycott at STAMP for the rest of the semester beginning today at 12 p.m. until the administration responds and acknowledges Monday’s protests, addresses their concern over the Michael Brown ordeal and requires police officers to wear body cameras.  Today’s boycott will also include a sit-in with students gathering at the food court wearing all black in commemoration of Michael Brown.

Analysis: 

What is the likelihood that the university acknowledges Monday’s protest?

Based on history, it is very likely although it may not be a direct response or the response which students are seeking. In the past, when asked by the media to release a statement about various protests, including last year’s protest by cleaning staff, the University has done so without any hassle. We’ll see if Monday’s protest alongside today’s sit-in will be enough to warrant a statement from the University.

How likely is it that the university and President Loh will address student’s concerns with the Michael Brown ordeal?

Slim to none. After looking through all of the past statements that President Loh has made, Loh has never addressed a political issue unless it directly affected the institution or education. The closest Loh has come to address a political issue was in March 2013 when he discussed a government spending cuts would affect the university.

President Loh has also addressed ethnic groups such as the Jewish community in the past but it has always been in regards to education. For example, Loh condemned the boycotting of Israeli academic institutions last December solely for educational purposes. In his statement, Loh says:

In the United States, we can disagree with the governmental policies of a nation without sanctioning the universities of that nation, or the American universities that collaborate with them. To restrict the free flow of people and ideas with some universities because of their national identity is unwise, unnecessary, and irreconcilable with our core academic values.

Will UMPD wear body cameras?

Chief Mitchell stated at today’s meeting that his force should receive body cameras within the next four weeks.

Why does UMPD need 50 M16 rifles?

“We have a nuclear reactor here on campus which calls for us to have the particular type of rifle that we carry and that’s why we carry that. We regulate how and when it can be used. It is used with anything involving that reactor but other than that it would be an extreme circumstance (such as a school shooting).” – Chief Mitchell in an interview after the meeting

Do all UMPD officers have access to M16s or do they need specific training?

“Yes they do (need training), in fact I am not rifle trained. Not all of my officers are rifle trained but a good portion are.” – Chief Mitchell

Do you know how many officers are trained?

“We don’t have a specific number.” – Officer Mitchell

Have the M16s been used before?

“We deployed five on (false alarm incident at Main Administration Building). Three outside and two officers that went in. Why? Because we only have shotguns, we want to have adequate firepower (for situations such as hostages).” – Officer Mitchell

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Protesters issue demands from the UMPD (Lauryn Froneberger/Pulsefeedz)

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