Updated: May 30, 2020 at 6:12 p.m.
The Black Student Union published a letter alongside three D.C. universities’ BSU chapters Friday pressing Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Metropolitan Police Department to implement a slew of changes aimed at addressing discrimination and bias in policing.
GW, American, Catholic and Georgetown universities’ BSU chapters presented seven appeals to Bowser and MPD Chief Peter Newsham, including demands to create de-escalation and unconscious bias training and reduce the number of youth arrests by 90 percent. The letter comes amid protests over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, two black citizens who died at the hands of police officers in recent months.
“As a unified body of thousands of black students who actively engage and study within the District, our safety and the safety of D.C. residents is a top priority,” the letter states. “This cannot happen without the proper steps taken by both MPD and the D.C. government to prevent the homicides of unarmed black men and women by law enforcement.”
Chapters pressed officials to ensure MPD does not “forcibly” engage with the thousands of protesters who gathered outside of the White House Friday following Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Minnesota. About 30 demonstrations responding to his death have also unfolded nationwide in the past week.
The organizations urged D.C. officials to fund community-based projects to ensure youth are “active and stimulated.” The letter also calls for a “noticeable reduction” in racial profiling in an effort to cultivate a safer and more equitable police force.
The organizations also demanded that Bowser and Newsham clarify the amount of funding reserved for police training, describe the Organization Change Program – which was listed in D.C.’s proposed budget above officer training in Fiscal Year 2019 – and explain why the program is no longer included in the District’s budget.
The chapters wrote that MPD will become a national leader in “department reformation” and prevent future city-wide outbreaks of violence through implementing these measures.
A spokesperson for Bowser did not immediately return a request for comment.
Other police offices, like the Louisville Metro Police Department, across the country have announced reforms to its policing practices in response to protests, requiring body cameras to be worn by all officers and issuing changes to no-knock warrants, which allow officers to enter a property without notice.
BSU President Devon Bradley said the letter was written to influence a “community-centered” response to the protests. He said although he has seen advocates push for demonstrations to be met with police force, he hopes protesters will be safe enough to “exercise their First Amendment right.”
“I want black students to know that they have a voice worth the entire world and back,” Bradley said. “That someone is listening to them. Hearing them. Understanding them.”
Newsham said he appreciates the District’s BSU chapters reaching out to the department and plans to invite its members to have a conversation about MPD’s work in the community. He said MPD is “obligated” to meet outrage sparked over police conduct regarding Floyd’s death with professionalism, respect and empathy.
“MPD, which has a reputation for being one of the most progressive and forward thinking police departments in the country, combines comprehensive hiring practices, policy and training to prevent anything like what happened to Mr. Floyd from happening here in the District,” Newsham said in an email.
He said MPD leadership was made aware of the statement on Thursday and has since shared the statement with the entire force as of Friday. He said he hopes to see MPD and student leaders work together to build a “trusting and effective” partnership in the District.
“I hope that in the coming days and the future, MPD and our communities will continue to work together to ensure the District is a city where everyone feels safe, valued and respected,” Newsham said.