The University of Connecticut participated in a “FEMA Virtual Tabletop Exercise” on Jul. 7, 2022 in preparation for “civil unrest” situations. New reporting from The Daily Campus has revealed a picture — inconsistent with UConn public relations on the event — that calls for deep scrutiny on “public safety” at our institution.
While UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz claimed that it did not relate to any specific ideology or the Black Lives Matter movement in particular, the “civil unrest” training specifically focused on a hypothetical in which a Black man in Connecticut is murdered by a white police officer. A variety of departments at UConn were tasked with cooperating on a “response” to this movement for racial justice including social media campaigns, in person protests, a memorial being burned to the ground and calls for police resignations.
Going off of the information we have from the exercise packet, the “response” to this movement amounted to cooperating with the Connecticut National Guard and enforcing curfews alongside monitoring the amount of violence being created by the protesters. Specifically in Hartford, the training describes the protests as having “become unruly” and includes examples of looting and vandalism. There is no component of the training that attempted to mitigate racial injustices in policing or any of the problems UConn protesters might be upset about.
During the 2020 George Floyd national uprisings, millions of Americans protested the racialized murder of innocent people and were met with widespread police brutality. Therefore, that the concept of the police “restoring peace and order” has not been interrogated by FEMA and partners including UConn is evidence of the ideological bend of these civil unrest trainings. In 2020, the “peace” and “order” that was restored after brutality successfully crushed nationwide included persistent police violence appearing as recently as the murder of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police this January.
The training suggests UCPD and cooperating bodies at the university will take a necessarily antagonistic position towards movements that criticize police, demand reductions in their budgets or call for restructuring of the model of policing. It is increasingly necessary to include unarmed professional responders in relevant areas such as mental health and sexual violence, to remove weapons from day-to-day police activities and to institute accountability boards with the power to discipline and remove racist and murderous police, such as the one in FEMA’s hypothetical.
Not unlike this hypothetical movement, the “Defund UCPD” movement in 2020 demanded the reallocation of funds from UCPD’s excessive $18 million yearly budget towards resources for mental health and other necessary social services on campus. The following year, weapons stockpile information received by The Daily Campus revealed hundreds of guns and even tanks which could potentially be used against community members here but are otherwise wasted funds. The issues Defund UCPD demanded reallocation towards — including hunger, mental health crises and sexual violence — are still deeply impacting our community and in themselves represent a violence police can’t address.
Further, with more than one mass shooting per day in the U.S. in 2023 — seven of which having occurred on school grounds, with the most recent of which occurring just three days ago — a deep-seeded reconstruction of UCPD’s direction is imperative. The potential of civil unrest situations leading to the harm of the student body — or happening at all for that matter — remains eons behind the risks of gun violence and other campus safety situations. These statistics are not grounds to justify UCPD’s excessive militarization, but rather serve as a reminder to the department that over-exaggerated, hypothetical student protests are far from posing any major threat to the university.
Reporting from The Daily Campus has vindicated suspicion in university public relations surrounding campus police and public safety. Perhaps more importantly, ongoing funding disparities and the fact that Stephanie Reitz claimed the university has received no negative feedback about this FEMA training are evidence of the lack of momentum in racial justice and policing justice organizing at UConn.