December 14, 2020
This letter is prepared on behalf of the Solidarity and Social Justice Committee and Executive Committee of the Teaching Support Staff Union in strong condemnation of anti-Black racism that occurred on SFU’s Burnaby campus on December 11. We are writing to express our disappointment and anger at the violent arrest of a Black SFU Alumnus and the University’s response to this incident. Actions taken against this individual require concrete and meaningful actions that will lead to institutional change and, ultimately, safety for all current and future BIPOC students.
It cannot be stressed enough how deplorable it is that the police were called regarding the presence of a Black person that was causing no harm to anyone around him. As the Black Lives Matter movement has shown, particularly this year, and as was recognised in the statement made by SFU EDI, anti-Black racism and police brutality are deeply connected. Calling the police on a Black person is a potential death sentence – especially if there are instances and a prior history of mental health conditions. Specific to this person and their violent arrest, SFU Security knows of this student and knows that the SFU community was not under threat.
Statements made by SFU have failed to condemn the violence that happened and to hold security and the RCMP accountable for their actions on campus. In fact SFU’s response has been to defend campus security’s decision to call the police. If the University wants to do better and initiate difficult conversations, as the president stated in her response, it is essential that the institution first admits to its own complicity and responsibility for incidents of profiling and the violent arrest of their own alumni. “Improvement of equity and inclusion” can not occur without acknowledgement. We also need clear actions that include but extend beyond the review. Simply stating that there will be a review is not enough, nor will it ever be enough if there is not transparency in its process and results. Though privacy of the individual involved is important, especially given the violation they have experienced, transparency need not violate privacy.
As pointed out by fellow Black Alumnus, Giovanni HoSang, in his own statement, SFU’s response to the arrest identified “the requirement to wear masks in public areas and physical distance from others” as a part of COVID-19 protocols; however, video clearly shows that the alumnus had on a mask and this is an irrelevant and problematic statement to include in a response to this police assault. The racist execution of policies by SFU security in this case and others shows an immediate need for SFU to evaluate its role in perpetrating anti-Black racism. This also calls into question SFU Security and RCMP responses to a gun scare on SFU Burnaby campus in October 2019, where the institution failed to sufficiently inform students and the public of potential safety concerns. In that situation, neither SFU Security nor the RCMP used pepper spray, excessive force, or tasers – tactics used in the December 11, 2020 incident involving a Black alumnus. There is a clear dissonance between how Black campus community members are treated when they do not pose a threat compared to the treatment of a non-Black campus community member who poses a potential threat. This comparison alone should worry SFU and create impetus for the institution to reflect on their complacency in systemic racism and anti-Black violence.
This is not an isolated incident. Black, Indigenous, and students and workers of colour at SFU have continuously experienced institutional racism, discrimination, and profiling, about which they have repeatedly spoken out. Both the TSSU and our allies at the Simon Fraser Student Society have communicated serious concerns about the response to campus security on a number of fronts, including racism, discrimination, and health and safety. SFU has continuously failed to commit to act against racism and other forms of discrimination taking place on the SFU campuses and protect workers’ and students’ health and safety. As this letter is prepared, the institution is discussing a new GP18 policy, now called an anti- discrimination policy, that must incorporate the concerns and recommendations that racialized students have expressed for a long time regarding discrimination and campus safety. Systemic racism is part of SFU’s institutional culture as a workplace and learning environment.
We need a clear and actionable commitment to changing that culture. Again, a review process that is designed to only “consult” Black community members is not enough, especially given the history of institutional “consultation” undertaken in bad faith or at great cost to students.
We demand the following actions from SFU:
- Black students and workers will be at the center of the review process and any further actions in a decision-making capacity. Any external group brought into this process will be chosen solely by Black, Indigenous, and community members of colour.
- Immediate accountability action for campus security officer(s) who called the police, a public condemnation of the RCMP’s actions, and a call for disciplinary action for the offending RCMP officer.
- Re-evaluation of SFU’s relationship with the Burnaby RCMP, a moratorium on RCMP’s ability to recruit on campus, and a University policy committing Campus Public Safety to stop calling the police on Black and Indigenous people if no harm to the SFU community is being caused.
- We note that this will require working with the campus community to determine what “harm” means so this does not continue to be a tool in which vagueness allows for harm to be committed.
- Change in policies on H1 rating for COVID-19, or a commitment not to enforce the policy if there is no equal approach to ensure that all ID holders are asked if they are current “community members”. As a public institution, all persons should have the right to be on campus without being profiled, discriminated against, and harassed.
We further believe that it is past time for SFU to undertake a review of community safety and response systems that do not rely on RCMP and carceral justice. We would see this as part of the action required for SFU to move beyond the confinements of the simplistic and tokenistic ideas of equity, diversity, and inclusion. It’s time to ask questions regarding whose voices have been systematically erased and whose safety has been institutionally compromised. We demand SFU do better. We demand justice.
Solidarity and Social Justice Committee, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Executive Committee, email: email@example.com
Teaching Support Staff Union