A letter advocating that Georgetown University Police Department officers remain unarmed was delivered to University President John J. DeGioia’s office May 4 by student members of Georgetown United Against Police Aggression.
The GUAPA letter comes in response to another letter from a student group called GU Advocates for Responsible Defense, which called on the university to arm GUPD officers and Metropolitan Police Department officers to patrol campus while GUPD underwent firearm training. In its letter, GUARD said that GUPD officers would be better able to defend students from armed attackers if they were armed themselves, pointing to the armed security guard in a Maryland high school who recently stopped a shooting in under a minute as an example.
About 20 students joined members of GUAPA in delivering their response letter, representing the 31 student organizations that signed the letter, including the Georgetown University Student Association, the Georgetown University College Democrats and the Georgetown Solidarity Committee.
“We recognize and understand the university’s dedication to engaging with the voices and concerns of all of its students,” the letter reads. “However, as a larger representative of the student body, we stand against the demands of the 20 students earlier this month calling for the armament of GUPD and for an increase in the presence of MPD on campus. By seeking to fulfill the demands of these few students, the administration would simply threaten the safety of its workers and students.”
The group cited a history of “racial profiling and abuse of power by GUPD” as a key reason the members do not believe officers should be armed. These alleged instances of profiling, which include Georgetown community members of color being ordered to leave a building or campus area and being asked to prove that they are a Georgetown student or worker, were uncovered through community discussions facilitated by GUAPA, according to the letter.
GUAPA also cited recent instances of other schools’ campus police officers shooting and killing “students of marginalized identities” who were experiencing “psychiatric episodes,” including University of Chicago student Charles Thomas, who was shot April 3.
“In light of these facts, it is evident that equipping GUPD with guns and increasing MPD presence would only serve to increase the probability of a gun related tragedy on campus,” the letter read.
Asked for comment on GUAPA’s allegations, university spokesperson Matt Hill wrote in an email to The Hoya that Georgetown is “unaware of any of the incidents you described being reported to the university.”
GUPD Chief Jay Gruber said that “allegations of bias or harassment are taken very seriously and investigated fully” and that GUPD officers “receive extensive training in promoting community policing, combating implicit bias, and preventing discrimination.”
GUPD has partnered with the university’s LGBTQ Resource Center and the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action since 2016 to conduct implicit bias training, bias reporting training and training on transgender issues with its officers, according to a university spokesperson.
The university has not indicated whether it would or would not consider arming GUPD, but Gruber defended the current policy as consistent with the practices of other universities in the region.
“Our top priority is the safety of our community and we are constantly working to prevent violence,” Gruber wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Our current policy follows the same model as other local institutions in the region, including George Washington University and American University. GUPD coordinates closely with MPD and regularly conducts joint drills.”
Juan Martinez (SFS ’20) and Abreham Gebre (COL’ 19) are among the students who said they have experienced racial profiling from GUPD officers. Both say they have been asked to provide proof of their status as Georgetown students while walking on campus in the past, and both know several other students of color who have experienced similar incidents.
“Two of my roommates are also men of color, and they have also experienced this,” Gebre said in an interview with The Hoya. “It’s just sad to see that we have to experience this on campus even though we go to this university.”
The question of whether to arm GUPD officers and increase MPD presence on campus also significantly affects students without documentation, according to Martinez.
“Although Georgetown is very supportive of its undocumented student community and I appreciate everything they do, something like this — like arming GUPD or bringing more MPD on campus — is concerning because it puts people of color at risk, but also other communities like the undocumented student community, which I’m a part of,” Martinez said. “So, another way of supporting undocumented students and students of color would be not passing this.”
GUAPA was founded in October 2017 as a group that organized dialogues for students to discuss their experiences of profiling and discrimination by GUPD officers and how this issue should be resolved, according to one of the founding members, Sonia Adjroud (SFS ’20). The group eventually shifted gears to take action in campus affairs, beginning with the drafting of the letter.
Looking to the future, the group hopes to stay engaged with the issue by continuing its community dialogues and starting new initiatives including “Know Your Rights” trainings, according to Adjroud.
“We want to continue to stay engaged with this issue in the fall, and we recognize that this letter is not at all even close to resolving the issue: It’s just simply the very beginning, and we want to make sure that we stay committed to this,” Adjroud said.
Correction: A previous version of this article said that Charles Thomas was killed.