Rally dares to divest police department

UW-Eau Claire and partner Vote Mob-EauClaire discuss action toward abolishing campus police


Photo by Taylor Wilkinson

Event organizers Stephanie Hoeksema, Jacksen Wolff and Maja Samec stand outside of Schofield Hall after the “Cops off Campus: Dare to Divest” rally. The group posted messages onto Chancellor James C. Schmidt’s office.

“Divest in the police and invest in us,” Jacksen Wolff, a first-year protestor, said. “I want you to listen, listen to our complaints, listen to our cries. Invest in us.”

The cries of both Eau Claire students and community members were heard at the “Cops off Campus: Dare to Divest” rally, hosted by Vote Mob-Eau Claire and Leaders Igniting Transformation.

The event was held at 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 24 at the campus mall, outside of the Davies Center at UW-Eau Claire.

Jasmine Baker, regional organizer for Vote Mob-Eau Claire, said the organization realized there needed to be change within not only the policing system overall, but the policing within university campuses.

“We realized how much money is going into campus policing,” Baker said. “It is not going into resources that students actually need. We are investing towards community resources and community support.”

The “Cops Off Campus” event is a UW System wide organization, Baker said. The campaign’s original goal was to end the policing and criminalization of Black, Indigenous, People of color within the public universities of Wisconsin — while pushing students to take a closer look at the negative connotations within policing, she said.

The event was guided by the list of demands Vote Mob-Eau Claire and other campus representatives had for the UW-Eau Claire police department and administrators.

The list of demands is shown below:

  1. Divest from policing. This includes: dissolving campus police departments and severing ties with local police departments and/or privatized security forces.
  2. Invest in transformative justice, restorative justice and Community Care on campus that includes, but is not limited to counselors, restorative justice practitioners, mental and physical health services, financial support, healing spaces, food pantries and clothing closets.
  3. Provide fair and equitable compensation for University employees, including students. All employees must earn at least $15 per hour. Eliminate all pay disparities across university faculty, staff and employees.
  4. Compensate students for appearances in promotional materials, especially when images are being used to promote diversity and inclusion initiatives.
  5. Establish and maintain support for campus hate or bias response teams, including concrete plans for ensuring justice for those impacted. 
  6. Establish and maintain additional full-time staff positions dedicated to engagement and retention of marginalized students, faculty and staff on campus (QTBIPOC, BIPOC, people with disabilities), that incorporates compensated BIPOC student oversight bodies.
  7. Implement comprehensive or improve upon existing courses and staff faculty training with live BIPOC instructors on power, privilege, anti-racism, violence, consent and oppression.

The list of demands will be sent directly to Chancellor James C. Schmidt and other administrative offices on campus to begin the conversation of police reform and divesting into student resources, Baker said.

Within the student and youth demographic, Vote Mob aims to foster these diverse conversations, she said.

“(Police divesting) is such a difficult conversation to have,” Baker said. “We want to encourage students to have those conversations and hear other students and their experiences with policing on campus.”

The event was also hosted by Stephanie Hoeksema, a fifth-year elementary education student, alongside the partnered organizations.

Hoeksema introduced each demand with its appropriate speaker to follow, in addition to her own thoughts on police brutality.

“There is no reforming the police, it was created as an oppressive system,” Hoeksema said. “We are here to abolish the police and that is not going to happen until we organize and stand up.”

She also provided definitions to many of the concepts addressed within each demand — in specific to restorative justice — and how to enforce these notions onto the campus community.

Baker said divesting away from police departments has taken on multiple definitions — abolishment, defunding and reform — since the passing of George Floyd on May 25 and other Black and persons of color within the United States.

Luke Seidel, a third-year political science student and a speaker at the event, discussed the pressing issue of police brutality within the nation and the importance of student-led activism through non-violence.

“These batteries are our bullets and this megaphone is our gun,” Seidel said in his speech. “We are not using guns like how the cops are, we are spreading messages.”

In his speech, Wolff said black voices were coined as intimidating, harmful and dangerous throughout his upbringing. However, he attempts to reclaim these harmful words today.

“We are taught that in groups, (black bodies) are dangerous,” Wolff said. “Now, they were wrong about everything. The black boy encased in this black body is dangerous — dangerous to the oppressor. Dangerous to those who hold the power in structures that cause mistreatment.”

Seidel spoke on the overall attendance and the lack thereof of campus officials: Chancellor James C. Schmidt, LaRue Pierce, the dean of students, and Warren Anderson, the vice chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

“Their silence speaks volumes,” Seidel said. “So what are we going to do? We are going to make them hear us.”

For more information on the future plans toward abolishing campus police, visit https://votemob.org/

The UW-Eau Claire Police Department was not available for comment before press time. 

Nelson can be reached at [email protected].