Utica College issues statements on the shooting of Jacob Blake

Pull quote for Jacob Blake statements Aug 26 2020

"We support steady and vigorous protests against racism, bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia, and all other forms of dehumanization. We are committed to providing the members of our community a space to grieve, speak out, and engage in dialogue. Further, as an academic community, and particularly an institution that educates and prepares future criminal justice professionals, we must take this opportunity to teach, learn, and reflect on the meaning of social justice and the important role our future graduates play in supporting and defending it."

August 26, 2020

As we and the nation continue to process and grapple with yet another tragic police-involved shooting, this time in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the UC community continues to mourn and discuss the circumstances that led to it.

Utica College is an inclusive community where people of all backgrounds and beliefs are valued and heard and where a broad cross-section of viewpoints, perspectives, and ideas is welcomed and encouraged so that we may all work toward a better understanding of each other. We are also a place where the criminal justice professionals of tomorrow, including police officers and attorneys, are educated and prepared.

To this collective end, and in keeping with our Statement of Principles, below are messages from the Department of Justice Studies faculty as well as the leadership of the College. While they offer individual perspectives in regards to this tragedy, what they have in common is the denunciation of these ongoing acts of violence and the systemic issues behind them.

As we grieve as one community for the ongoing and continuous number of incidents that result in such unnecessary violence, we invite all of you to participate in a special virtual forum and dialogue on Sunday evening, September 13, addressing the many issues and questions surrounding recent police-involved shootings and the social unrest that has followed. More details on this forum are forthcoming in the days and weeks ahead.

Following is a statement from the Faculty of the Department of Justice Studies.

As we settle into the daily routines of this most unusual fall semester, we find our thoughts are also with another community very much like our own, which is struggling in the aftermath of another police-involved shooting. Our hearts ache for this community and its citizens who are searching for answers in the wake of this tragedy.

As law enforcement officers and attorneys, several members of our faculty have sworn oaths to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution, the New York State Constitution, and the rule of law. We are trained to wait for the evidence to be developed and to allow only a jury of our peers to determine guilt. As we read about and discuss Sunday’s events in Wisconsin, we note it is unlike the George Floyd incident, where the available evidence demonstrated that officers did not follow well-defined protocol. As of today, there are still several questions about exactly what transpired in the incident involving Kenosha, Wisconsin police officers and Jacob Blake. This reality, our professional training, and the weight of the oaths we have sworn make it difficult for us to find the right words to offer as yet another heartbreaking incident plays out in the headlines and on social media platforms. Still, we feel we must speak. To borrow the words of former Congressperson Gabby Giffords, “America needs all of us to speak out, even when you have to fight to find the words.”

We are encouraged the state and federal authorities in Wisconsin have initiated a full investigation into Sunday’s event, and the district attorney has stated that, if appropriate, he will file charges against the involved officer(s). We are encouraged Wisconsin was the first state in the United States to require an independent investigator for any incident when a police officer kills a person in the line of duty. We are encouraged Wisconsin State Senator Van Wanggaard (R) is advancing legislation that would create a use-of-force advisory board to review incidents and identify their root or systemic causes and applaud similar efforts around the United States. We are encouraged that, finally, these horrific incidents are igniting more open and meaningful dialogs between communities and the law enforcement agencies who are sworn to serve them.

We support without reservation the continued peaceful protests and demonstrations that have been occurring across the country and world since March. We also remain actively involved in efforts to reform and reimagine our country’s approach toward law enforcement and the role of law enforcement officers. We stand ready to continue the dialogue we have been having with students on these police incidents, and the work we are conducting with community partners to create better models of community policing. We remain committed to the idea that better education for our law enforcement agencies and more productive dialogs within our communities will solve this crisis, which has plagued our nation for far too long.

Following is a statement from College Leadership.

Dear Members of the Utica College Community,

Due to the events in Kenosha, Wisconsin, it grieves us that we are once again having to witness and denounce violence and destruction as the results of another police shooting that gives way to protests, anger, and frustration.

We understand law enforcement’s responsibility to conduct a complete investigation. However, while we wait for answers and a full examination of the facts, we cannot reconcile or accept what we have seen in multiple video accounts: a Black man, walking away from police, shot in the back, seven times, at point blank range, in front of his small children, as though his life did not matter.

The Utica College administration, Board of Trustees, and the greater UC community are saddened and remorseful over another senseless shooting. Our thoughts are with Jacob Blake and his family. We pray for his full recovery.

These brutal incidents involving Black and Brown people and police cause us to ask the same questions repeatedly, as they continue to occur at numbers that are increasingly disproportionate to the population of African-Americans when compared to White Americans. Jacob Blake is the latest on a tragically growing list: Rayshard Brooks (June 12, 2020); George Floyd (May 25, 2020); Breonna Taylor (March 13, 2020); and Ahmaud Arbery (February 23, 2020), to name only a few among numerous others.

Behind each of these acts of undeniably excessive police force there is uprising, violent protest, burning, and looting. We realize pain is being channeled into destruction and violence, and while the pain is inconceivable, we cannot support or condone actions that do not move us toward a solution. We do, however, support unequivocally those protests and demonstrations that have been peaceful and vigilant about the fight and demand for justice; we empathize with the Black and Brown communities for all the anguish they continue to endure. We know that silence is not an option. As a community, we will not be complicit by remaining silent in the face of systemic injustice within law enforcement and while witnessing blatant disregard for humanity. It must be called out every time it occurs. In the timeless words of Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent on things that matter.” Black people’s lives most definitely matter.

Therefore, we stand up against racism and social injustice anywhere. We support steady and vigorous protests against racism, bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia, and all other forms of dehumanization. We are committed to providing the members of our community a space to grieve, speak out, and engage in dialogue. Further, as an academic community, and particularly an institution that educates and prepares future criminal justice professionals, we must take this opportunity to teach, learn, and reflect on the meaning of social justice and the important role our future graduates play in supporting and defending it.

We know that these issues are concerning, on many levels, for members of our community, and we are sensitive and compassionate to the deep sadness and stress the racial and social unrest have caused. We encourage our students to exercise their rights and freedom to express themselves in ways consistent with conduct and policies governing our campus, while maintaining the sanctity and safety of other members of our community.

Sincerely,

Laura Casamento
President

Todd Pfannestiel
Provost

Anthony Baird
Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Jeffery Gates
Senior Vice President for Student Life and Enrollment Management

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