President Renu Khator, the University of Houston Owes George Floyd More Than Your Empty Questions and 39-Word Posts on Social Media.

University of Houston President and Entire UH Community

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President Renu Khator, the University of Houston Owes George Floyd More Than Your Empty Questions and 39-Word Posts on Social Media.

Petition initiated by Micaela (Micki) Rodriguez - MSW Candidate, Student Ambassador, & Public Relations Officer of the Latinx Student Association at the UH Graduate College of Social Work

Contributors: MSW Candidates Stephani-Nicole Leota, Alexandria Williams, Elizabeth (Lizzy) Leclaire, Veronica Ramos, Chelsea Dalton Pederson, Students for Sensible Drug Policy at the University of Houston, and many others from the GCSW community

We call on University of Houston students, staff, faculty and alumni to demand President Renu Khator use her platform to speak out against police violence and lead UH in Revolutionary Change.

Why are cities across the nation being set ablaze right now? If you have been following news from this weekend, your response might sound something like this: “George Floyd, a Houston Third Ward native, was murdered by four officers of the Minneapolis Police Department, and people are upset!” The real answer to this question is much more complex, and the uprising in the streets right now is in response to a systemic problem that extends beyond the injustice that took place on May 25, 2020.

Last week, devastating news came out of Minneapolis as Black Americans were already grieving multiple deaths: Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed in her home by Louisville Metro Police, and Ahmaud Arbery, who was pursued and murdered by a gang of racist white vigilantes as he jogged through his South Georgia neighborhood. In Houston, local advocacy groups like Black Lives Matter Houston and Texas Advocates for Justice had been demanding accountability for weeks with no answers from Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Mayor Sylvester Turner for the 6 shooting deaths by HPD Officers since April 21, 2020. While none of the individuals killed by HPD should be viewed solely as a statistic, looking at the numbers paints a bleak picture. Under Acevedo's 3 years as Police Chief, 20 individuals have been killed by HPD officers. These 6 recent deaths outnumber all deadly HPD shootings in 2017 and are only 1 killing short of the total in 2018. Police Chief Acevedo has advocated for transparency, yet he chose not to release police body cam footage of recent shootings. These actions suggest that Acevedo's participation alongside protestors and emotional press releases is more performative than substantive and is insulting to organizers and activists within and beyond Houston.

Even more injurious to the Black community is the escalation of police force against protesters this weekend in response to the necessary expression of trauma, pain, and anger. Police brutality, however, is only one piece of an extensive system of historical state violence against Black people. Recent years have shown how quickly countless Black American lives have been reduced to hashtags after being taken by law enforcement. Each life lost is part of the American legacy of genocide against the Black community that dates back to slavery and sustained through Jim Crow Laws. Now, in the age of mass incarceration, videos and images of police brutality can be seen in real-time on handheld devices on a daily basis.

If the serious problem of state violence is not addressed right now, in this moment, history will continue to repeat itself, and the system of oppression that has targeted and destroyed Black lives for four hundred years will continue to operate unchecked and uncontrolled. Instead of addressing the real issue, the President of the United States deployed the U.S. military on its own American citizens last night. The uprising in the streets right now is completely justified because people are tired of asking for accountability and deeply traumatized from having to watch endless unjustified police murders of Black Americans every single day. It is time for real action from the people who hold power to enact anti-racist policies to prevent further robbery of Black lives.

Two days following George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis Police, University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel released a statement denouncing the actions of MPD officers. Furthermore, Gabel's statement issued a decree to cut University ties with MPD, which sent an undeniable message that the institution is no longer willing to perpetuate police brutality by funding contracts with MPD.

In contrast, The University of Houston posted a 39-word message on their social media platforms four days after George Floyd’s murder to extend thoughts and prayers because he was from the Third Ward community, where UH is situated. Important to note is the University’s role in accelerating gentrification in Third Ward, primarily by way of contracting with private developers to buy land and build student housing that drives existing residents out of their homes and raises costs in the surrounding areas. The relationship between gentrification and increased policing cannot be overstated, and if the University has a vested interest in reducing or preventing police brutality they must also address their role in gentrification.

Dean Alan Dettlaff of the UH Graduate College of Social Work wrote a heartfelt message this weekend in response to the racist violence in America, urging GCSW students, faculty, and staff to call out racism and demand justice and accountability. Dean Dettlaff even extended this call to the entire social work community. Yesterday afternoon, President Khator sent an email to the University, asking “what must be done to address the great inequities that continue to exist?”

Thank you for asking, President Khator. We have come up with some action items you can take. Regardless of publicity stunts, policing has a history of violence against the Black community. As students, faculty, staff, and alumni we demand President Renu Khator follow the example of Joan Gabel, President of the University of Minnesota, and step into her leadership role to lead the University of Houston in Revolutionary Change. We demand the following action steps to seek real justice for George Floyd’s murder, and the irresponsible and under regulated actions of the Houston Police Department and all law enforcement departments across the country.

1. Provide transparency about the relationship between UH and HPD, and discontinue all current and future contracts to send a message to HPD that the UH community does not support its racist and violent tactics.

2. Support local advocacy groups in their calls for more transparency and accountability from HPD by recommending Houston City Council NOT approve increases in HPD funding at the City of Houston Fiscal Year 2021 budget meeting on Wednesday June 3.

3. Follow UCLA’s leadership to coordinate virtual reflection spaces where the UH community and the historically voiceless have space to safely be heard and can come together to process what has happened.

4. Host regular virtual roundtable discussions to affirm, acknowledge, and hear the Third Ward and UH community as they provide input on self-identified needs. Utilize this input to develop and carry out actionable steps toward meeting these needs.

5. Affirm the existing relationship between the University of Houston and Texas Southern University by coordinating inter-university conversations led by UH and TSU Student Government Associations to address topics that can foster a stronger relationship between the two universities. These conversations should be held with the acknowledgement that UH is in a more advantaged position to make demands of the community at large and local government due to its financial position and funding base.

6. Directly purchase “How to be an Antiracist” from the author Ibram X. Kendi, and provide free copies to every single current student, faculty, staff, and newly admitted students.

7. Require the Provost Summer Reading Program to promote Black authors and address topics centered around uprooting whiteness and colonialism.

8. Allocate funding and coordinate with the Graduate College of Social Work to extend the availability of “Undoing Racism” workshops facilitated by The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond to the entire UH community, and require all students, faculty and staff to take this training.

9. Host bi-monthly workshops with existing local nonprofit organizations like the ACLU of Texas, Pure Justice, and Texas Advocates for Justice to provide Know Your Rights training, prioritizing those who have historically been targeted by law enforcement.

10. Establish an Anti-Racism Task Force of faculty and student-leaders to assess, measure, and oversee the University’s anti-racist efforts, trainings, partnerships, and policies.

11. Protect UH Alum and the Third Ward community by committing 10% of your annual salary to local bailout funds to support protesters who were wrongfully targeted and arrested at this past weekend’s demonstrations.

12. Ensure the UH Police Department eradicates use of force and racial profiling by providing meaningful de-escalation and anti-racism training. UH should be the leader of the entire UH System in requiring anti-racist training for campus police force.

13. Utilize CREATE to establish datasets from the University’s Education and Research Center to identify areas of growth in p-20 schools for advancement of Black students, teachers, and communities alike. In addition, unite the GCSW and College of Education to establish and propose anti-racist curriculum and teacher training in p-20 schools.

*This list of demands is not exhaustive but requires further ongoing discussion about how we can improve as individuals, and as an institution. If you are not able to sign the petition, it is okay. We understand, but if you made it this far and you have read and can digest our message, please at least share and discuss with your networks. The future of our country is depending on you.

Our students and community members are looking for leadership right now, and President Renu Khator can choose to signal to the community she claims to represent that the University of Houston will no longer perpetuate institutional oppression of state violence on our campus. This is the type of justice our students and community need and deserve. Immediately.

Become more than an ally, become an accomplice in demanding that #BlackLivesMatter by signing this petition and contacting President Renu Khator directly to express your support of these action items and to encourage further discussion.

Twitter: @UHpres

Phone: 713-743-8820

Email: president@uh.edu

#DefundPolice #DefendBlackLives #SocialJusticeUH #IveHadEnough #M4BL #UHRevolution

Petition by
Micki Rodriguez
Cypress, Texas

To: University of Houston President and Entire UH Community
From: [Your Name]

Become more than an ally, become an accomplice in demanding that #BlackLivesMatter by signing this petition and contacting President Renu Khator directly to express your support of these action items and to encourage further discussion.

#DefundPolice #DefendBlackLives #SocialJusticeUH #IveHadEnough #M4BL #UHRevolution