UW Faculty and Staff Blast UWPD After Classroom Arrest of Black Student


    A statement bearing the names of more than 300 members of the University of Wisconsin faculty and staff was posted on social media Friday blasting the UW Police after the classroom arrest of student King Shabazz, 21.

    The arrest took place during a session of Dr. Johanna F. Almiron’s Afro-American Studies Class, Black Visual Culture. Shabazz was arrested on suspicion of 11 counts of painting anti-racist graffiti on campus buildings and one count of disorderly conduct. Dr. Almiron did not respond to multiple emails seeking comment.

    Hannah Frank, another student in the class, posted on Facebook that police said during the arrest, “He’s sent his message. Now we are sending ours.”

    In a statement Friday afternoon, UWPD Chief Sue Riesling said the arresting officer mistakenly thought the class had not yet started, and didn’t mean to interrupt an ongoing class.

    “Because of the officer’s error in believing the class had not yet started, I extend my sincerest apologies to the students and the professor who were in this class and witnessed this interruption,” the UWPD statement reads. “We are initiating a review of our officer’s action entering the classroom, and department procedures related to classroom contacts, consistent with our commitment to the academic mission of the university.”

    UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank also issued a statement Friday. “Classrooms should be welcoming spaces dedicated to learning and instruction,” she wrote. “There are practices in place at UWPD regarding when it is appropriate to enter a classroom to conduct police business. Unfortunately, in this instance these practices were not followed, and I understand why faculty, staff and students are upset.  I was upset too when I learned about this incident.”

    Graffiti3The faculty and staff statement, drafted by Almiron and UW Communication Arts associate professor Karma R. Chávez, reads in part: “As UW-Madison faculty and staff, we denounce UWPD’s deplorable actions and ask for immediate accountability from campus administration, particularly Chancellor Rebecca Blank. We also ask that regardless of the outcome of the charges against him that the student be given immunity from expulsion for his actions and be allowed to graduate on time this May,” the statement reads in part.

    “The university is more interested in protecting the symbols of UW as a progressive institution, like their buildings and Bucky, rather than the students who are actually fighting for social change, and apparently their lives,” Almiron said in the statement. “The way UWPD officers entered my class was very aggressive with bullet proof vests and guns visible. I cannot believe they humiliated and terrified my students. The fact that our classrooms are not respected as spaces of learning is absolutely appalling.”

    UWPD told the Wisconsin State Journal that they’d been trying to contact Shabazz for two weeks, but the faculty statement says that’s no excuse.

    “According to reports, UWPD tried numerous times to make contact with the student for his alleged violations,” the statement reads. “UWPD reports that arresting the student in his class was a last resort. We find this rationale unacceptable. Even the rash of violent crimes on campus such as sexual assault have not warranted this kind of response. This charge was for vandalism. To arrest him in his Afro-American studies classroom, in front of his professor and his classmates, goes well beyond the call of duty. We can only wonder if the content of the graffiti under question, which challenges police violence and racism on campus, serves as a rationale for UWPD’s use of such a public display of force.”

    The full statement and list of signatories is here.

    Chávez says a larger petition is in the works. We will have more on this story as it develops.

    Updates: This story was edited to correctly identify the student arrested as King Shabazz, to identify the authors of the faculty and staff statement, and to include a statement from UWPD.