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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, May 19, 2024

Editorial: Moving forward from TUPD misconduct

In the wake of allegations that TUPD and the university treated pro-Palestinian protesters excessively harshly, institutional changes are warranted.

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For the better part of the spring 2024 semester, the Daily’s investigative team examined evidence alleging that the Tufts University Police Department mistreated pro-Palestine protesters on Nov. 17, 2023. The evidence presented clearly demonstrated serious mistakes on the part of the TUPD and Tufts administration, which hypocritically venerates past social justice movements on campus while violently repressing the ones happening today. Tufts administration should apologize, order an independent investigation into police misconduct and administrative complicity on Nov. 17, retract the disciplinary punishments leveled on students and take transparent steps to ensure that TUPD does not commit similar acts of misconduct in the future.

On Nov. 17, student protesters blocked all three entrances to Ballou Hall. Following in the footsteps of the anti-Apartheid movement of the 1980s, passionate student protesters demanded divestment from Israel, citing the state’s apartheid regime and the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people. TUPD quickly arrived on the scene, where officers engaged in behavior such as dismissing legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild, aggressively filming and threatening students, allegedly declaring a false medical emergency was occurring inside Ballou Hall and using physical force on students.

The hypocrisy of TUPD’s actions is readily apparent. Tufts claims to be an institution dedicated to social justice — yet when students protest, they are met with severe repression. TUPD quotes Mahatma Gandhi, a famous proponent of nonviolence, on its website, yet attacks students protesting genocide. But the incident at Ballou Hall has laid bare a far deeper problem within Tufts University. Officers’ poor behavior went unpunished by the university and presumably had the support of administrators. And when the day ended, it was student protesters — not the exceedingly violent police officers — who received disciplinary action. The school’s policy should not hold protesters to higher standards than the police in power. Based on the reported accounts, the student protesters did not constitute any sort of serious safety threat, whereas the police officers treated students poorly. If Tufts policies allow for considerably harsher repercussions on these students compared to the TUPD officers, Tufts should seriously reconsider the efficacy of its policies. It is TUPD who has the responsibility to keep Tufts safe, and it was TUPD’s actions, not the protesters, that made Tufts less safe on Nov. 17.

If Tufts’ commitment to social justice is genuine, it must take immediate steps to reverse the damage done by TUPD on Nov. 17. In addition to serious emotional damage, 18 students received disciplinary charges relating to the protest. All charges should be dropped and affected students should receive apologies. Moreover, Tufts should order a transparent, external investigation into all TUPD officers on video during the protest. If found guilty of misconduct, the officers should be punished appropriately for their actions. Tufts should formally apologize, admit wrongdoing on Nov. 17 and take immediate steps to ensure that future protesters are not attacked in a similar manner. These steps should include designing and publishing TUPD policies on how to respond to disruptive protests in a safe and non-confrontational manner and strictly mandating that TUPD officers follow said policies. TUPD could greatly increase transparency by displaying its general policy handbook in a central, searchable and easy-to-find location. Tufts should also make their community standards relating to protesting more clear. For example, one subsection in the community standards guidelines prohibits protests from “disruption or obstruction of community activity.” This could quite obviously be applied to just about any protest and allows the university to assign vague community standard violations to any protest that challenges the university.

Tufts’ code of conduct instructs students to uphold social justice. Yet when students do so, they are met with violence and repression. Despite lionizing past social justice movements on campus, Tufts seems to have run out of patience with the current one. Given that the pro-Palestinian protesters at Tufts have consistently called out the university administration, Tufts’ implicit support of TUPD’s actions is unsurprising but disappointing. It is quite clear that administrators are prioritizing their own comfort over the safety of their students. Tufts’ administration and TUPD must drastically change course to align with the university’s stated values and mission.