Toussaint Losier did not intend to spend the night in jail last week, and is still a bit bewildered by the whole thing. Backtrack to Sunday, January 27th at the University of Chicago’s new hospital and Trauma Center at 57th and Maryland. Parents, youths and activists from surrounding neighborhoods plagued by violence and a notable lack of adequate local care, entered the lobby to compel attention to the issue. They assert that the new $700 million hospital ignores the immediate needs of the surrounding low income communities around the facility.
900poundgorilla carried the story live, with photos and video that showed the protest was peaceful but determined. Those images, and witnesses on the scene, indicate a heavy-handed response from UofC police.
What is emerging from the protest points to a failure of a university policy, which should have de-escalated the situation, at the very least in Toussaint Losier’s situation. What seems to be in the works is partly what the protest meant to accomplish, and that is dialogue and attention to the original issue of desperately needed local trauma care. But it came at a hard price, and one could interpret the University’s refusal to drop charges against Losier as a form of continuing retribution. An unfair accusation?
900poundgorilla spoke with Losier and a University spokesperson yesterday. But this isn’t a good guy-bad guy tale. Their perspectives clearly outline the impasse, but also point to opportunities that both the University and surrounding communities can benefit from.
Toussaint, a Ph.D. candidate at UofC is deeply engaged in the plight of those surrounding communities, working with the homeless, assisting with foreclosures and dealing with violence and poverty on Chicago’s largely minority Southside. Last Sunday he was the designated peace liaison to the protest and sit in. It was Toussaint who informed the arriving UofC police that a number of activists were there for civil disobedience. He informed the officers he was a UofC student and showed his university ID as well, supposedly bringing rights and privileges afforded to all students and faculty.
The video evidence shows activists peaceably arriving at the building. Though there was no general order to disperse, the protest organizers had earlier planned to disperse. After being told by the police that he needed to leave, Toussaint, along with most of the other protesters did in fact begin to leave. Several protesters remained behind in that peaceful act civil disobedience.
“I was already exiting the building, almost to the street,” he said in an interview yesterday, “when an officer grabbed me and said ’You’re still here!”
The officer’s tone was leading, and sounded manufactured, Toussaint observed. He had the impression that this was a tactic designed to intimidate organizers and leaders. A nearby videographer was also arrested. But Toussaint was well aware of a university policy to de-escalate issues between students and campus police, stemming from a 2010 incident in which a black student was arrested for talking loudly in the library.
Toussaint immediately invoked that policy. From the video evidence, witnesses and the 9 hours Toussaint remained in custody with the UofC police before being transferred to the Chicago authorities, the official university policy appears to have failed. Despite requests, no dean intervened in Toussaint’s case. The school, it appears, did not follow its own policy.
A UofC officer accused Toussaint as kicking him, and he was threatened in the UofC lock up with felony assault to an officer and felony resisting arrest. The claims by the officer are not supported by the evidence. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=03kW2m9YUMg
In an official communication the university claimed that “The protesters were asked to leave the building, first by a single security guard, and then by University of Chicago Police…In one confrontation with a protester, a police officer sustained a knee injury, and was treated in the emergency room… one(Losier) was also charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest. When it was discovered that one of those arrested is currently a student at the University of Chicago, the University’s Dean-on-Call program was initiated, and the Dean on Call provided access to resources and support for the student.” http://csl.uchicago.edu/recent-campus-dialogue-on-activism-dissent. Toussaint never saw or spoke with that “Dean on Call.”Also, courtesy Youtube and the Chicago Tribune:
Clearly there are fundamentally different perspectives and positions here, as if Tousaint and the protesters and the protesters, and the university and police are speaking fundamentally different languages. One speaks in vetted and couched legalese, while the other’s words are raw with unfiltered honesty and the pain of a wounded community. But protest and dissent are ultimately about solutions and about finding the common language of productive and progressive dialogue. Toussaint sees an opportunity.
Speaking with Steve Kloehn Associate Vice President for News and Public Affairs for the University of Chicago yesterday, I had that same impression, though Mister Kloehn would not deviate from the University’s official statement, and none of the misdemeanor charges of trespassing and resisting arrest
Both sides understand the need for that dialogue. Critical, above all else, is the need for trauma care on the Southside of Chicago. As one sympathetic Chicago police officer remarked to Toussaint, “it would be better for us if there was Southside trauma care.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=huLA2u8RaaA&feature=youtu.be
In their official response, the university is reviewing its relationship and responsibility to the neighboring communities. They are also reviewing processes and questions about the way the incident was handled. They’re official statement, in part, reads:
“The altercation that ensued is an upsetting event that challenges the University on multiple levels. In addition to the protesters, police and University staff involved in the incident itself, this episode touches many others and raises questions of deep importance to us all. It brings into high relief our values of free expression and respectful dissent. It also requires us to look again at what it means to be a member of the University community and the neighboring communities in which we all live, and how those two interact.
Conversations have sprung up around campus about this, and many more will be taking place in the days and weeks to come. There are several processes underway to examine the incident itself, among University leadership, University of Chicago police and civil authorities. Supplementing the processes in place, we are initiating a transparent, faculty-led dialogue about University values that will unfold in the coming weeks.
No undertaking of this sort will yield easy answers; the questions are complex and multi-faceted. However, we have a responsibility as a community to examine our actions and beliefs in the light of our aspirations.”
Toussaint is hopeful, but the struggle to save lives on the Southside, and the battle for the community is an urgent one. The official statement and apparent interest for progress on these issues, by the University would indicate room for dialogue, and hopefully progress. There was, however, a policy instituted back in 2010, as we have seen, that was apparently not followed in this case. Hopefully the record in this case will prove differently. Meanwhile, Toussaint still faces the resisting arrest and trespassing charges.
Catch 900poundgorilla’s WC Turck and Brian Murray each Sunday 8-9am only on Our Town with Mike Sanders, at Chicago’s Progressive Talk, WCPT AM and FM, and streaming online. Friend us on Facebook at Revolution and Beer. And if you have a cause to champion, please let us know as we work to become the grassroots support network for Chicago Activists and community organizers.
Catch the beer of the week review with 900poundgorilla’s WC Turck and Brian Murray each Sunday 8-9am only on Our Town, at Chicago’s Progressive Talk, WCPT AM and FM, and streaming online. Friend us on Facebook at Revolution and Beer. And find all of the great beers we review each week at Louis Glunz Beer Inc., http://www.glunzbeers.com