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To the Editor:
The Editorial Board of The Crimson recently ran an editorial calling for the abolition of the Harvard University Police Department. I believe this editorial may be a response to the renewed and increased calls for the abolition of HUPD. These calls undoubtedly echo similar demands across the country and come after of HUPD officers were seen monitoring a demonstration in Boston in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by Minneapolis police. As a Black man, I was disturbed — but not surprised — that yet again an innocent Black life had been lost as a result of aggressive policing that systematically targets Black men in America. Of course, HUPD is not innocent of aggressive policing, but abolishing HUPD is not the answer to systemic racism in the criminal justice system, either for America in general or Harvard in particular.
Beyond sentiment and rhetoric, there are practical reasons for why abolishing HUPD would be nothing but an attempt in folly. One of these is that officers at HUPD do in fact protect our community. Harvard — a popular tourist destination located in a large urban setting — is specifically vulnerable to criminal activity. According to NeighbourhoodScout, a comprehensive database that tracks crime across America, Cambridge is only safer than 19 percent of America’s cities. And while we may not want to accept it, illegal and criminal activities have been, and will continue, to be a hallmark of all human societies. There are people who will try to steal from the Harvard community, for example, as your newspaper has reported on multiple occasions. A police force like HUPD makes Harvard a safer campus, providing all of us with a platform to succeed. It is because we don’t have to worry about our safety that we can focus and succeed in our academic endeavors.
But aside from the practical reasons, abolishing HUPD would be a Band-Aid, not the cure to the issues that your Editorial Board outlined as justification for abolishing HUPD. I imagine that once the department is abolished, another police department, presumably the Cambridge Police Department, would be tasked with policing the University campus. I imagine that such an alien police force, without a strong connection to the school like the one HUPD has, would only exacerbate the very issues that drove your Editorial Board to call for HUPD’s abolition. Beyond that, consider CPD responding to a call on a Friday day concerning a drunk freshman in the Yard. One can only imagine how such an interaction would unfold.
We should not cut off our feet and expect to walk. Of course, broader conversations are needed around police reforms, and these reforms may include defunding the police and other structural changes. The efforts should be driven by empathy. The officers of HUPD are not our enemies. I am saddened, but not surprised, that rather than use this opportunity for a nuanced conversation on reforming HUPD, The Crimson Editorial Board opted to follow the passions of the masses. It is easy to say: abolish HUPD. But whatever institution fills the void that abolishing HUPD will leave will not be immune to the same problems that HUPD faces.
Tom L. Osborn ’20 was a Psychology Major in Eliot House.
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