Drexel University: Cut Ties with Philadelphia Police and Divest from Drexel PD.

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Dear President Fry and Drexel University Board of Trustees,

We acknowledge the University’s statement, A Pledge to Address Systemic and Institutional Racism, which outlined next steps for addressing racism in our community. However, we are deeply concerned that these steps do not go nearly far enough to address the structural racism that is embedded in our institution. The Drexel administration must implement initiatives to eliminate systemic racism, ensure everyone’s safety, and hold the University accountable for its actions.

Police violence is a public health crisis. The constant surveillance of communities of color poses significant psychological health risks. In Philadelphia, we have a police department that has a long history of racism. From the legacy of misconduct under former commissioners like Francis Rizzo to the recent police violence and tear gassing of protestors, the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) repeatedly demonstrates that it is not committed to protecting and serving all people. Recent social media testimony by dozens of police officers makes clear that racism infects this department.

The presence of Drexel’s Vice President, Gregory Montanaro, on the board of the Philadelphia Police Foundation (PPF) gives active and tacit support to the PPD’s performance, a form of support that is deeply harmful to our community. The PPF provides additional funding for the PPD but does not disclose the nature of its support. We are concerned the PPF further expands the militarization of the PPD. In your recent letter, you expressed your desire to "eliminate racism in our structures and practices,” yet Drexel is funding a racist organization that oppresses communities of color in our city. 

While Drexel indirectly supports the PPD, the University also has its own police department, one of five patrol units in the University City area, that systematically targets and discriminates against non-student community members. The Drexel administration may be outwardly committed to dismantling racist policies and structures, yet this goal is undermined by its plan to appoint Charles Ramsay, a former Philadelphia Police Commissioner to conduct a review of the Drexel University Police Department (DPD). No trustworthy and transparent review can be guaranteed by assigning it to someone with a conflict of interest. We insist on an independent review by a committee headed by law scholars and community stakeholders.

Drexel University has not helped the community it has displaced. In the last decade, Drexel has become one of the largest owners of private property in Philadelphia. Because Drexel’s property benefits from a tax-exempt status and school funding is intertwined with property taxes, the University’s presence in West Philadelphia has contributed to the underfunding of Philadelphia’s public school system. If Drexel wants to dismantle structural racism, the University must commit to making payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTS) to uplift the Philadelphia school system, which provides education for a vast majority of the city’s students of color.

Drexel’s expansion throughout West Philadelphia gentrified the neighborhood. The University acquired residential properties in Powelton and Mantua with the intention to rent these properties to students through Academic Properties, Inc., an entity wholly owned by the University. According to data from the Office of Property Assessment, available via OpenDataPhilly, Drexel and its controlled entities currently own more than 130 properties, with a market value of approximately $1.3 billion. Drexel’s promotion of gentrification demonstrates its disregard for the well-being of the community. It exploits its students economically and displaces residents, many of them people of color.

The Drexel Community for Justice believes the commitment to dismantle systemic racism requires the following actions:

1. Terminate any current contracts with the Philadelphia Police Department.

2. End all financial contributions to the Philadelphia Police Foundation. 

3. Divest from the Drexel University Police.

4. Invest in the Education Equity Fund, paying at least 40% of forgone property taxes. These funds will be used to meet the essential needs of Philadelphia public schools.

5. Appoint a committee of law scholars and community stakeholders to conduct an independent investigation of Drexel University Police practices.

6. Safely hold University events without armed officials.

7. Practice transparency with students and community members, publishing a quarterly report on the University’s ongoing anti-racism initiatives.

Drexel has the opportunity and the obligation to stand in solidarity with the rising chorus of voices demanding an end to racism and police violence. But more than words and intentions are required. We call for concrete actions.

Sincerely,

Drexel Community for Justice

@drexelforjustice // https://www.facebook.com/groups/drexelcommunityforjustice // drexelcommunityforjustice@gmail.com