During the TCU special elections tomorrow, we in Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) have a referendum on the ballot as a part of our campaign to End the Deadly Exchange at Tufts. The question, as approved by the TCU Judiciary and the Committee on Student Life, will read on the ballot as follows:
“Do you support Tufts University administration 1) apologizing for sending the former Tufts police chief to an intensive week-long course led by senior commanders in the Israel National Police, experts from Israel’s intelligence and security services, and the Israeli Defense Force, 2) prohibiting TUPD officers from attending programs based on military strategies and/or similar international trips in the future, and 3) refining the vetting process to prevent prior program attendees from being hired, not including veterans who may have been stationed or trained abroad during their service?”
In this piece, we will walk through each component of this referendum to explain the urgency of voting in favor on Nov. 24.
Our campaign to end the Deadly Exchange began when it came to light that Tufts sent the now-retired chief of the Tufts University Police Department (TUPD), Kevin Maguire, on a military training trip to Israel in 2017. Since 2004, hundreds of American law enforcement officials have gone on these exchange trips, during which they have trained with Israeli police, military and the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal intelligence agency. Under the guise of “counterterrorism,” participants have learned Israeli military tactics for intelligence gathering, border security and forceful suppression of protest. Further, these trips normalize the U.S. and Israel’s shared security model of mass surveillance and criminalization that gives grounds for human and civil rights violations. This is the Deadly Exchange, the mutual advancement of the United States’ and Israel’s discriminatory and repressive policing, which is part of a larger exchange between the two countries of arms and money (the U.S. sends Israel $3.8 billion in military aid every year) as well as military tactics. Our campaign at Tufts stems from a national movement to end the Deadly Exchange led by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a grassroots organization that advocates for Palestinian self-determination and an end to the Israeli occupation. The Deadly Exchange campaign, focused on ending U.S.-Israel exchanges, fits into broader calls to end all such police exchanges around the world and to end U.S. funding for Israel’s brutal military occupation of Palestinians.
When considering the Deadly Exchange, it is necessary to acknowledge that American policing has always been racist. Police surveillance of communities of color and quelling of protest, especially Black-led organizing and resistance, has been inherent to the institution since its founding in this country. Further, the process of militarizing American police is primarily rooted in U.S. imperialism and its military industrial complex. However, the Deadly Exchange between the U.S. and Israel solidifies and augments both countries’ methods and equipment for state violence and control, including mass surveillance, racial profiling and suppression of protest and dissent. In that vein, our referendum essentially calls for the end of TUPD’s involvement in military training trips abroad through three distinct points, which are explained and contextualized below.
The first point of the referendum calls on Tufts University administration to apologize for sending Kevin Maguire on the trip. When Kevin Maguire attended this seminar, the University did not inform or consult the Tufts community. Rather, this incident was first reported by a Tufts Daily article, not by the Tufts administration. The university’s clandestine approach itself is damning, and it also demonstrates a blatant disregard for transparency and accountability. Kevin Maguire’s attendance constitutes a serious breach of our community’s trust. TUPD is a campus police force: It should not train with any military or intelligence forces, especially not those currently engaged in an illegal occupation of Palestine. Under Occupation, Palestinians live under a regime of constant surveillance, regulated movement, racial profiling and Apartheid and militarized state violence against dissent. TUPD should not be exposed to these tactics and technologies; they have no place on our campus. We must hold the university accountable for bringing these destructive and toxic policing methods to our campus and for implicating all of us in the occupation of Palestine. We must require recognition of their wrongs in the form of a written apology.
The referendum also demands that Tufts University administration bar TUPD from attending any military training trips abroad. While this incident occurred in Israel, TUPD should not be allowed to attend any training seminar led by military officials abroad. Such trips will without doubt contribute to the ongoing militarization of TUPD, which has followed in step with the militarization of our country’s police. TUPD began training officers to use semi-automatic rifles in case of an emergency, and, this year, TUPD’s presence has been expanded as a means of ensuring that COVID-19 guidelines are followed on campus. However, TUPD’s increased presence and new technologies do not make our community safer. Rather, they augment an already threatening environment for Palestinian students as well as other BIPOC. We therefore must end these trips that normalize and encourage the militarization of TUPD.
Finally, the referendum dictates that no former attendee of these military training trips should be permitted to join TUPD. The Tufts University administration must review and reevaluate its hiring criteria to ensure that participants of the Deadly Exchange are not responsible for the safety of our community. The tactics and practices encouraged by the Deadly Exchange are particularly harmful to Black and brown students. Police violence is not the result of ‘lack of training’: rather, it’s the result of a system doing exactly what it was built to do. More training for police deepens the power and scope of policing, and therefore does nothing to reduce the harms. As the Black Lives Matter movement brings demilitarization and abolition to the forefront of national discussion, we must force Tufts to reckon with its own methods and forces of policing.
On Nov. 24, we as the Tufts student body must declare ourselves opposed to our administration’s involvement in the Deadly Exchange and complicity in the occupation of Palestine. Demilitarizing our Tufts community is crucial for creating a safer campus and building a police-free world, and ending police exchanges is a key step in demilitarization. This demilitarization means ending these harmful exchanges alongside other changes: ending programs that distribute military equipment to police departments, disarming law enforcement, ending surveillance technologies and repealing laws that enable police violence. Just as SJP’s campaign will continue long after the referendum to ensure these measures are enacted and continue to urge accountability and transparency from our university, the work to demilitarize and abolish TUPD and other American police forces will continue as well. SJP’s referendum and campaign are merely a part of this larger reckoning, but they are an essential piece of this work.