Taking a Stand
Undergraduate Student Body President Jael Kerandi’s impassioned letter led to the U of M limiting ties with the MPD.
In the spring of 2018, Jael Kerandi (B.S.B., ’21), who
later would become the U of M’s first Black
undergraduate student body president,
attended Somali Night, an annual event
sponsored by the U of M’s Somali Student Association.
The gathering celebrates traditions of the Somali diaspora,
from fashion to music to dance.
As she left Northrop Auditorium, Kerandi, then a freshman
at the Carlson School of Management, says she was shocked
by the large number of police patrolling a family-friendly
event. “I remember asking an officer a simple question
and being met with such aggression and force,” she says.
The event made headlines and sparked disputes: The
police said they were needed on site to break up a large
fight and a robbery, and they deployed a chemical irritant
in doing so. The Somali Student Association said the police
used excessive force and assaulted attendees, including
pulling a woman by her hijab.
Although accounts of the event differ, Kerandi says
memories of the experience resurfaced for her on the
night that George Floyd was killed.
In response, she authored an open letter (excerpts
of which are reprinted below) to President Joan Gabel,
her administration, and members of the U of M Board of
Regents that ultimately led to the University severing a
number of ties with the Minneapolis Police Department
(MPD) two days after Floyd died.
Since that time, other community organizations have made similar moves to cut ties with the MPD, including Minneapolis Public Schools, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Walker Art Center, the Minnesota Orchestra, and more.
Kerandi, who was born in Nairobi and moved to the
U.S. with her family when she was a toddler, is now a
senior majoring in finance and marketing, with a minor
in business law.
And while her term as undergraduate student body
president has now ended, she remains one of eight
student representatives to the U of M’s Board of Regents.
Kerandi hopes the international attention brought to
Minnesota by the tragedy of Floyd’s death will result in
significant changes. At the University, she’d like to see
an increased commitment to more Black mental health
counselors to support the specific needs of Black students.
She’d also like to see an increased commitment to hiring
tenure-track faculty of color and a commitment to curricula
that educate students about systems and institutions.
“People should know what redlining is and what it did
to our communities ... and how house deeds used to say,
‘whites only,’” she says. “People need to understand that
these things existed, and that racism never really went
away. It simply evolved.”
In recent months, voices have risen both locally and
nationally calling for municipalities and educational institutions to go even further in changing the current police
system by either partially or fully defunding departments,
reallocating some of that money to other areas. The idea
has become a political flash point for many. (The U of
M Libraries has curated a number of resources to help
people gain more information on this at continuum.umn.
“I struggle with [the fierce opposition to defunding]
because it comes from such a place of privilege,” Kerandi
admits. “[White people] have the opportunity to sit there
and say, ‘The police have been protecting me, therefore
you are removing a resource that protects me.’ Whereas
Black people have been saying for years and years and
years that we have not been protected by the police.”
Below are excerpts of the letter Kerandi and other
signatories sent to the U of M administration.
A Response to the Murder of George Floyd
“This morning we woke up to a graphic video that depicted
the violent murder of an unarmed, restrained Black man
named George Floyd by Minneapolis police Officers
Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao. Chauvin knelt on the neck
of Floyd and pressed him into the hot asphalt, forcing
Floyd to inhale the fumes from an SUV owned by the
Minneapolis Police Department while Thao stood guard
and watched. Chauvin continued to apply pressure even as
George lay motionless and pleaded in pain, saying ‘Please,
please I can’t breathe.’ George Floyd was murdered by the
Minneapolis Police Department. Full stop. Regardless of
the reason for his arrest, his death cannot be justified, and
those who attempt to do so are part of the problem. … The
Minneapolis Police Department has repeatedly demonstrated with their actions that Black bodies are expendable
to them. This is a norm that we have been desensitized to
due to its frequency.
…A part of the Twin Cities campus is embedded within
the confines of Minneapolis and students often are under
the jurisdiction of the Minneapolis Police Department, a
dubious status for any person of color. MPD has continually shown disregard for the welfare and rights of people
of color on our campus. This disregard is especially
blatant in interactions that include but are not limited
to, the discrimination and racism that was experienced
by students during Somali Night in 2018, and generally,
the way students of color are treated
with mistrust and suspicion while on
or around campus.
…We have lost interest in discussion,
community conversations, and ‘donut
hours.’ We no longer wish to have a
meeting or come to an agreement,
there is no middle ground. The police
are murdering Black men with no
meaningful repercussions. This is not a
problem of some other place or some
other time. This is happening right here
in Minneapolis. …[A]s student leaders,
we do have a stake in the operations
of the University of Minnesota Police
Department. Therefore, we clearly and
without hesitation DEMAND that the
University of Minnesota Police Department ceases any partnerships with
the Minneapolis Police Department
immediately. This is inclusive of any
previous contracts, events, security
operations, and any additional relations
that were inclusive of the Minneapolis
Police Department, barring any reporting structures.
As a land-grant institution, statements professing appreciation of diversity and inclusion
are empty and worthless if they are not backed up by
action. A man was murdered. It is our job as an institution
to exert whatever pressure we can to keep our students
safe and demand justice in our city and state.”
With deep loss, disgust, and exhaustion.
A Black woman
Undergraduate Student Body President