Report: University of Chicago sees rise in anti-Black sentiment after murder of Asian student

·3 min read

An increase in anti-Black sentiment has reportedly been observed at the University of Chicago after the fatal shooting of a Chinese international student in early November.

Driving the news: Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng, 24, was fatally shot during a robbery in Hyde Park on Nov. 9. Three days later, Alton Spann, an 18-year-old Black man, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and two counts of unlawful use of a weapon, as per CBS Chicago.

  • The incident sparked a rally on Nov. 16 that saw hundreds of students, alumni, faculty and community members gather under the slogan “We are here to learn, not to die.” While organizers did not make official demands for more policing or surveillance, some individual participants and speakers present did call for such actions, according to the Chicago Maroon.

  • University officials and the Chicago Police Department have vowed to work more closely in response to the incident. On Nov. 17, they announced new joint strategies to ensure public safety, including increased foot and vehicular patrols, increased security cameras and license plate readers, a new 24-hour strategic operations center and expanded coordination between the university and city police departments, to name a few.


No to policing: On Nov. 22, some students and community groups gathered once more, but this time to protest the university’s plan to work with law enforcement. They argued that more policing does not solve long-standing problems that cause violence in the first place.

  • “Hyde Park is already one of the most policed neighborhoods in Chicago,” said Grace Pai, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago, according to WBEZ. “Increasing policing and surveillance will not deter future gun violence, because policing and surveillance do not address the root causes of violence such as decades of disinvestment, structural racism, poverty, trauma and lack of opportunity.”

  • The protesters also claimed that there has been an increase in anti-Black sentiment within the campus, especially on social media, according to WBEZ. Black students and Black residents in neighboring communities were reportedly being stereotyped over the shooting.

  • Jasmine Lu, a computer science graduate science student, told WBEZ that organizers of the Nov. 16 rally intended for mourning were disappointed by anti-Black signs and sentiment that attempted to “pit Asians against Black people in the community.”

  • In lieu of increased police presence, protesters called for more resources to address the problem of disinvestment that has persisted in communities around Hyde Park for decades. In an earlier statement, Cook County Commissioner Bill Lowry described Zheng’s shooting as “predictable” given the years of disinvestment in Chicago neighborhoods, according to Block Club Chicago.



The big picture: Viral videos of anti-Asian attacks amid the COVID-19 pandemic largely show Black people as perpetrators; however, an analysis based on official crime statistics and other studies shows that more than three-quarters of aggressors — from before and during the health crisis — are white.

  • While hate crimes against Asian Americans have seen the largest spike in the past year, African American victims continue to represent the largest number of such crimes. Recorded hate crimes against Asian Americans soared from 158 in 2019 to 274 in 2020 (a 70% increase), while those against African Americans rose from 1,930 in 2019 to 2,755 in 2020 (a 40% increase), according to the FBI.


Featured Image via University of Chicago (left) and CBS Chicago (right)

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