Immediately after shooting an armed assailant who was trying to commit suicide by cop, University of Chicago campus police officer Nicolas Twardak rushed to the assailant's aid. Now, student activists are using the incident to push the university to disband its police force.
Twardak was on his patrol just outside UChicago's campus when an armed gunman, Rhyseen Wilson, came running down Woodlawn Avenue. Wilson was heading to campus looking for a gunfight with police. He had called 911 minutes before the shootout to say he wanted to commit suicide by cop and fired shots into the air while on the call.
Upon seeing Twardak in his university police vehicle, Wilson opened fire. Twardak exited the car and took cover as Wilson advanced on his position. Twardak returned fire and hit Wilson, who continued to advance on the officer's position. Twardak shot Wilson again and then sprinted across the street to Wilson's downed body as he called for an ambulance, according to body camera footage released by the university.
The January 18 footage shows that Twardak's first concern was for the welfare of the man who had just opened fire on him. Wilson repeatedly begged for Twardak to let him "bleed out," but Twardak assured him he was going to be okay and delivered medical care until more officers showed up on the scene and took over. Wilson survived.
Student activists at the University of Chicago are now using the incident to push for the school to disband the police force, and activist lawyers are demanding that Twardak lose his job.
Care Not Cops, a student group, wants the school to "Defund, Disarm, and Disband" its police department. In response to Twardak shooting Wilson, the group argued that it was wrong for anyone to treat the police stopping Wilson before he reached the unarmed student body as a "positive outcome."
"Police violence endangering the lives of our neighbors, friends, and community is being twisted into a positive outcome," the group wrote in response to the shooting. "We reject this."
The group was founded in 2018 in response to another shooting that involved Twardak, who was called to respond to a crazed student who was wandering campus smashing windows of apartments and cars with an iron pipe. The incident was also caught on Twardak's bodycam, which shows that Twardak repeatedly told the student, Charles Thomas, to put down the weapon as Thomas charged with the weapon.
Thomas, who also survived, is suing Twardak for the shooting. His lawyer is using last month's shooting to renew local press focus on his case.
"There's a reason why someone like this is a serial shooter," lawyer Steve Greenberg said. "And it's not because he has some special ‘spidey sense' that shootings require. It’s because he's poorly trained and ill-equipped and shouldn't be on the job."
Greenberg did not respond to requests for comment about how Twardak should have handled the situation without resorting to gunfire.
Radical activists at UChicago don't just want Twardak's head. Care Not Cops maintains that police presence makes communities less safe.
"We affirm that ALL state violence is UNJUSTIFIABLE," it said. "Police violence is ONLY justifiable under the logic of white supremacy and racial capitalism."
Twardak is on mandatory leave, which is standard procedure. The school is not commenting on the situation, but its statements following the shooting indicate the belief that Twardak followed procedure. Twardak was not made available for an interview.
The university hasn't succumbed to past demands—in fact, it has increased beat patrols in response to spiking violent crime in Chicago. School police officers across the country have been put in harms way amid the nationwide crime wave. Just weeks after Twardak's shootout with Wilson, a "dynamic duo" of beloved campus police officers at Virginia's Bridgewater College were murdered by a gunman after they were called to respond to a report of a suspicious person.
Elsewhere on UChicago's campus, students are more supportive of Twardak and the school's police force. While the activists are loud, students told the Washington Free Beacon that those who want to disband the police represent "a small and very vocal minority."
Junior Aatman Vakil said there is tremendous support across the political spectrum for campus police. "I have also seen many students, including left-leaning students, speak out against defunding [the University of Chicago Police Department]," Vakil said. "Many of these students are Asians, who have been disproportionate targets of violence in Hyde Park."
In response to the uptick in violent crime around campus, the school increased patrols in the area. The school said the increased beat patrols "helped provide a quick intervention" and thanked its police force for "prevent[ing] further harm."
Vakil pointed to the recent increase in violent crime in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood as a justification for increased policing. In November, Shaoxiong "Dennis" Zheng, a recent alum of the school, was shot and killed in broad daylight blocks off campus.
"Many of my friends have been mugged at gunpoint," Vakil said. "The answer is not to remove what police presence there is, but to increase patrolling. When I'm going back to my apartment at night, seeing UCPD officers at intersections always makes me feel safer. The officers I have interacted with have always been friendly and polite."
Care Not Cops activists disagree, saying the mere presence of campus police "perpetuates gun violence in our neighborhood."
Care Not Cops did not respond to request for comment about how defunding the police would make students safer. In the days since the shooting, the group is continuing to organize on campus to push to abolish the school's police.