Monday, May 3, 2021

Days of Refusal of Campus Police

Various universities have hosted a range of events leading up May 3rd's abolitionist Day of Refusal, meaning a strike day. This is meant to kick off a month of direct actions (described on the Cops off Campus website) to raise awareness of the necessity and the possibility of converting most or all policing functions to constructive forms of safety practices, care, and community engagement.  

During the George Floyd phase of the Black Lives Matter movement last year, ideas about police replacement arrived in the mainstream media, like these good ones from a Princeton sociologist in the Washington Post.  If campus police departments had been formed to reduce the chances of regular cops busting student heads during anti-Vietnam war protests in the 1960s and 1970s, student heads were now in greater danger from campus police during contemporary protests--or non-protests: UCPD found the limelight in 2006 when UCLA police tasered a student who was studying in Powell Library.

When the UC Regents passed large tuition hikes in 2009 and 2011, students protested them. Various forms of UCPD misconduct wound up in the public eye, with beatings and arrests at UC Berkeley in November 2011, including of campus faculty (see Prof. Celeste Langan's post about her arrest, and Prof. Greg Levine's recap of political repression against campus protest).  UCPD-Davis's Sgt. Pike then went on a world-famous pepper-spray rampage. This killed off any lingering sense that campus police were special--more collaborative and communicative, less anti-student, less violent towards the unresisting than off-campus forces.  

In reaction, UCOP sponsored a report (Edley and Robinson, 2012) on UCPD conduct, but not much happened. Police abuse also did not become a tenure-track faculty issue. For example,  Davis faculty senate sided with Chancellor Katehi while condemning Sgt Pike's actions. The 2009-13 period offers a long, dynamic example of why policing activists are so deeply skeptical about "police reform."   

A defining campus cop incident occurred in July 2015, when a University of Cincinnati police officer killed Samuel Dubose during a routine traffic stop off campus. After this, the media paid more attention to the greater opacity of campus police reporting, their lesser training compared to municipal departments in many jurisdictions, and their not-so-different bad treatment of people from marginalized groups. 

The protests that really brought out the police were opposed to the effects of austerity policies that the university itself was  unable or unwilling to oppose. These were often tuition hikes that disparately punished poor students and students of color. These protests worked, with the nail in coffin being protests in 2014).  The state did not replace missing tuition hikes with meaningful state increases, as we've had occasion to note, so austerity effects continue to the present day. The grad student COLA strike at UC Santa Cruz in 2019-20 was another turn of the screw. They brought heavy police containment of strikers by various police forces, and appeared to be part of a strategy of physically intimidating the students to drop the strike.  

Photo Credit: Merc News

The later administrative suspension of the strikers who withheld grades (see Michael's overview), made policing again seem an extension of administrative refusal to take student concerns seriously, deliberate democratically, and find adequate funding for the educational core. 

In 2020, UCLA faculty discovered that the LAPD geeks arrested BLM protesters on a campus baseball field named for the barrier-breaking Black baseball legend and UCLA alum Jackie Robinson. This suggested that the one big advantage of the UCPD--that they were not the LAPD--could be readily set aside.  

Derek Chauvin's guilty verdict--in the Minneapolis trial of George Floyd's killer--coupled with ongoing police killings in the days before and after, have increased an interest in permanent policing changes that goes all the way to the White House. It's into this context that UCOP has recently launched proposals for changes in UC police policy. They include a ludicrous plan to form a kind of UC SWAT that would be deployed around the state to tamp down alleged unrest.  Here you can find Dylan Rodriguez discussing Cops Off Campus in the context of policing task forces, and Michael recently posting on the UC police proposals

Another good place for background on the no- combined issues of overall police conversion and stopping a new militarization of UCPD is this UCSB Faculty Association post. It has a number of links to statements and explainers about local and national dimensions, as well as its own statement, which nicely represents TT faculty who've mostly focused on faculty welfare, academic freedom, administrative misconduct, and budgeting coming to take a meaningful stand on campus police transformation, and linking it to core faculty concerns. 

Of course I can't stop without making a budget point. The political economy of universities is now pressuring units toward for-profit activities. The function of policing in this model was nicely described in a big Reclaim UC post last year.  It itemizes UC police budgets and also offers an important analysis of how policing fits into a skewed administrative understanding of risk management. Here I'll close with a simpler point about quantities of expenditure.  Reclaim UC notes that UCSB's police budget was just under $11 million in 2018-19 (the UC range of base budgets is from $5 million to $22.4 million in that year).  The 2019-20 grad COLA strike was for a pay increase that would eliminate "rent burden" for grad workers. My calculation at the time was that to take all rent burdened UCSB grads out of burden would cost UCSB about $5.2 million a year--or around half of the police budget.  (I'll do the math in a future post on the new rent hikes at UCSD.)

I hope Abolition May moves the debate toward some deep and comprehensive police conversion. 

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