The UC Irvine Black Student Union Demands to Abolish the Police!
The UC Irvine Black Student Union Demands to Abolish the Police!
UCI Black Student Union Demand
[January 25, 2016]
We, the Black Student Union, demand that UCIPD and any additional paramilitary force presence on campus be abolished.
Abolish the Police!
During the winter quarter of 2015, Mark Deppe (Associated Students of UCI Professional Staff) and Edgar Dormitorio, (Chief of Staff in Student Affairs), interrogated a Black student at the University of California Irvine (UCI). She and five other Legislative Council members of the Associated Students of UCI (ASUCI) were harangued by both Deppe and Dormitorio. They were told that if they did not submit a public apology they would not receive protection against the multitude of death threats and vulgar insults they were receiving day and night from students on UCI’s campus and the citizens of Orange County. The Black student received multiple emails and phone calls in which people threatened to lynch and rape her. UCI facilitated the dissemination of her contact information. Even after they were informed she received lynch and rape threats, they failed to take her contact information off of their public website until approximately a week after the initial incident. As a result, she was forced to change her phone number and find refuge at a location other than her home to wait for the violence to subside.
Preceding this incident, she and five other non-Black students of the ASUCI Legislative Council had passed a resolution banning the display of flags from any nation, including the U.S., from an ASUCI’s common room. In other words, they exercised their legislative rights of parliamentary governance in one ASUCI common area over which they had jurisdiction. In response, Chancellor Howard Gillman deputized his employees, Dormitorio and Deppe, to simulate and reenact a police interrogation scene. Dormitorio and Deppe called the students into a room for hours and did not inform them of their right to leave the interrogation scene at any time. The students were coerced as implements of the university. They had no will to refuse to write the apology nor agency as elected student officials. They were forced to write an apology letter specifying true patriotism, gratitude to the university, and concern for the University’s reputation. They were coerced to write:
“We deeply apologize for neglecting to consider the greater implications of our actions, and for the negative publicity that UC Irvine has endured as a result. As fellow students at UC Irvine, we are extremely grateful to be privileged enough to even have these kinds of conversations. We meant no ill will towards our nation nor its flag, and our school truly does not deserve the image placed on it in the public sphere.”
Gillman, Dormitorio and Deppe sought to protect themselves, the University’s reputation, and alumni monetary investments at the expense of the six students’ safety. They refused to protect the students if they did not write a patriotic and empathetic apology. Not only did university administrators withhold protection, but they also created a context that rendered the students susceptible to racist violence when they stripped the anonymity of the students who participated in an otherwise private voting process. Administrators were solely concerned with the protection of the institution despite the anti-Black rape and lynch threats this Black student received.
Civil rights lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) met with the six students to discuss moving forward on a class action lawsuit against the university. However, because the only eligible plaintiffs were those students who would not be graduating, and since the few students who were staying had been severely traumatized due to the extent of which they feared for their lives, the lawsuit never proceeded. The students witnessed, first hand, how the vigilante violence of the racist world outside the university walls manifests itself and coordinates with the institutional violence of students and administrators such as Parham, Dormitorio, Deppe, and Gillman. University administration made it clear that the university is no sanctuary that is impermeable to violence. When it came to students’ safety, especially the safety of Black students (the black student involved receiving the majority of the severe threats, most being death threats), the police were already situated on the side of their oppressors.
Abolish the Police!
It may seem odd to call for the abolishment of the police given the narrative of violence Black students face. It would seem that students should call for more police protection to ensure their safety due to experiences such as death threats. However, the anecdote illustrates a larger point: a point larger than the ACLU lawyers who discussed taking on the case were going to address.
The ACLU lawyers might have sued Howard Gillman, Thomas Parham, Edgar Dormitorio and Mark Deppe for violating students’ civil rights—what one lawyer has called equal protection under the law: making the students write an apology in order to be protected from vigilante violence, as well as denouncing them in the press for conducting the affairs of student government as they saw fit. However, we, the Black Student Union, see a bigger problem. The problem is that policing as an institution is unethical; it accompanies anti-Black violence. A non-deputized Black person could never do the following: hold six right-wing students hostage in an administration building, while violating their civil rights; make police protection from anonymous violence contingent upon them signing a document; and, force these students to apologize for refusing to fly red, black and green Black Liberation flags in their student organizations’ commons. The police are always already on the other side, ideologically and historically. Police kill Black women and men in cold blood as it is necessary for societal operation. They protect the general interests of those who threaten the safety and sanity of Black students in the university, which is seen with the Black woman on Legislative Council. “[This] matter of anti-Black police violence as an element of the reproductive oppression [against] Black women” is “an issue of pressing importance to those who advocate for choice, self-determination, and dignity.” “Black feminist politics not only draws attention to the fact that Black women and girls also suffer the same forms of state-sanctioned violence typically associated with Black men and boys— that is, they are killed directly by police officers, security guards, and vigilantes. It also holds in place the understanding that every time these same forces kill Black men and boys they are victimizing, directly and indirectly, those Black women and girls who raise and care for them.”
Following Reconstruction, vigilante groups, such as the KKK, acted as additional paramilitary forces that enacted violence against Black people with the support and participation of white political and communal actors. In contemporary times the police and all other paramilitary forces intimidate, imprison, sexually assault, and murder Black people. This creates a violent space for students for the mere fact that institutions of higher learning should occupy and provide safe spaces to learn, think, and intellectually grow. The police operating on UCI’s campus problematizes the notion that the university is, in fact, a safe space to learn, think and grow for Black students. Therefore, all institutions of higher learning, such as the University of California, are extensions of this unethical institution of policing, and the demand for its abolishment is long overdue.
Abolish the Police!
As we relaunch demands for the 2015-2016 academic school year, we, the Black Student Union, demand that UCIPD and any additional paramilitary force presence on campus be dismantled. Given the history of policing, this presence is detrimental and unsafe for Black students. The demand that the police be dismantled is no more and no less radical than the demand that the prison industrial complex be dismantled— a demand initiated by prominent California professors, students, grassroots organizers and community members when, in 1998, they launched Critical Resistance at UC Berkeley. While we know the value of prison reform and the value of curbing the violent behavior of police toward Black people, we also know that the prison industrial complex and the “Cop on the Beat” are modern incarnations of the antebellum plantation and slave patrols. Just as activists across the country have said no to the plantation, we, the BSU at UCI, are saying NO to the slave patrols! We are not willing to settle for a kinder, gentler slave patrol system called the police force. We call for its abolishment.
Police presence on campus is a manifestation of anti-Black aggression. This aggression produces the same psychic damage and racial terror that Black folks suffer from beyond the university. The university purports to be a “safe” space, a place for all students to excel academically—but instead, the university engages in a range of practices and policies that reaffirm the message that we, Black people, are America’s internal enemies. The police are emblematic of an endless array of dead Black bodies, the death of our loved ones, and of our communities.
Abolish the Police!
Rent-a-Cop: The weaponization and deputation of non-Blacks. When the university validates policing, there is neither cognition nor recognition of empathy for Black suffering. The need for non-Black persons to ignore, rationalize and normalize anti-Black violence renders it both invisible and hyper-visible. When George Zimmerman’s assertion of “legitimate” authority—acting as a Community Watchdog—results in the murder of Trayvon Martin, it exemplifies the impunity with which non-Black deputies operate. This also illustrates how and why “peace officers,” “neighborhood watch personnel,” and “community service officers,” are not the only agents that police Black bodies. The mere presence of Black people, especially Black transgendered and gender nonconforming persons, threatens the normative standards of civil society. Moreover, a police presence is needed to extort gratuitous violence on Black bodies thereby allowing non-Blacks to conceptualize their own humanity at the expense of Black people. In other words, non-Black agents feel a responsibility to surveil Black bodies and they are deputized to pursue this need. Civilians (including but not limited to; professors, teaching assistants, counselors, faculty, staff, coaches, and non-Black students) have been deputized as the police, regulating and maintaining what some scholars call a carceral continuum—a social world that incarcerates Black people’s thoughts, whereabouts, and actions. This is why we do not want a paramilitary substitute for the police; the aforementioned dynamic is directly linked to the historical legacy of slave patrols:
“[A]mong the earliest of the colonial acts in 1686 is one that gave any person the right to apprehend, properly chastise, and send home any slave who might be found off his master’s plantation without a ticket. In 1690 it was made the (duty) of all persons under penalty of forty shillings to arrest and chastise any slave (found) out of his home plantation without a proper ticket. This deputization granted non-Blacks the ability to punish wandering slaves.”
Abolish the Police!
How Campaigns for Police Reform Embolden the Institution of Policing and Contribute to an Increase in Police Militarization and Anti-Black Violence, Despite Progressives’ Good Intentions.
The need to dismantle UCIPD and bar the occupation of any additional paramilitary force on campus does not stem from any spectacular event of violence: it stems from the anti-Black paradigm of policing. After the 1992 Los Angeles riots in response to the acquittal of the LAPD officers’ charged with the videotaped beating of Rodney King, and after the ‘Justice for Diallo’ movement in NYC, police violence increased, becoming more brazen across the country. Police murders multiplied and police authority increased. The anti-racist campaigns and uprisings against police violence were co-opted by the police to augment their violence, rather than effectively close it down as many organizers had intended.
Similarly, the recent organizing done in Black cities and locales across the country and hemisphere are met with the deadly force of the police. Policing of Black people is rooted in the depoliticization of Black ideas and the reaffirmation of society’s scripture of the Black body as criminal. Even in the discretion each officer has in choosing how they police, one must realize that this discretion is saturated with implicit biases rooted in an anti-Black animus that functions to justify the violence and dehumanization of the Black body. Shying away from this idea is choosing to misunderstand the structure of anti-Blackness and choosing to affirm the logic of reform that champions Black death and the policing of the Black body as a necessity.
The UC system favors police reform, as is evident in the recent decision made under the Office of the President, Janet Napolitano, to approve funding for the implementation of police body camera programs across the UC system. Body cameras serve as a ruse of progress. Fitting police officers with cameras to make them more accountable gestures to the Jim Crow era to create a pleasurable spectacles of lynching video postcards. Hence, this initiates another gradation in the nation’s long history of anti-Black surveillance. Police reform is paradoxical because the police are already accountable in their function as neo-slave patrols; there is no way an institution that is synchronically and diachronically unethical at its very core can be logically and radically amended or reformed to become more ethical or less unethical.
To understand why police reform is not a sustainable option, we need to interrogate the police as an institution. As stated above, policing is historically unethical, but it is also an unethical arrangement of power. Our demand for the dismantling of the police is motivated by our desire to strike at the structure of policing and avoid the pitfalls of past movements that have been stymied by the rhetoric of “a few bad apples” or “excessive use of force.” Jared Sexton and Steve Martinot explain the pitfalls of such piecemeal rhetoric—how and why it leads to faulty theorization of police power and feeds Black peoples’ frustrations. The first pitfall is that we end up “calling upon it for protection from its own agents.” They continue by asking:
“[W]hat are we doing when we demonstrate against police brutality, and find ourselves tacitly calling upon the government to help us do so? [N]otions of the state as the arbiter of justice and the police as the unaccountable arbiters of lethal violence are two sides of the same coin. Narrow understandings of mere racism are proving themselves impoverished because they cannot see this fundamental relationship. What is needed is the development of a radical critique of the structure of the coin.”
Our demand wants to do away with the existence of the coin in totality —not just flip it so it can show face while Black people continue to die. The challenge for political organizations has not been one of understanding but a problem of granting themselves permission to stay on point; Sexton and Martinot elaborate on this claim:
“[W]hen the protest movements [in the 1990s] made public statements they expressed an understanding of police violence as the rule of the day and not as a shocking exception. However, when it came time to formulate practical proposals to change the fundamental nature of policing, all they could come up with concretely were more oversight committees, litigation, and civilian review boards (‘with teeth’), none of which lived up to the collective intuition about what the police were actually doing. The protest movements’ readings of these events didn’t seem able to bridge the gap to the programmatic.” 4
It is our belief that this inability to bridge the gap to the programmatic (to interrogate policing as an institution, and not as merely a set of practices that can be carried out humanely or inhumanely) has led us to the point where we are today—which is the same place we were twenty and two hundred years ago. The paradox is that our legacy of struggling for police reform has been one of the catalysts for the intensification rather than the diminishment of police violence.
The call for police reform fails to recognize that policing and police violence are inextricable. It also fails to comprehend how policing as a normalized operating principle and function of an anti-Black civil society masks the gratuitous violence inflicted upon Black bodies in the name of justice. And, as Martinot and Sexton write, such calls obscure the ways in which our campaigns for reform have emboldened the police. Police violence (racial profiling, street murders, excessive force, domestic terrorism, sexual violence, the militarization of police) is the standard operant of policing itself.4 This violence is so incommensurable, there is no measurable standard to judge or compare it by and this violence knows no limits.
Abolish the Police!
The Black student lived through her ordeal and was lucky to live long enough to graduate. However, those of us who remain should not have to go to school with that lethal violence stalking us. Her work reflected her passion to explore racial oppression on campus but the Office of Student Affairs’ insistence that she silence herself or face threats signals the university's endorsement of and complicity with anti-Black violence. The university is an anti-Black institution, and as such, has failed to address Black suffering on its campus. In addition, the university does not adhere to Black student concerns which is evident in its pursuit to increase the police presence on campus regardless of instances of Black death and police violence. Therefore, our demand does not call for the reform of UCIPD, it calls for the dismantling of this institution's presence in its entirety. We DEMAND for its abolishment, now!