by Brandon Buchanan, Kyla Burke and Emily Breuninger
Davis Stands with Ferguson organized last Tuesday’s protest on campus, calling for students, administrators, and campus police to take action about systemic racism and violence in our community. As an intersectional group committed to justice, and committed to addressing our community’s needs, we realized we must end our complicity with the following: private prisons; police intervention and militarization; and the continuing vilification and criminalization of the Black body. Reflecting on the overlap of the UC Davis campus and larger systems of racism and oppression we realized there were two key areas for demanding change:
1. We demand the disarmament of campus police; particularly lethal and military grade weapons.
2. We demand UC Davis divest from companies directly and indirectly involved in the prison industry.
When confronted by systemic racism, administration often says that the answer lies in “investing in recruitment and retention.” While investing in valuable recruitment and retention programs, the University is also enforcing and investing in the violence that makes attending institutions of higher learning dangerous for students of color. This contradictory aspect of the University arises from the neo-liberal and multicultural shift in the University; a shift that does little to address the foundations of the University built on white supremacy and racism.
Our investments in the prison system and our continued militarization and armament of police are not the result of an oversight but arise directly from the logic that shapes our University. Davis Stands with Ferguson demands that we align the stated goals of the University with their actions – that they invest in recruitment and retention by ending our investments in private prisons and disarming campus police. Our community is not isolated, and the University’s reach is not small. If administrators want to recruit students they cannot support the incarceration of communities of color and the policing of students of color on campus.
Divesting from Private Prisons
These demands arise out of a broad analysis of power, and are clear, concrete steps that we can take here at UC Davis. The first of these demands, divestment from private prisons, is grounded firmly in an actionable item that all can participate in. The prison industrial complex, a system Michelle Alexander aptly calls “The New Jim Crow,” is an industry built off of the perpetual growth of prisons – the ever increasing policing, arrest, and incarceration of people. We have invested in a system that incarcerates more Black men than were enslaved in 1850. We are invested in a system of incarceration meant to brutalize and control Black bodies. We are invested in the business of imprisonment; of women, of immigrants, of queer folks, of all those deemed undesirable by a system which determines humanity to be white, masculine, cis-, and straight.
Disarm Police Forces
The policing of Black bodies and performance are also enforced here at UC Davis. We demand the disarming of campus police because we recognize them as the instruments of racial and state violence that they are. Policing, as an institution, arose largely from runaway slave patrols and the black codes that incarcerated newly freed slaves. This history of violence dovetails into the growth of campus police. Campus forces gained widespread popularity after the student protests of the 60s and 70s produced identity resource centers, cultural centers, and equal opportunity programs – all of which made higher education more accessible for students of color, women, and queer folk. With the rise of marginalized communities within higher education, we also see a rise in campus policing. When we speak of “safety,” we have to ask safety for whom. Sam Dubose, Zikarious Flint, Antonio Guzman Lopez were not protected by armed campus police. The increasing armament and militarization of police forces doesn’t protect the student body, it protects interests which are contradictory to our well-being, and quells student protest when we seek to advocate for ourselves.
Moving Beyond Discussion
Addressing these problems requires more than discussion. Many members of our group have attended the police forums mentioned by the Aggie’s Editorial Board and found that not only have the forums been unhelpful, they have displayed law enforcement’s deep lack of knowledge about their own institution as well as the needs of the community. The problems with policing are not going to be solved by discussing the logic of policing with armed individuals who will defend their institution before the community. The concept of dialogue is one in which all are brought together as equals, an equality impossible with the threat of lethal force available to campus police. There are historical and social reasons why we have seen a move towards “discussion” as the means of solving social problems, especially on University campuses. Within our classrooms and educational spaces educators must ensure that students engage and actively listen to each other – they ask that students ask hard questions about themselves and the society they are building. But this, as with any pedagogical tool has its limits. The use of “discussion,” particularly by administrators represents one of the problems with the University. A recent example of this comes from former University of Missouri President Wolfe:
“Change comes from listening, learning, caring, and conversation. We have to respect each other enough to stop yelling at each other and start listening, and quit intimidating each other through either our role or whatever means that we decide to use.”
An exemplary sociologist of race, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva argues this is a perfect example of what he calls “abstract liberalism.” This liberalism calls for continued dialogue, decrying protest as foreclosing discussion, without recognizing that students of color are having these discussion every day – and that we are taking to the streets after exhausting ourselves trying to educate instead of dismantling the unequal power that exists on our campus. UC Davis deserves a community where safety and diversity are not buzzwords to which campus officers pay lip service; a community in which campus police lay aside their capacity to end student lives and our administrators invest ethically businesses that don’t profit off the incarceration of our communities.
Between our administrators and our police department we ask, “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” History, current campus climate, and an analysis of systems of power yield a clear answer – not students, and certainly not students of color. We have to demand real change, systemic change, and that has to start with divestment and disarmament. We ask our fellow students to join us in our call for justice – this is our community, our school, and only we can turn back the tide of militarization and systemic racism.