Statement from the Davis Phoenix Coalition regarding the white supremacist violence at UC Davis
Last night’s violence at UC Davis sparked by the speaker event hosted by a chapter of the right-wing organization, Turning Point USA, illustrates how these anti-democracy institutions weaponize free speech to activate their supporters and provoke these exact responses.
The playbook is, unfortunately, well-worn yet effective: Claiming free speech rights, organizers deliberately choose an abhorrent topic that denigrates the personhood of marginalized communities. Examples of this include the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, and non-white communities. In this case, last night’s speaker was a Black “conservative” who contends, against decades of multi-disciplinary evidence, that structural racism is a myth.
Such speech is not “harmless” to these communities. The right wing seeks to establish an alternative narrative of history—divorced from evidence and facts—that blames the victims of systemic discrimination for their own oppression and, therefore, reasserts the “natural” superiority of a white, patriarchal, and heteronormative leadership for our nation. The most obvious manifestation of this objective is Trumpism: the backlash to Barack Obama’s presidency and the effort to undo his legacy and the conditions that made his election to the Oval Office possible. The right wing targets college campuses to attempt to sway new voters into believing their version of America—one in which diversity, equity, and inclusion are not an unfinished effort to make our nation a more perfect democracy and union, but a threat to the Founders’ original intentions of a white, male, property-holding, Christian-run country.
Marginalized communities and their allies rightly feel the threat of these events. It’s both terrifying and enraging to know that indoctrination against your community is happening where you live. The event organizers deliberately try to draw out-of-town sympathizers with their bigotry, knowing that these tensions may erupt into violence.
Davis Phoenix Coalition was on the scene last night at the event, the protest, and the attack by the right-wing extremist organization, the Proud Boys. After careful study of the strategy and tactics of these organizations as well as successful actions against them, we had selected our response to the event, which was to ask people to “sponsor” every person who attended the event. People would pledge to donate between 10 cents and 5 dollars for every person who entered the Conference Center to hear the speaker. The funds raised would then be devoted to anti-racism work, split between our organization and the Davis High School Black Student Union, which had recently been harassed by a white supremacist at the Homecoming Parade. Our action was non-confrontational, humorous, and materially effective against the ideology that would be promoted inside. It allowed members of the public to participate in undermining the event while also staying safe.
In the mêlée last night, the Proud Boys consistently initiated violence. How did we know it was the Proud Boys? Their logos were proudly visible on their clothing, taking up their entire torsos. Some of them were familiar faces from previous actions in Yolo County. They sneaked up on distracted protesters and sprayed them with pepper spray. They physically assaulted three protesters who were not dressed in all black and were clearly unprepared for an attack. Again, no police were present, and the private security did not get involved. Other protesters leapt to the defense of people being attacked, and eventually, they were able to run off the Proud Boys.
To be clear: the protesters did not initiate physical violence, but if they used it, it was in defense of people assaulted by the Proud Boys.
Shortly after this, DPC representatives left, and we heard the protest ended minutes afterwards.
We understand that UC Davis, as a public university, has a legal obligation to allow such events to be held on campus in accordance with free speech rights. As a private event that is not sponsored by the university, UC Davis is also not obligated to have UC Davis police at the event, which is why the only security at the event is private and contracted. The university’s hands are tied.
For members of marginalized communities, institutions historically have not been built, structurally, to protect us. Protesters chant, “We keep us safe!” because it is true: were police present at the event, they would have been as likely or more likely to arrest protesters as Proud Boys. Police enforce the law, but the law makes no distinction between acts committed to defend marginalized communities and acts committed against them, as we have seen in other situations, from the Civil Rights Movement from last century to Black Lives Matter protests today. Likewise, the LGBTQ+ community has a long history of a contentious relationship with the police, from the Stonewall Uprising to the ACT-UP movement.
We at the Davis Phoenix Coalition recognize that no simple, direct solution exists to this problem, because the factors that give rise to it are multifaceted. We deplore the act of protesters ramming a metal barrier into the doors of the Conference Center because we view such an act as unhelpful and, in fact, counterproductive to our goal of protecting our marginalized community members.
But while our disagreement with the protesters is one over tactics, our disagreement with the Proud Boys is larger and more far-reaching: we condemn not only their acts of violence against protesters who had not harmed anyone, but more importantly, we condemn their ideology that leads them to conduct an ongoing, targeted campaign against the freedoms of marginalized communities. They have come to Davis Board of Education meetings to denigrate our school masking policies and to promote themselves and pro-gun violence policies. In the process, they harassed parents and frightened our students. They attempted to shut down a drag event in Woodland, once again trying to stoke fear in our LGBTQ+ community. Violence is at the heart of their beliefs and their methods.
The Davis Phoenix Coalition was formed as a response to a brutal hate crime against a Latino gay man. Our mission is to fight hate crimes, provide support for marginalized communities, and offer education in order to create a more just and inclusive world. We recognize the importance of free speech as well as the dangers of curtailing speech, because such tools can be used against dissent and marginalized voices. Nevertheless, we assert, too, that such events present a danger to our community and attract violent extremists to our city. We will always stand in solidarity with our residents who are threatened by these events, and we will always endeavor to be strategic yet uncompromising in defying such events.
Interested in donating to the Davis Phoenix Coalition’s fundraiser for DPC and the Black Student Union? You can donate or pledge using this form: https://bit.ly/TPfundDPC.