In her statement on the death of George Floyd, Chancellor Carol Christ urged us to “call out and hold accountable our broken structures, build bridges that will lead to mutual understanding and respect across differences, and work to create a future in which we can all thrive.”
She followed these lines with a list of campus wellness resources. To substantiate her words, however, the chancellor needs to intervene with material actions: drastically defunding the campus police while working toward complete abolition, cutting ties with the Berkeley Police Department and advocating for demilitarization, disarmament and disaffiliation systemwide.
The necessity of these actions is acute. UCPD’s recent history of racial profiling, race-based over-policing and police violence is stark, to which reports from UC Davis, UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz testify. Meanwhile, as of May, the UC police system has disclosed almost no records about accountability for use-of-force incidents, while its reporting website has not been updated since 2016.
In many ways, UC Berkeley police are the most troubling in the system. For too long, a lack of accountability, a long-term process of militarization and galling practices of racial violence have marked the record of our campus force.
In October 2018, the East Bay Express published data indicating the extent of UCPD’s over-policing of Black and Latinx people between 2010 and 2017. The statistics show that UCPD disproportionately stopped, searched and arrested these members of the city’s community, yet the campus did not have any protocol in place for assessing or responding to this data’s implications.
Campus leadership’s lack of action perpetuates discriminatory policing. When one offers words of support to victims of police violence without dismantling its sources, it is painfully unsurprising that incidents continue to proliferate.
In February 2018, UCPD violently attacked a Black UC Berkeley employee, David Cole, at an union demonstration. During the incident, two UCPD officers pushed Cole’s neck into the cement.
In March 2019, two Black students were arrested with excessive force for possession of a taser. Despite protests and calls for investigation from the ASUC, the officers were not suspended.
Months later, UCPD officers detained two children, handcuffing an 11-year-old, and placed them in a squad car under protest of a witness who later described the children as “violently assaulted.”
The chancellor’s office has remained deaf to calls for checks on police brutality and overspending for many years. For instance, eight years ago, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau failed to oppose the BPD’s use of batons to remove peaceful Occupy protesters from campus.
That same year, UC Berkeley collaborated with the city’s police department on plans to buy a $200,000 armored vehicle. The deal was scrapped due to public outcry, but a similar purchase was approved in 2016.
Beyond our immediate campus, UC Santa Cruz has also experienced the intense militarization of the police. On multiple occasions, Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer told graduate students that campus administration was spending $300,000 per day on police during the wildcat strike. The purpose of that sum, reportedly taken from a $120 million discretionary fund at Chancellor Cynthia Larive’s command, was to use National Guard surveillance technology to monitor the picket line.
Amid the UC system’s COVID-19 austerity measures, these expenditures are disturbing. Less profligate but just as insidious, the UC Santa Cruz campus force disproportionately issued tickets to Black, Latinx and undocumented student activists. No matter the intention, such actions leverage these students’ socioeconomic precarity to menace activists and break a labor action.
At UC Berkeley, Christ’s words commit to the structural overhaul we need to pursue institutional equity, but the alignment of a robust police presence with the campus’s political objectives speaks otherwise.
At a time when these issues are at the forefront of our consciousness, we should swiftly begin the process of police abolition, setting the direction for the iterative conversations we’ll need to pursue this goal in the months ahead.
To start, we can realize student-led proposals already on the books, such as the ASUC’s 2017-18 resolution for the limitation of police on campus. We can also remove the chief of police from the ASUC’s oversight board, which permits UCPD to regulate student activity and campus life.
Financially, we can reflect critically on the fact that nearly all full-time UCPD employees make more than $100,000 per year. In the midst of a hiring freeze, addressing payroll — and eliminating the practice of disbursing discretionary funds from the chancellor’s office to UCPD — would be an administratively efficient method of reducing the $24 million UCPD budget to support funds that wellness programs and equity initiatives desperately require.
Further, to follow the commitment that University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel recently made, the chancellor can advocate for the elimination of the three-pronged administrative, geographic and operational agreement dictating joint cooperation between UCPD and BPD.
Christ speaks of broken structures and lost accountability. The gravity of her words is appropriate to the moment. What we need now is swift and decisive administrative action for campus abolition and the repudiation of the city’s police.
Rumur Dowling is a graduate student in the UC Berkeley English department.