The Student Policy Institute at Berkeley, or SPIB, hosted a panel Wednesday at campus’ Goldman School of Public Policy to discuss policing in the East Bay. Organized by SPIB’s advocacy department, the panel featured Berkeley Law criminal justice professor Jonathan Simon, Underground Scholars Initiative member Cesar Garcia and campus legal studies major Spring Keosoupha.
The panel, which was co-sponsored by the Underground Scholars Initiative, or USI, and the Teach in Prison program, focused on how public policy can be used as a tool for police accountability, according to an SPIB email sent to attendees.
Keosoupha, who grew up in Oakland, shared a personal experience from the first time she came into contact with the police while riding BART with friends as a teenager.
“I guess somewhere along the train, someone was creating a disturbance,” Keosoupha said. “They found me, the only Black woman present on the train, and put me in handcuffs and pulled me off the tracks.”
Keosoupha said that police presence while growing up in Oakland was allegedly “always negative,” especially for people of color and those living in poverty.
The conversation also heavily focused on the UCPD, their role on campus and the extent to which the system in place incorporates accountability.
Simon highlighted that because UCPD is a state police department, they are protected by the Police Officers Bill of Rights, which sets restrictions on how police misconduct can be investigated and what consequences can be enacted.
“The university is still reshaping its civilian review process for police misconduct, but it’s going to come down to the police chief,” Simon said. “By law, that is the only person that can discipline a police officer in California.”
Cesar Garcia said that UCPD has a “privileged sense of space and power,” and Keosoupha mentioned the experiences that different groups on campus may have with policing.
She noted that she and other students of color often feel like they are constantly under police suspicion, and she feels uncomfortable asking for help from an officer as she doesn’t know what reaction to expect.
Simon discussed the way the WarnMe system on campus keeps crime at the forefront of peoples’ minds, adding it forces the community to deprioritize other prevalent issues in the community, such as hate or discrimination. He noted having a more comprehensive picture of the “clusters of danger” on campus can allow the community to direct action elsewhere.
“We can create a space where we can learn from and help people in the community so they can articulate and define what their priorities are,” Simon said.