Around late January, UC Irvine’s Black Student Union (UCIBSU) published a list of demands on both the Afrikan Black Coalition website and Change.org directed toward members of the UCI administration, such as UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman. While the former consisted of various demands for more resources ranging from the establishment of the Marsha P. Johnson Black Student Resource, Outreach and Retention Center to a permanent task force dedicated to hiring and retention of black faculty and staff, the latter had one focused demand — for the UCI Police Department (UCIPD) to be abolished. In the form of a petition that has, as of Feb. 7, accumulated 382 signatures.
UCIBSU cited a number of reasons to justify this demand — from the treatment and lack of protection for the six students of Associated Students of UCI (ASUCI) last year, to the repercussions of a policing institution (like UCIPD) has on black students, such as “creating a violent space for students.” During winter quarter of 2015, UCI was faced with national attention due to a proposal calling for the the ban of all flags, including the American flag, from hanging in the student government lobby. Although this was a campus matter, the six ASUCI students who supported the ban faced a backlash paired with threats of violence. One student received death threats accompanied with calls to “go back across the border.” Another student, who is black, received death threats that she would be hanged by a lynch mob.
While UCIBSU should voice their concerns about the existence of anti-black violence, their demand for the abolishment of the university’s local police force is not the necessary step to address such violence.
According to UCIBSU’s petition, the six students who supported the ban were called into a room, left to wait for hours and forced by ASUCI professional staff member Mark Deppe and Chief of Staff in Student Affairs Edgar Dormitorio to sign an apology letter “specifying true patriotism, gratitude to the university and concern for the University’s reputation”or else the students would be withheld any protection from the university, according the the petition.
Even though the petition does not cite other instances of discrimination by administration outside of the one mentioned, UCIBSU is right in stating their concerns over the treatment of the students by Deppe and Dormitorio. Violence against black individuals perpetuated by institutions, ranging from the prison system to police forces, is prevalent throughout our society; the shooting of Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin come to mind. However, this concern does not justify the abolishment of UCIPD, as it is an institution necessary for the protection of UCI students, staff and faculty.
That is not to say incidents of black discrimination have not occurred on campus before. Within the last five years, two notable instances include the UCI campus dining hall serving chicken and waffles on the same day as the Martin Luther King Jr. symposium and UCI Lambda Theta Delta rush video’s visible blackface. This proves that the UCI campus is not an institution of complete inclusivity as it tries to demonstrate in its milestones.
Abolishing UCIPD would leave all students without a resource that is solely focused on creating a safe environment on campus. In a time where one mass shooting happens every day in America, institutions like UCIPD are necessary to keep campuses safe, as they provide resources such as updates on recent crimes and surveillance on campus. Nearly one in five college women report being victims of rape or attempted rape and UCIPD services like its Safety Escort Program offer a safe alternative to walking alone at night. It’s an institution, which although can be associated with anti-black violence, is necessary for campus safety.
Furthermore, what UCIBSU’s petition fails to address is what steps should be taken after UCIPD is abolished. Who should continue these resources after UCIPD is gone? Will it be the community or the students or the faculty? UCIPD was created due to the need of these resources, a need for a community institution devoted to safety.
Instead of seeking to abolish a resource necessary for the community, UCIPD should be reformed to meet concerns of hostility. Despite UCIBSU’s statement that “there is no way an institution (like UCIPD or other police forces) 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,” reform is necessary due to UCIPD’s necessity to the community. Demands should be made toward reforming the culture within UCIPD via requiring officers to attend seminars on racial sensitivity and diversity to better educate themselves on notions like racial profiling, since last fall UCIPD officers mistook a black male as a burglar in his own home. Demands should be made asking UCIPD to organize student outreach events in order to stay connected to the community they serve. Demands should be made toward investigating claims directly associated with Deppe and Dormitorio, because, as the mere existence of UCIBSU’s petition demonstrates, their roles within last year’s flag ban debacle are questionable.
UCIBSU is justified in voicing their concerns about how black students may be treated at UCI, as previous incidents have demonstrated, yet its solution to anti-black violence via abolishing UCIPD would only serve to hinder the campus and community by disposing of a valuable resource.