A digital illustration of a banner reading "care not cops!" being dropped from the top story of a parking garage.
Illustration by Yitong Lei.

All nine UC campuses engaged in direct action on Oct. 1 in support of abolishing the UC Police Department: a banner drop from a parking garage in Davis, a march in Santa Barbara, a virtual protest for San Diego, a teach-in with abolitionist organization Critical Resistance in Riverside, just to name a few. At UCSC, a caravan parked in front of Chancellor Larive’s gate to make their demands. 

The direct action campaign was organized by the coalition to abolish the University of California Police Department (UCPD), which went public on social media on Sept. 1, 2020. The group coalesces behind several names, including the “UC Abolition Coalition” and “Abolish UCPD.” Actions were supported by many current and former faculty members, including UCSC distinguished professor emerita Angela Davis.

The coalition is working towards the complete and total abolition of UCPD by Sept. 1, 2021, giving the UC administration a chance to meet demands within exactly one year. The rise of the coalition follows the nationwide protests sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless other Black Americans across the U.S.

“The uprisings around the country and around the world are a legitimate response to the kind of violence that Black people and people of color experience from the police, and that has definitely pushed our organizing around policing and police on campus much further,” said UCSC Ph.D. candidate Yulia Gilichinskaya. 

Abolish UCPD defines abolition not only as getting cops off campus, but also building harm reduction collectives, mental health services, housing and food for all, and free tuition.

Though the UC systemwide coalition is new, the framework for abolitionist organizing has been laid out by student groups before. Across the campuses, undocumented students, Black Student Unions, the People’s Coalition, and other groups have all advocated for the UC to ban police and ICE on campus in recent years.

Nader Oweis, UCSC Chief of Police, says that the police department has tried to engage with the campus community and has always welcomed dialogue towards change and reform.

“We do a lot to make sure that the community voice is heard. We do a lot to recognize the community and the way it wants its police department to provide its services,” said Oweis.

Additionally, he recommends that students engage in these dialogues by attending a 2-unit, quarterlong Community Police Academy course hosted by the UCSC police department so that students can engage in conversation about the role of law enforcement on campus and build relationships with UCSCPD.

Coalition organizers have pointed to past interactions between the campus community and police. “During the graduate student strike, we saw how UCSC used the police against the student body,” said Gilichinskaya. “We see how labor organizing is directly related to, and suppressed by, the police.”

Gilichinskaya also referred to the $300,000 spent per day hiring police, a number confirmed by Lori Kletzer at the Academic Senate meeting on Feb. 19, 2020, as well as the confirmed use of military grade surveillance technology to gather information from the student body.

According to Gilichinskaya and other organizers, the coalition’s primary focus right now is on political education, direct action, and reallocating university funds towards abolitionist alternatives. There are plans to utilize webinars, teach-ins, and educational materials to help bring more students and faculty into the movement.

The coalition’s social media pages provide information about the UCPD — how much money the UC allocates towards it, which officers have targeted student organizing groups, which ones have been dismissed from charges, and which campuses they work at.

One of the group’s other goals is to work with students on building community. Amidst a global pandemic and remote learning, building community through direct actions and mutual aid may be a challenge.

Regardless, their vision of abolition requires building power for communities wherever they are in whatever ways community members see fit. 

“As Mariame Kaba puts it, we are trying to create the necessary conditions to ensure the possibility of a world without prisons and police. That can begin with policy, but it also involves building grassroots communities of students, workers, and community members that work to keep each other safe,” said Charmaine Chua, UCSB assistant professor in the department of global studies and one of the Abolish UCPD faculty organizers.

Though it’s unclear what will happen if the UC fails to meet demands by next fall, organizers understand that this campaign will regardless span over more than a year.

“This is not just a yearlong campaign because we recognize that true abolition requires the abolition of intersecting logics of power and intersecting forms of oppression,” Chua said. “We are in this work for our lifetimes.”