Content warning: police violence
Weapons that launch tear gas into large crowds, and a police force with full range to cause death or very serious injury at their discretion, are among the new, vaguely worded policies that will serve as the basis for UC police forces sent to control student protests.
These new policies, written into what is known as the Gold Book, provide UCPD with millions of dollars that go toward equipment and a larger jurisdiction for campus officers. While the policies increase police department resources, they do not provide clear rules to ensure accountability on the part of officers.
These proposed policies were open for public comment after their announcement on Feb. 5. The UC has extended the period to provide comments until May 31 after backlash from organizations, including UC Santa Cruz’s Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) graduate student organization and the nationwide coalition Cops Off Campus. Comments can be directed toward specific UCs or to the UC system overall.
As the policies are currently written, it is unclear the extent to which the police can apply the new guidelines. With growing calls for UCPD to be abolished on campus, questions remain about the efficacy and usefulness these policies have in protecting students and faculty.
Recent History of Unnecessary Force on UC Campuses
On the first day of the COLA strike, Feb. 10, 2020, graduate student Sabrina Shirazi was left battered and bedridden by UCSC campus police, to the point of being hospitalized. She has not yet reached any settlement with the university.
“I was not impeding the police, and they were not trying to arrest me. In fact, I was surrounded by officers and unable to leave when they hit me repeatedly,” Shirazi described the scene in a public statement in March 2020. “Within the area of the crowd I was in, I had the darkest skin and features, and I suspect I was racially targeted by police.”
Just one year after the incident, the University of California Office of the President’s (UCOP) new UCPD policies outline vague guidelines about use of force by officers in regards to new body cam rules and System Wide Response Teams (SRTs).
Organizations across the UC system have been speaking out against police presence on campus since before the policies were released, including Cops Off Campus and student worker unions.
“Personal safety is an absolute requirement at work and on campus,” said UAW 2865 president, Rafael Jaime in an email. “The data is clear: police consistently and unfairly target, harass, and abuse people of color, with no justification. It is essential to our safety that they are removed from campus, so we can live our lives, do our jobs, and contribute to UC’s education and research missions.”
Jaime said that these policies go directly against the union’s work to fight racial discrimination in the workplace. UAW 2865 represents over 19,000 academic student employees throughout the UC system, includings teaching assistants and tutors. It was one of the first to call for the disaffiliation of the police union in 2015 from their labor conference.
SRTs will be equipped with, but not limited to, chemical agents (such as tear gas) and projectile devices to propel and disperse them, 36-inch batons, full-body riot gear, gas masks, and equipment intended to obstruct protestor devices.
“If you give people toys, they’re going to want to use them,” said UC Santa Barbara Cops Off Campus organizer Sheila Kulkarni. “So, if you give police who already have these drastic powers in our society even more power and control to kill and terrorize people, they’re going to do it. Because that’s what these things are meant to do.”
Student Organizing Against New Policies
At the February 2020 COLA strike, 30 to 100 cops were placed at the base of campus over the course of three days, arresting 19 people.
A UCSB grad student and COLA organizer, Caroline Jenkins* said that these teams will most likely be responding to events like the COLA protests. She described the new SRTs essentially as a mini National Guard or SWAT team for the UCs.
UCSC associate professor and Cops Off Campus faculty organizer, Nick Mitchell, said that by creating the SRTs and building an infrastructure for them, the UCs are giving more ability to suppress student protests.
Mitchell was shocked in his initial reaction to the policies, calling them brazen and disrespectful.
“I found them surprising in light of the fact that they’re coming in the wake of a global uprising of criticism of the institution of policing,” Mitchell said. “It’s [a] systematic and racialized enactment of violence. These policies funnel more resources, more legitimacy, and more organizing capacity into policing.”
Jenkins said that the new policies show where the UC’s priorities lie, even though the administration continuously states that they understand the harm police cause in many communities.
In an email statement on May 29., Chancellor Larive wrote about George Floyd’s murder, emphasizing the work to be done within the university to change the systems that target BIPOC. This past April, following the guilty verdict of Derick Chauvin in April, Chancellor Larive issued another statement.
“Black lives matter on our campus and everywhere, and we must deliver that message unequivocally,” Chancellor Larive said in the statement. “We will continue our efforts to implement policing approaches that build trust and earn the support of our community.”
Jenkins explained the recurring emails, received from the administration after police killings around the nation, to be disingenuous.
“[These policies] really show that actions come before words,” Jenkins said. “While they’re sending out statements they’re also trying to increase policing on campuses, increase the weapons, increase the police budgets and their jurisdiction. This really is telling of how the UC [doesn’t] want to decrease policing, in fact, they want to increase it.”
Angie Lou, one of the graduate students involved in the COLA layoffs and organizer for UCSC Cops Off Campus, was at the strike when Shirazi was beaten by campus police. After having witnessed the violence perpetrated by campus police at the COLA protest, Lou said that reading the new policies was disappointing, but in no way surprising.
Lou recounted the force used on protestors that day, calling it traumatic not only for her, but also for her peers and colleagues who are still recovering physically and emotionally.
“There is no reconciliation without abolition,” Lou said. “These sorts of reformist policies are trying to perfect the institution of policing more than they are trying to actually abolish it, which is the opposite of what we want. We are wary of all efforts that are trying to subsume the movement into the ontological grammar of the institution as it stands, because we are not interested in protecting a system that was never created to protect us.”
*Source requested to use a pseudonym to protect their privacy.