Monday, February 13, 2012

Statement to the UCB Police Review Board

I read the text below at tonight's Police Review Board (PRB) townhall. The PRB has decided that their charge is to determine merely whether police violated 'campus norms' on November 9, and who was responsible for giving them the orders they received. The statement is an attempt to address some of the flawed assumptions underlying this charge.

I'm here to talk a little bit about my experiences on November 9th, but before doing so I wanted to share a few reflections – hopefully not too tedious -- about the role of the police on campus, and about the task of the Police Review Board. I think these reflections will allow my anecdotes about the 9th to be put into a kind of context, and to appear as something other than discrete stories about how campus norms happened to be breached on a particular day last fall.

First, I think it's important to say that the police are not like other groups on campus; they shouldn't be thought of as just another constituent element of some abstract 'campus community', with its contested norms and values. The actions of the police are determined by different protocols than other campus actors (students, workers, instructors, or administrators); they have different means and ends than the rest of us.

The police use various means of compulsion to enforce the law. This is what the police do, whether they work for the UCPD, for OPD, or for any other jurisdiction. On campus, they are also charged with enforcing the student code of conduct.

If a police officer issues a command, whether it be to stop riding your bike through Sproul, to open a door in Wheeler Hall that's been barricaded, to remove your hand from a police barricade, to disperse from a given area, or to take a banner down from the side of Dwinelle Hall, this command carries the force of law. If I don't follow the command, I am potentially subject to arrest or to escalating physical violence.

While the police exist to enforce the law, through violence if necessary, other groups on campus have different aims, and different ways of realizing these aims. Campus administrators see their role as articulating and carrying out campus policies, and as maintaining the conditions under which the educational mission of the university can be fulfilled. Students, workers, and teachers are involved, in various ways, in carrying out aspects of this educational project.

In recent years, different sectors of the university, and different fractions within each sector, have taken contrary views about how best to sustain the educational project of the university in the face of state austerity measures, and these various groups have taken different actions in line with their views. On the one hand, administrators have reacted to declining budgets by hiring the Bain consulting firm to help them implement campus-level austerity measures (esp. OE), by shifting the class and geographic composition of admitted students (to get more money from student fees), by advocating that the campus community lobby state legislators, and by deploying the police whenever protesters have breached the student code of conduct, and sometimes even when they haven't (justifying these deployments with reference to their role as protectors of the educational mission of the university).

Many students, workers, and instructors have responded to cutbacks simply by trying their best to do their jobs, or to study and get a degree, despite worsening conditions of labor and learning. But many within these sectors have also engaged in protest actions of different sorts, in order to reshape campus life and to call for a more egalitarian university. Recent protest actions have offered alternative models of how we might maintain and defend the educational project of the university – models that run counter to those preferred by campus administrators, but that nevertheless operate according to some of the same principles, or with some of the same stated aims.

When campus administrators deploy the police against protesters, however, a third force enters the picture, and this force operates according to very different principles and aims than the other two. Initially, perhaps, the police appear as an arm of the administration, present to enforce the student code of conduct, and thus purportedly to maintain the integrity of campus rules and regulations. The police are ordered by the administration to try and re-open a barricaded classroom building, for instance, or to prevent students from camping on campus. But once they arrive at the site of a protest action, the police can't help but go beyond their initial charge. Because once the police issue a command to protesters, they fundamentally shift the ground of the interaction. What had initially appeared to be an issue of the student code of conduct and its violation, or a manifestation of a dispute about how to maintain the educational project of the university, has suddenly become an issue of legality and illegality, crime and policing. The terms and dynamics of the event have shifted radically.

On November 9th, we set up tents in conscious violation of the student code of conduct, in order to try and establish an occupy encampment on campus and to counter growing inequalities on and beyond campus. Because this violated the code, the administration sent in the police to take down the tents. When we linked arms around the encampment, the police treated us as people who were violating the law, and who were refusing to disperse.

While it might have seemed that the police were simply trying to enforce the student code of conduct, the violence I experienced on the 9th cannot be squared with this view. Almost every time I was struck with a police baton that day – and there were at least a dozen times – the police had already confiscated the tents. They weren't striking me, and many others, because I was preventing them from clearing the tents; they were striking us because we were there, where they didn't want us to be any more. To them, we were remaining at the scene of a crime, or a riot, or were refusing to disperse when ordered, meaning that we were exposed to arrest or escalating physical violence. It wasn't about the tents anymore. It wasn't about the student conduct code, about campus policy or community norms... It was just about policing, with its everyday violence.

The trouble with the Police Review Board is that it is charged with determining whether the UCPD violated community norms on the 9th, and implicitly, whether this violation was justified given protesters' violation of campus policy. But the police don't operate according to community norms or campus policy – they operate according to a fundamentally different logic. That's their job, and that's how they are trained. The PRB is supposed to forget this reality, just as the Chancellor asked us to forget this reality when he sent an email saying that the police used force simply in order to clear the tents and thus maintain the student code of conduct.

The police don't operate according to campus norms or policies, they're not here to maintain the educational project of the university, and for this reason, I think, they don't belong on campus. We should say to the police, and with some courage this Board could say to the UC Police Department: “You can go.”


  1. At the same time, Occupy Cal even more clearly stands outside campus norms.

    You can go.

  2. we're contesting these norms, with an aim to reshape them. this is different than the police, who operate according to an entirely different set of concerns and protocols.

    i'm also not sure how your argument squares with the 5,000 person general assembly held on November 15. participation in occupy cal is evidently fairly common on campus.

  3. It squares nicely with the 10 people at the GA meeting last night.

    It squares nicely with the faculty demands, which specially did not demand police off campus, and pointed out that protest can be outside norms too.

    And it's consistent with the message of this blog, which consistently argues for "overthrow" of the current state, by definition the "norms", of the campus.

  4. i think there's a confusion of categories going on here, which i've perhaps inadvertently enabled. the question, with respect to 'community norms', isn't whether a particular view, or mode of protest, or demand is universally embraced by the campus community, or even embraced by a majority (in the case of occupy cal, the evidence on this score is mixed, and fluid). the question is whether it makes sense within the terms of certain discourses, or articulates itself in relation to particular norms or aims. the argument of this post is that the police operate according to norms or protocols that are fundamentally different than those according to which the rest of us operate, and that, in fact, the way the police are trained to act and respond to different situations actually runs counter to the educational project that all the rest of us at least say we're acting to maintain or uphold, as we saw on november 9.

    on the question of this blog's radicalism, it'd be helpful to have actual examples to discuss... but even a demand as radical as, say, a wholly open campus that's self-managed by those who are now students, workers, instructors, and community memebrs would make sense and be justifiable in part in relation to educational aims, as well as aims of equity and free thought that the current administration purports to embrace. in other words, such a radical project would and does take shape as an immanent critique of existing norms or ideals.

  5. Consider the confusion of categories in the original argument, which conflates police response to mass protest with their very presence on campus. Those are not the same thing. They can and should be considered separately. The daily protective role of the police must be included in any honest discourse about their presence.

    Consider the second night (a Friday) of the Anthro Library occupation as an example. Police were nowhere to be seen at the library. But, according to the Daily Cal, they did get involved in several protective actions elsewhere that evening.

    There is a cost to your category error. At least two students at the PRB last night (could be more, I had to leave early) talked about their "daily fear" of the police or similar. But this fear is due to your category error, of not separating the routine role of the police. The evidence of years of experience is that there is no significant risk of bodily harm to students from the police outside of demonstrations. Yet some students live in fear, a fear you stoke. Why? Are your political goals worth that much to you? Or do you just value others too little?

  6. Okay, the argument above that students live in fear of the police because of a set of blog posts, and not because of police actions over the last few years, is absurd. And yes, faculty at UCD have called for UCPD off campus. Get your facts straight.

    Ask undergraduates with even a shred of desire to participate in political protests and most of them will tell you that they're terrified of being injured by UCPD and about being hit with excessive or fabricated charges if some cop happens to be having a bad day. The administration would like to interpret this as consent or support for UCOP, and for UCPD and its current crowd control practices, but let's be honest here. Please.

    If you want to talk about a fundamental confusion of categories, aside from more cheap radical baiting, why does the UC have a private police department to enforce the student code of conduct? A code which allows incidents like this to occur:

    This is a fundamental question and no you haven't answered it.

  7. (I'm the 1st anon above, but not 2nd or 3rd; I mostly agree with 2nd, and am disputing the entire misleading structure of anon 3rd's "argument")

    " the argument above that students live in fear of the police because of a set of blog posts, and not because of police actions over the last few years, is absurd" - perhaps, but if so that's because it's a straw man version of 2nd anonymous's argument. 2nd anon isn't arguing about blog posts (which really don't matter all that much except for their author's self-esteem; it would be interesting to know how many hits these get) but rather the whole "pigs cops murderers" message that the wider movements have been pushing so hard.

    As to whether "faculty at UCD have called": That's either wrong or misleading. Perhaps _some_ faculty at UCD have, but the faculty as a whole have not. Some faculty at Berkeley and (I think) UCD have made statements supporting the police. And at neither place (AFAIK), there's been official vote on whether the police should leave campus. (I'd appreciate more detail on this if I'm wrong)

    "most of them will tell you that they're terrified of being injured by UCPD ... if some cop happens to be having a bad day" - and that's actually evidence in favor of 2nd anonymous's point, that there's a real cost to all the heated rhetoric. Is there _any_ evidence of that happening on the Berkeley campus? _Simply_ because somebody was "having a bad day", and without being involved in a heated, protracted action?

    "why does the UC have a private police department to enforce the student code of conduct?" - again, an attempt to misdirect the discussion. Although the prohibition against camping appears in the student code of conduct, which covers things from academic dishonest through theft, weapons violations and firebomb, it's also a mater of California law and UCOP policy. The campus can certainly discuss how the UCPD should be involved in that. I think I'd agree they shouldn't be involved. But that's not the _only_ role of the UCPD, and even should the UCPD have no role in enforcing the code of conduct, that doesn't mean there's no reason for them to be on campus. You've made no argument for why their other (what anon 2 called "protective") duties shouldn't continue.

    Ref incident, then "This is a fundamental question and no you haven't answered it." referring to code of conduct role: I agree that it's a fundamental question, but it's not the question under discussion here. The question here is whether UCPD should no longer be on campus. Whether "they can go". We can certainly discuss their role and actions regarding protest, I think the faculty are and have & I know the grad students in my department have. But that's only a small subset of their entire role, and it's intellectually improper to have a discussion, as "a" does, that leads to the conclusion that they're not needed without considering _all_ their roles.

  8. i don't see how it's a category error to consider what the police do during mass demonstrations as being on a continuum with their everyday practices. in fact, the question of continuity/discontinuity between these moments is precisely what is at issue here, and shouldn't be adjudicated through specious definitional distinctions.

    aside from the temporal quality of trauma (where an encounter with the one who has hurt you can actually trigger a re-encounter with the moment of traumatic rupture -- this is particularly likely if the officer/perpetrator actively belittles the trauma, which happened to me recently, when an officer said he'd seen video of me 'using another demonstrator as a human shield', which both misreads what was an attempt to prevent someone from being pulled off the line, and implies that i was not simultaneously being struck), there are reasons to see the everyday practices of policing by the UCPD as at least somewhat continuous with what happens during mass demonstrations. in the last two years alone, students have been detained (i.e. brought to the station, interrogated, and cited) for chalking, and for putting fliers up in areas not designated as free speech zones. student demonstrators have had their apartment doors knocked on by UCOP officers following demonstrations -- when they asked the police why they were there, no answer was given. i could go on in this vein. moreover, any time a UCPD officer tells a student to stop riding their bike through sproul, for instance, this command carries the force of law, even though it is made to enforce the student conduct code (this is an example i gave in my statement). this means that a student who ignores the command is potentially risking criminal charges.

    regarding the protective role of the police: i don't dispute that the police sometimes act in ways that project members of the community, and in many cases they see their role primarily in these terms. i also agree that all of what the police do must be considered in any argument in favor of disbanding the UCPD. however, this discussion of the 'positive side of policing' has to be properly framed. the question should be: can the protective or otherwise beneficial effects of the police presence on campus be realized through some other means (i.e. 'campus security officers', who aren't charged with enforcing the law, but are responsible for patrolling campus and watching out for any violent actions [at all the colleges i've ever spent time on, this was the arrangement, and it seemed to work well enough]). there are potentially other models as well for how a university community might maintain safety on its campus, which could be considered by working groups charged with thinking along these lines.

    finally, concerning the notion that the original statement somehow reproduces a damaging (and ultimately unfounded) anxiety in others. my first response is similar to the commenter above: people experience anxiety because of the violence they see, have endured, and/or reasonably anticipate, much more so than because someone has publicly argued that the campus would be better off not hosting a police department. in fact, the argument itself emerges out of a collective experience of generalized anxiety (i have a number of friends who avoid campus as much as possible, because they fear encounters with particular UCPD officers; i've also heard of many other students who relate to campus in this way). the argument for disbanding the UCPD is part of an attempt to build a kind of politics that is actually responsive to the experience of students and community members, and that takes seriously what they are saying.

    finally, as a side note: it would be helpful if those commenting identified themselves in some way, so that we could all have a sense of who's arguing what...

  9. there are great contradictions, even legally: the student code has the status of a private contract between the student and the university, but then we have a situation where a public force like the police, with all it means of violence and its power to incriminate, essentially enforces a private contract. they just have no business on campus.

    what a. says is beautiful: "the argument for disbanding the UCPD is part of an attempt to build a kind of politics that is actually responsive to the experience of students and community members, and that takes seriously what they are saying."
    because we, as members of that community--as teachers, grad students, students, workers--make this place work, we make it possible. and we have to inhabit these spaces and learn, teach, and work in fear--fear conjured by the sheer presence of the police. for some communities on campus this fear has reached intolerable levels. i just think that those who cannot identify with that experience should at least recognize its existence and think about what it's doing to a significant number of our community who in the meantime are trying to do their work--teach, learn, and labor.