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.”