Monday, April 23, 2012

Candlelight police station "attack"

Reposted from: a project of take back uci.

On the night of April 19, we met at the UC Irvine campus police station at 8:00—undergraduate and graduate students, a few faculty, and a light brown dachshund named Chewy. We plugged a projector and laptop into an outlet behind a tree and threw on the exterior wall of the station facing Pereira St. a compilation of footage of the last few years’ campus police violence: the infamous beatings of protesters last November in Berkeley, the pepper-sprayings of students at Davis, Santa Monica City College, and the CSU Regents’ meeting at Cal State Long Beach; militarized police confrontations with peaceful students at Riverside and Irvine. This large color video covered the upper part of the station’s brick wall and was visible to cars passing from the street. We watched the footage over and over as the sun set, and when it was finally dark we lit white and red taper candles, purchased just minutes earlier from the Albertson’s across the street. A little later, we lowered the station flags to half-mast. We had thought of the event as a vigil in solidarity of people brutalized by campus police violence.

The features of this event, which we experienced at the time and now as complicated and beautiful, raise interesting questions about how our response to police repression is evolving. The scenes of brutality are so relentless and egregious that the person who had the task of editing the footage together was moved to tears during her work by her immersion in it. At more than life-size on the outdoor wall, it was easy to feel again the visceral injustice of the scenes. At the same time, the main collective reaction to the appearance of the first images was delight—not at the violent content, of course, but at the capacity to make this happen. In the video we made of the action in turn, you can hear one woman yelling “It’s me! It’s me!” at the Long Beach scene. Everyone is laughing. Right away someone exclaimed, “This is not the reaction you would normally expect at police brutality!” and everyone laughed again. One of us with a small megaphone (which wasn’t turned on) took on the voice of a stereotypical cop to furnish a voiceover for some of the scenes: “The problem with these hippies is that they like it! They keep coming back for more!” It seemed appropriate to light a candle on a donut. The guy with the megaphone made an announcement: “For donuts, see the man with the donuts.”

After hours, there are generally two officers on duty inside the station. After about twenty minutes, one of them came out and turned to see the projection on the wall. He started and seemed uncertain what to do. He walked around the perimeter of the crowd and asked “Who’s the leader of this group?” Everybody laughed. After a while someone pointed to the violence on the wall and asked whether he’d been at the scene. “I wasn’t at that one,” he said. After a minute he wandered back the way he’d come.

As the evening goes on you can hear bits of ordinary conversations about work and activism: someone accepted a marginal teaching post “just to have something”; someone makes a reference to “the shittiness,” which sounds general; there are passing ideas about other actions and a reference to some stolen anti-UCPD posters. Milano cookies are offered around and accepted with gratitude. People struggle to keep their candles alight, cupping and enjoining flames in protest against the indifference of the wind. Someone grafts his dying red candle onto the white stump of another, and we make an intrusive joke about biraciality. Someone else expresses fatigue. Too many drops of candle wax fall on Chewy, who doesn’t complain.

We’ve preserved the casual soundtrack of our irreverence because it reflects the things that UCPD brutality interacts with in daily life. The laughing and talking in no way ignores or diminishes the violence; it indicates what we have to process the violence with. There were moments (also captured in the video) when in solitude or in collectivity we became meditative, lost in the edges of things—candlewicks, the flickering of images, in the not- knowing-how-to-feel-or-exactly-what-to-say. This night was a reflective expression of support for everyone whom campus police have beaten, whose fingers have been broken, and who has been sprayed with chemical agents in the last three years and a festive repurposing of UCPD’s public space. In retrospect, it was most of all a statement that anger, sorrow and joy can co-exist in the face of, and literally in the front yard of, police repression. Rather than sublimating pain and reversing it into an aggrandizing power, projecting the images created a new arena where people could do various things with the recent history plainly on view. “This is not the reaction you would normally expect!” expresses the pleasure of surprise in exceeding expectations.

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