Protesters demand university divest from private prisons, campus police disarm military-grade weapons
On Nov. 3, students gathered to partake in the Divest, Disarm: Davis for Black Lives protest. Organized by students under Davis Stands With Ferguson, the protest began at noon outside the Memorial Union. The protesters stopped by the university’s police department before ending outside the ASUCD Coffee House at 1:30 p.m.
The protest centered on two demands. First, it demanded that the university divest from companies which invest in the private prison system. Second, it demanded that university police stop using military-grade weapons.
The protest was primarily composed of student supporters. One of the supporters was Dorian Kariuki, a first-year biomedical engineering major who felt that the university was not legitimately addressing the concerns of students of color.
“The one incident that really sparked me to come [to this protest] is the incident of the post-graduate student that was kicked out of the library,” Kariuki said. “It’s the fact that we’ve had incidents similar […] and it’s been ignored [by the university].”
However, there were a few students present who disagreed about the overall ideas of the protest and its movement, including third-year political science major and transfer student Konnor Ternus. While he did not allow The Aggie to directly quote him, Ternus, who was moved by the recent campus shooting at Umpqua Community College, believes that arming police is necessary in providing a quick response in the case of an emergency.
The protest and all its differing perspectives are part of an ongoing nationwide discussion on mass incarceration and police-community relations. For fourth-year environmental science major Kyla Burke and Ph.D sociology candidate Brandon Buchanan, head organizers of the Divest Disarm protest, the protest is a continuation of the work previously made by Davis Stands with Ferguson.
However, according to Burke, the Divest Disarm protest is unlike previous protests organized by the group because it is specifically geared toward the racial problems that Davis Stands with Ferguson believes systematically exist in Davis and in the UC system.
“This is a continuation of the Black Lives Matter movement on campus,” Burke said. ”This year we’ve kind of shifted our focus more on campus and how those issues, structures and systems [in the Black Lives Matter movement] affect our campus.”
The university itself has faced a number of allegations decrying excessive police force in the past. Just recently, on Aug. 26, an African American alumnus was forcibly detained by UC Davis police at the 24-hour study room. On Nov. 18, 2011, 10 UC Davis students were pepper sprayed by former university officer Lieutenant John Pike while peacefully protesting in the Quad. The incident gained international attention.
According to Davis Stands with Ferguson, this is all part of the university’s history of using campus police to silence students who disagree with the administration. In a blog post entitled “Davis Stands with Ferguson: Two Steps Towards Dismantling State Violence,” the group explains the role they believe university police have played in greater depth.
“The history of policing is a history of racial terror; one which grows directly out of runaway slave patrols and the black codes,” the post said. “Building on this history, campus police were specifically introduced into the university system in the 1960s and ‘70s to quell student protest.”
The protesters attribute the suppression of student voices and the university’s continued financial support of prisons as perpetrators of a cycle of violence and systematic oppression, both locally and nationwide.
The protesters believe that, in order to stop this cycle, the university must first look at its investments. The UC system as a whole invests in companies which both directly and indirectly support major for-profit businesses, such as the Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) and GEO Group. These are businesses that solely profit through the growth and expansion of private prisons and detention centers.
Only recently did universities begin to divest from such companies. On Jun. 23, 2014, Columbia University became one of the first American universities to divest from funding private prisons. From March 2013 to March 2014, several UC campuses passed similar resolutions through their student government to divest their associations from companies which support the private prison business.
Proponents of the Divest Disarm protest are looking toward ASUCD to pass a similar resolution through senate. Currently, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, UC Los Angeles, UC Irvine and UC San Diego have all passed senate resolutions divesting their associations from businesses that indirectly or directly support for-profit groups like CCA or the GEO Group.
On top of passing a divestment bill, there have been ongoing discussions concerning how ASUCD can better improve the overall relations between students and officers.
Last year, ASUCD helped organize a series of open community forums where students were able to voice their concerns directly to police.
For ASUCD senate candidate Josh Dalavai, while the discussions are a good starting point, they should not be seen as a final solution towards the issue of police-community relations.
“The forums aren’t the be-all and end-all solution because it’s not on students to have to justify themselves to a department that should serve them regardless,” Dalavai said. ”They are a great step for establishing communication.”
The administration continues to support the work done by the UC Davis Police Department. In a written statement by Andy Fell, a media representative for the police department, he states the ongoing commitment police have to serve the students.
“Chief Carmichael and UC Davis Police are committed to serving all members of the community equally without bias,” Fell said in the statement.
Fell also stressed the existence of the Police Advisory Board (PAB), a committee separate from the police department which seeks to provide more accountability for students regarding police misconduct.
“We have an independent Police Advisory Board to investigate complaints we think [are] unique for a campus police department,” Fell said.
While Buchanan and Burke appreciate the existence of PAB, they see the board as an after-the-fact response. They believe there should be more preventative measures in place to stop police misconduct from occurring. For Buchanan, the weight of this protest still holds regardless of PAB’s existence.
“Instead of waiting for a cop to shoot someone or threaten someone with a weapon, we’re saying that they should be disarmed,” Buchanan said. “So instead of it being after the fact when it gets brought up to the Police [Advisory] Board, we’re saying it should never have to happen in the first place.”