Black Student Union urges UC Irvine to dismantle its police department

The Black Student Union at UC Irvine is calling for the university to dismantle its police force, which the student organization alleges has failed to address safety concerns for black students on campus.

The group sent a letter to campus administrators Monday demanding that the police department and any additional "paramilitary force presence" be abolished in three to six months.

"The university does not adhere to black student concerns … regardless of instances of black death and police violence," the letter states. "Therefore, our demand does not call for the reform of UCIPD, it calls for the dismantling of this institution's presence in its entirety."

The group said it was not referring to a campus event but to what it believes is anti-black sentiment held by police. The letter points to a perceived increase in police violence around the country since the 1992 riots in Los Angeles after the acquittal of four white LAPD officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King.

University officials said they have no plans to abolish the police force but will continue to encourage dialogue with the student union.

"The UCI Police Department comprises a highly respected team of officers who risk their lives to ensure the safety of our students, faculty and staff," university officials wrote in a statement Thursday. "We are proud of them and will continue to support the department."

Campus Police Chief Jorge Cisneros was not available for comment.

The student group also started a petition at Change.org that by late Thursday had gathered 257 signatures in support of dissolving the university police force.

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Carmen Vickers, the group's co-chairwoman, said the petition is an effort to encourage people at the Irvine campus and around the country to question the actions of police.

"We are trying to provide a framework ... a platform for students and people beyond the university to interrogate the institution of policing," she said.

The Black Student Union's letter accused two educators of "interrogating" a black student and forcing the student to publicly apologize after a March incident in which the student and five classmates voted for a resolution banning the display of national flags, including the American flag, in a student government room.

"They were told that if they did not submit a public apology, they would not receive protection against the multitude of death threats and vulgar insults they were receiving day and night from students on UCI's campus and the citizens of Orange County," the letter states.

The group said that one student received emails and phone calls in which people threatened to "lynch and rape her."

UC Irvine administrators said in their statement that the letter "makes false, malicious accusations against several staff members, many of whom worked diligently to address the BSU's earlier demands and advance a safe, comfortable environment for all students. We stand by these dedicated professionals."

Paul Gales, an Irvine transfer student from West Los Angeles College, said he hadn't read the black student group's petition but said it's unfortunate that a campus group wants to abolish the police.

"I don't feel that way," said Gales, who identifies as black. "I feel completely welcomed."

However, Gales described the diversity among students at his previous and current schools as "completely different," saying West Los Angeles College consists predominantly of Latino and black students. At UC Irvine, with more than 30,000 students, fewer than 400 identify as black, according to campus data.

"I understand how they would feel this way [at UCI], but getting rid of the police wouldn't be adequate," Gales said.

hannah.fry@latimes.com

Fry writes for Times Community News.

Staff writer Alex Chan contributed to this report.

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A version of this article appeared in print on January 30, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Group wants UCI to drop its police" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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