UCI Black Student Union wants campus police force abolished
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 UCI administrators Monday demanding that the campus 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 any particular event on campus 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 following the acquittal of white LAPD officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King.
University officials said Thursday that they have no plans to abolish the police force but will continue to encourage dialogue with the Black 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. “We are proud of them and will continue to support the department.”
UCI Police Chief Jorge Cisneros was unavailable for comment Thursday.
BSU also started a petition at Change.org that by Thursday afternoon had garnered 257 signatures in support of dissolving the university police force.
Police presence on campus is a manifestation of anti-black aggression.
UCI Black Student Union
Carmen Vickers, the group’s co-chairwoman, said the petition is an effort to encourage people both at UCI and in the rest of the nation to question the actions of police across the United States.
“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 make a public apology after the student joined five classmates in March in voting to pass 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 alleges that one student received emails and phone calls in which people threatened to “lynch and rape her.”
UCI 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.”
The Black Student Union said the “police presence on campus is a manifestation of anti-black aggression. This aggression produces the same psychic damage and racial terror that black folks suffer from beyond the university. The university purports to be a ‘safe’ space, a place for all students to excel academically — but instead, the university engages in a range of practices and policies that reaffirm the message that we, black people, are America’s internal enemies.
“The police are emblematic of an endless array of dead black bodies, the death of our loved ones and of our communities.”
Paul Gales, a UCI transfer student from West Los Angeles College, said he hadn’t read the BSU petition but feels 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.UC Irvine, which has more than 30,000 students, has less than 400 who 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.
— Staff writer Alex Chan contributed to this report.