The police-perpetrated killing of George Floyd and subsequent uprising in Juni 2020 galvanized campus organizing. Students at Hostos Community CollegeThey were horrified at the racism inherent in police work and demanded that the New York City Police Department be removed from their campus. Students Columbia University and Howard University launched tuition strike campaigns — a refusal to pay any tuition — demanding the divestment from Israel, the defunding of campus police departments, and the severing ties with local and federal policing agencies. Students-led coalition at University of MinnesotaThe police in the area were successfully disbanded. (But, simultaneously, the university began to hire private security forces almost immediately.
The mainstream media seem quick to proclaim the end #defundpolicing. last year’s vibrant campaignsHave created new starting places for campus based anti-prison-industrial complex organizing.
Students will soon be able to attend in-person classes at universities and colleges across the country starting with the fall 2021 semester Turtle IslandAssessment and study are overdue. What have we learned after a year of organizing? How do networks respond when there are cul-de-sacs or dead ends or false openings emerging? What solidarity have been possible? As two organizers and educators, in this spirit of study and movement-building, we share our reflections on the past year’s work — successes, challenges and experiments.
Political Education Materials are Powerful Tools
Many campaigns and projects produced powerful materials to educate people about long-standing racist histories of police, especially on campuses. They also included concrete tactics for abolitionist struggle. The University of Oregon’s critical history of policing timeline Instagram account offers crucial examples of the racialized violence perpetrated by police on that campus, while Critical Resistance Abolitionist Educators’ “How to Grow Abolition on Your Campus: 8 Actions”It provides entry points for abolitionist organization, including the creation of abolitionist study clubs and challenging discriminatory college admission policies. These timelines and tools not only continue their circulation and support ongoing political educational, but also function effectively to archive important abolitionist campaigns.
Push Organized Labor
In the last two years, campus unions have demanded defunding of police in bargaining. They also worked horizontally for the removal of police unions from wider coalitions or the network o organized labor. UAW 2865, a campus labor union representing the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions in Davis, California, passed a proposal at the table calling to demilitarize and disarm campus police. These same demands were being adopted by other labor unions by 2020. Graduate Employees’ Organization at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor demanded a 50 percent cut to the Division of Public Safety and Security budget and that the university “cut all ties with police, including Ann Arbor Police Department (AAPD) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).” Similar organizing took place within the Professional Staff Congress at CUNYThe Graduate Student Organizing Committee, New York University. Organized labor is struggling to engage in abolition. Campuses are one place to push this analysis.
Demand More Than Just Defunding Campus Police
Not only are those with a badge or uniform responsible for regulating and punishing students on campus, but so is everyone else. Most academic disciplines actively naturalize and expand policing: e.g., at Lehman College, in the Bronx students who wanted to use the campus food pantry had the privilege of being accompanied by campus officers. This demonstrated the closeness between student affairs offices and campus departments. Abolitionist organizing on campus extends beyond defunding the police and involves building forms of community and developing authentic responses to harm that meet people’s needs. Initiatives — often pushed by campus feminists — offer responses to sexual assault that are non-carceral: Brown University’s Transformative Justice Program — created before the summer 2020 uprising — offers survivor-centered abolitionist engagements to gendered and sexual violence. By providing free, fresh vegetables, the Kingsborough Community College Urban Farm works to meet the needs of students and community members, and positions the college as centered around care — or advancing a mission of what Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls “life-affirming institutions.” DissentersThe newest national anti-militarization network is assisting (and paying student staff) to build campus-based organizing infrastructure to combat militarization. These and other initiatives are all doing positive work to build abolition.
Multiplying the Safety Dialogues
People want to feel safe. Many readers are involved in abolitionist organizing. However, some audiences have different needs. Organizing must provide opportunities for people to talk about, build, and strengthen safety practices. Our understanding of safety acknowledges that many people are unsafe on today’s heavily policed campuses, particularly those that are non-white. Many webinars, teach ins, and days-of-action have taken place over the last year. created dialoguesNot only is it about violence in policing but also other ways to ensure strong and safe communities. Abolition feministsSafety has been a topic of discussion at numerous places, including the University of Massachusetts where students, outraged by the prevalence of sexual violence on campus and the university’s persistent failure to respond, pushed out and visibly occupied space on campus. At Columbia University, Black and/or feminist organizers have resisted the university’s definition of safety through policing, demanding instead 24/7 access to counseling and rape crisis services. Reimagining and redefining safety can be complex work that requires ongoing engagement — in community.
Make Visible the Tentacles Of Policing
Campus policing is a complex landscape. Multiple law enforcement agencies, both public and private, share jurisdictions and create borders that extend well beyond campus boundaries. The University of ChicagoThe country has one of the most powerful private police forces in the globe, a trend that is being followed by many other countries. elite, historically white, private universities in predominantly Black neighborhoods and cities. Also, universities sign memoranda with nearby police agencies that allow for both non-university agencies and university police forces to roam free on campus. These agreements led to the detention in the United States of Black Lives Matter protesters. University of California Los Angeles’s Jackie Robinson StadiumLos Angeles Police Department, 2020. 2020 shooting of Stephanie Washington by Yale Police Officer Terrance PollockIn a New Haven neighbourhood. The entire state is under the jurisdiction of some campus police departments like the University of California Police Department. One key outcome of last year’s campus uprisings was highlighting the massive and multi-faceted infrastructures of policing that unfold on campuses and in adjacent communities.
Work across Borders to Craft Coalitions
Defund campaigns were forced to cross the artificial on/off campus boundaries. They demanded the end of all policing. Collaborations across borders are beneficial. Abolition May is an example of a Turtle Island-wide campaign that was orchestrated by the Cops Off Campus Coalition, and the intergenerational organization by CUNY For Abolition And Safety and the Release Aging People in PrisonCampaign, establish links between people, institutions, and sites that may initially seem dissimilar. Solidarity, not borders will get us closer to abolition, and liberation.
Learn from Organizing at Other Educational Sites & History
Pre-K-12 organizing has a longer militant history of demanding (and eventually winning) police-free school. The Black Organizing Project in Oakland (California) struggled for nearly a decade before finally succeeding. removingPolice from pre-K-12 schools will be deployed in June 2020. These K-12 struggles as well our own history of resistance, and repression can be a source of inspiration for post-secondary educational institutions. For example, the history of tuition strikes has made it clear that students have struggled against austerity as well as policing. In an effort to manage dissent and privatize higher education, both the college tuition and campus police budgets increased exponentially in the wake the student movements of 1960s. Ronald Reagan pointed out this without irony. “Those on UC campuses to agitate and not to study might think twice before they pay tuition, they might think twice how much they want to pay to carry a picket sign.”It’s always a good time for studying.
Center Systems-Impacted Communities’ Analysis and Demands
Centering the analysis and demands of systems-impacted people (those who experience the violence of prisons, policing and related systems of violent control — a population overwhelmingly Black, poor, Indigenous and/or queer) surfaces other key ways that post-secondary education must shift. These networks have deepened the movement to “ban the box” — a demand that applications for admission or employment NotAsk about arrest and conviction histories. California has a number of former prisoners who founded and now lead the Underground Scholars InitiativeAn organization that facilitates the transition from prison to university by providing support, community, and access resources. Members engage in advocacy and organizing for a world without prisons. Other imperatives are also visible when you center the experiences and needs these learners. These include the need for paid childcare, free tuition, gender-affirming and accessible bathrooms, and the importance of avoiding pension plans that make money from incarceration or resource extraction. The organizing of systems-impacted individuals is both a huge challenge for the university and a vision of what the university could be.
Anticipate Administrative Obstructionism
These campus-based abolitionist movements are met by the usual tactics of higher education administrations: cooptation and absorption as well as swift repression. For example, institutional responses to calls to abolishment include the creation and maintenance of hollow institutions. task forces and working groups charged with “studying the issue” or a hasty invitation to a high-profile (and usually highly paid) racial justice or equity consultant or guest speaker. More task forces are needed to investigate the issues and offer alternatives. Campus policing needn’t be researched further when the demand is clear: Defund and abolish campus policing.
Where are We Going From Here?
The fall 2021 organizing pace on many campuses feels more like a simmer than a boil, but we know that not only are the efforts continuing but that the organizing from the previous years has also reshaped the landscape. Campus communities — from undergraduate students and dining hall workers, to adjunct faculty and neighborhood residents — are joining forces to counter policing in and by universities. We continue to build alliances, share strategies, and study together as we create a movement that stretches from the picket line at the graduate union to the mutual aid distribution point. Find your comrades and join this movement to get cops off campus, and create spaces and places for abolitionist learning and teaching in our communities. Get rid of cops!