In march on campus, protesters call for police abolition

July 4, 2020, 9:37 p.m.

About 100 Stanford students and community members gathered in Main Quad at 5 p.m. on Friday to call for the abolition of campus police and protest a “culture of police terrorism.” The backdrop of the event was a colossal, 100-foot banner with the words “Disarm. Defund. Divert.” 

“Overall, our primary goal is to amplify the voices of Black trainees, faculty and staff on campus demanding change. The purpose of this event was to draw attention to the petition put forth by the Coalition of Black Student Organizations, and to amplify the abolitionist goals laid out therein,” wrote Abolish Stanford, the student coalition that planned the event, in a statement to The Daily sent by a Ph.D. student representative of the group.

One of the first speakers, granted anonymity by The Daily, began by acknowledging “the rightful owners of the unceded land Stanford University occupies today: the Muwekma-Ohlone tribe, as well as millions of African, Afro-Latinx and Black slaves and their centuries-old fight for freedom, equality and respect.”

“This event was organized by allies, not by one of the Black student groups,” the speaker continued. “So this is explicitly to build support for their petitions and momentum to push Stanford to make change.”

Students at the event spoke to the history of abolition movements, and compared them to today’s fight against racism.

“It was the work of abolitionists that ultimately overrode Abraham Lincoln’s desire to turn the United States into a white ethnostate,” said a third-year Ph.D. student and co-organizer of the event who was granted anonymity. “The current project of abolition is a direct descendant of that fight to abolish slavery. Abolition asks not how to make police less violent or less racist, but why criminalization and racialization arise, and demands their end.”

The co-organizer disputed the traditional police reforms in the community, and demanded further action to be taken. 

“Often the effects of police reform are to provide police with increased resources, disciplinary tools and new strategies for criminalization,” the co-organizer said. “This leads to increased surveillance and imprisonment of Black, Brown, trans and migrant communities.”

The co-organizer touched on Camden, New Jersey, as an example of an expanded police force in response to abolitionists. 

“Abolition calls for us to develop strategies outside of coercive and governmental systems to take care of each other,” the co-organizer said. 

In lieu of campus police presence, Abolish Stanford wrote that “if the community at large follows the steps outlined by the Coalition of Black Student Organizations in the Letter to Peers, then we believe that there will be substantially fewer calls to police over non-violent crime in general, and as a result, fewer (or no) police could be a reasonable replacement for campus police.”

Along with advocating for the abolition of campus police, speakers urged community members to take change into their own hands through signing petitions, attending events/protests and calling for action from their departments at Stanford. Students further demanded funding to be reduced from the campus police department, and funneled into organizations such as the King Institute, which builds upon the achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. 

“You cannot wait for institutions anchored by excuses of bureaucracy, and illusory solutions like task forces, committees and self-studies to create an inclusive environment,” wrote the organization Who’s Teaching Us, which advocates for diverse faculty at Stanford.

Students further elaborated on the encounters members of the Black community have had with campus police. 

“Students of color are constantly stopped to show ID,” said a second-year grad student granted anonymity. “Once students prove themselves, police give back-handed compliments. ‘We don’t see too many women of color grad students around here. Good for you.’ Then there are stories of white students walking home, and police laughing with them. They say, ‘enjoy your night.’”

Subsequently, the student called out the department for having a larger police presence on the West side of campus, saying it is “no coincidence that this is near Ujamaa and the Black Community Center.”

Between coordinated speakers, the floor was open for attendees of the event to contribute. A biosciences Ph.D. student shared occurrences where he had been confronted by campus police unexpectedly. 

One night, he was working late in a lab, and once it closed, he had to move his equipment and studies to another one nearby. He was carrying a heavy monitor to the new lab when an officer stopped him to ask for ID. 

“The response time of the police officer who questioned me while I was carrying this monitor was amazing considering the amount of times that we’ve had actual situations in which police were called and didn’t show up,” the student said. 

He continued to share experience in which he had been pulled over on campus with little knowledge as to why. In one instance, an officer told him his tail light was out, when in fact it had not been. The officer allegedly continued to question the student about his whereabouts and identification. 

A third-year graduate student, granted anonymity for privacy reasons, attended the event and said that it was beneficial to “hear about problems outside as well as inside the Stanford community … especially for those who aren’t a person of color [to hear].”

To conclude the protest, attendees and organizers of the protest united in front of the banner reading “Disarm. Defund. Divert,” for a photo to demonstrate support for the movement. The protesters then held a march through Stanford’s campus to further advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement and police abolition. 

“We were heartened to see sustained energy on these important issues coming from community members across many programs,” Abolish Stanford wrote. “This event is just one tiny contribution in an ongoing history of on-campus protests, demonstrations, and activities from Black students and other community members dating back to at least 1968.”

The Daily has contacted Stanford police spokesperson Bill Larson for comment on the demands of the protesters. 

On June 10, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne wrote an email to the Stanford community to address “police brutality and racial disparities in law enforcement and the justice system.” 

In the same email to The Daily, Abolish Stanford touched on this statement, saying “the totally insufficient email this past week suggests that the Stanford administration has no desire to institute serious, long term changes toward racial justice.”

Abolish Stanford is “giving [Tessier-Lavigne] two weeks to respond to the action items and petitions that have been put forward toward racial justice.”

Abolish Stanford further outlined its plan to “support colleagues in the greater local community by amplifying the upcoming Sankofa & Art Show Festival which Tha Hood Squad is putting on, at 2pm on July 18th at Jack Farrell Park.”

A previous version of this post misspelled the names of Abraham Lincoln and the city of Camden, New Jersey. It also confused Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne with a program at the University. The Daily regrets these errors.

This article has also been updated with comment from Who’s Teaching Us.

Contact Emily Stull at stull242 ‘at’

Emily Stull is a high school student writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop.

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