A day in the Step Up or Step Down protest week to abolish campus police presence

Aug. 4, 2020, 11:09 a.m.

This article is the first of a two-part series on Step Up or Step Down’s five days of action, lasting from Friday, July 24 to Tuesday, July 28. It features a look into a day of protest. The campaign’s demands for abolishing campus police presence are directed at University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell — step up to meet the demands, or step down from leadership. 

Protestors’ names have been withheld out of concern for their safety.

“What do we tell MTL? Disarm, defund or go to hell!”

“Show me what community looks like! This is what community looks like!” 

“What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! If we don’t get it, shut it down!” 

One after another, the voices of around 40 students clad in black merged into a loud chorus, their calls ringing across an otherwise deserted White Fountain Plaza on a Tuesday morning.

Led by the Step Up or Step Down campaign, the students stood proudly in front of Old Union Complex, finishing up hand-made posters decorated with colorful slogans. 

Following a weeklong series of demonstrations that started on Friday, July 24, last Tuesday’s protest marked the final day of Step Up or Step Down’s campaign. Each day of protest featured a different theme that called attention to the campaign’s demands: accountability, knowledge, community, reparation and transformation, respectively. 

Tuesday was focused on the last theme: “transforming the campus into a place where we have more mutual aid, less cops, no cops eventually and a place where everyone in the community is truly safe,” said a representative of the Step Up or Step Down campaign. “This place was founded in white supremacy, and it’s still instituting practices that uphold white supremacy.”

The event was organized by a collective of students with the purpose of amplifying existing efforts and demands, including the Black Law Student Association and the Black Graduate Association. And although more than 140 organizations and 2000 individuals have already signed on to support their demands to defund and disarm Stanford police as of Thursday, “the Stanford administration continues to deflect responsibility and provide hollow, futile reforms,” a representative for the campaign said. 

“We say enough is enough,” they added. “In this five-day campaign, we have called on President Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Drell to step up or step down: Meet the demands of the community and lead or resign from your position.”

Posting flyers along the way, the student protestors marched and chanted across the Stanford campus to the Lou Hoover House, where Tessier-Lavigne now resides. 

In front of Tessier-Lavigne’s house, Step Up or Step Down also relayed a message from Stanford Mutual Aid, a group that “works to meet the unmet needs of students and their families through providing monetary support … that the school has overlooked.” According to Stanford Mutual Aid, Stanford’s inattentiveness towards their students’ financial issues is just another “systemic issue” that Stanford has yet to make an effort towards solving. Stanford Mutual Aid’s message to Stanford noted that they had received financial support requests totaling 150,000 dollars over the past four months due to unaffordable housing or unexpected medical bills. 

“A third of these requests have been for food, another third for rent assistance, and more than five percent of the requests have been for paying for Stanford’s summer housing cost,” the message reads. “We act in solidarity with the work that Abolish Stanford is doing to transform Stanford into a safe place for its students, workers, and other community members based on compassion and support.” 

Stanford Mutual Aid is looking towards creating the Stanford Basic Needs Coalition, which will aid in reallocating funding for campus policing towards students and community members who require monetary assistance. 

University spokesperson E.J. Miranda wrote that the University has opened a number of financial assistance options due to the current pandemic, such as a minimum of $2,000 for off-campus living expenses for students on financial aid, including food costs, paying travel stipends and covering internet access costs and computer equipment for students living off campus.

“Spending on student aid is projected to increase 9 percent relative to the 2019-20 budget,” Miranda wrote. “Anticipating a greater need for financial aid, Stanford trustees approved a 3 percent increase in payout from endowment funds that support student financial aid.”

Furthermore, Miranda pointed the Daily to Provost Persis Drell’s statement that every Stanford Ph.D. student will be eligible to receive 12 months of funding each year, for as long as five years, in the new academic year. Students are encouraged to contact the Financial Aid Office to discuss the details of their individual situations.

Step Up or Step Down also placed a spotlight on the death of Pedro Calderon, a 20-year-old man who was shot at the base of the Stanford foothills in 2002 by Stanford police deputy Jeff Bell and Palo Alto Police Officer Jessica Perryman. Both fired their gun once at Calderon. Step Up or Step Down cited the lack of reparations given to Calderon’s family.

“Regardless of whether or not the bullet that killed Pedro Calderon was fired by Stanford police, Stanford police were there and fired with the intent and with the power and the arm to kill,” a third representative said in a later interview with The Daily. “So at the very least, they should acknowledge their role.”

Miranda responded to the allegations, noting that “the loss of any person’s life is cause for remorse” but that the “Stanford deputy’s actions did not result in Mr. Calderon’s death.” 

Step Up or Step Down imagines a future for Stanford without policing as a “net positive for the community,” where funds can instead be invested in sexual or domestic violence prevention and result in “less attacks.”

Miranda pointed The Daily to the recently announced Community Board on Public Safety that will serve as a “forum for hearing suggestions and concerns from our community on public safety issues, and for making recommendations to university leadership. Speaking on behalf of Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS), Miranda wrote that “this effort is being undertaken with the support of DPS and chief — and Stanford alum — Laura Wilson. They are committed to providing trusted and professional service to our community, and they are eager to be in continued conversation with our community about policing and DPS operations.”

“Members of the Department of Public Safety undergo training in the use of force, and techniques of de-escalation. The Community Board on Public Safety also will be an important venue for continued discussion of police practices, policies and procedures,” Miranda added.

The protests at Stanford join a wave of demonstrations across the country asking for police abolition in local communities. Some have called for the defunding and reforming of police, instead of total abolition, mostly noting that the police are still needed to manage crime.

However, the second representative believes that a community without police is “totally possible. Actually investing in mutual aid and removing cops from campus is not only a precedent, but also quite an effective way to ensure that the people on campus are actually safe by adding preventative measures.” 

“I think that it’s kind of scary for the people who have been protected by the police to think about a world in which their privilege is not protected,” they added, “but it’s a necessary step for all of us to not have to walk around wondering if it’s gonna be our last day on earth because a cop thinks that you’re too dark to live.”

Additionally, reallocating funding can not only result in a safer campus for Black students, they added, but also boost the necessary support for other programs, like the Office of Sexual Assault & Relationship Abuse Education & Response, which is responsible for sexual violence prevention on campus. 

Tessier-Lavigne addressed anti-Black racism and police presence in early June, announcing the formation of a Community Board on Public Safety to build “relationships” and foster “communication and trust between Stanford’s Department of Public Safety and the broader campus community.” 

SUDPS spokesperson Bill Larson wrote that SUDPS is “looking forward” to this avenue for community discussion and that “DPS personnel are supportive of exploring ways in which DPS can best serve the community,” in an earlier statement to The Daily. 

According to Larson, DPS has been doing implicit bias training for several years. As an example, all DPS personnel completed 16 hours of Intercultural Competency training prior to March’s shelter-in-place order.

“This is just one of several different courses of instruction on the topic of implicit bias that DPS personnel have attended,” he wrote. 

Despite the risk of public gatherings during COVID-19, one attendee felt it necessary to join her community in advocating for the demands of her peers. 

“The work I do doesn’t really work until the racist systems that are being held up by Stanford are abolished, so this has become more of a priority than anything else I’ve been doing,” she said. “I look forward to the alternatives, and I definitely hope there is less racial profiling, less violence. Hopefully, [if police were removed from campus], the future of Stanford is less racist.” 

This article has been updated to clarify that the proposed Stanford Basic Needs Coalition will work to aid both students and community members.

A previous version of this article misquoted statements from Stanford Mutual Aid; “We act in solidarity with the work that Stanford is doing” has been changed to “We act in solidarity with the work that Abolish Stanford is doing.” Stanford Mutual Aid “works to meet the unmet needs of students and their families through providing monetary needs” has been changed to “works to meet the unmet needs of students and their families through providing monetary support.” The Daily regrets these errors.

Contact Alysa Suleiman at 22alysas ‘at’ students.harker.org

Alysa Suleiman is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop.

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