‘The only way’: Students protest for police abolition on campus

Feb. 8, 2023, 12:42 a.m.

This article contains descriptions of policing, anti-Black racism and gun violence.

Holding up cardboard signs and skateboards that read “Abolish the Police” and “Stanford Cops are Complicit,” students rallied in front of the Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) building, following a vigil honoring lives lost to police held in White Plaza on Monday evening.

Sparked by recent incidents of police brutality across the country, Monday’s protest was organized by Students for the Liberation of All Peoples (SLAP)—a “anti-racist, anti-capitalist” coalition of 11 student advocacy groups.

According to SLAP members, the goals of the protest were to bring attention to a Jan. 28 incident where an SUDPS officer pointed their gun at a Black man during a traffic stop, as well as to show solidarity to members of the Black community and advocate for abolition on campus. An art build, march and protest at the SUDPS building, students honored the lives of Tyre Nichols, Tortuguita and Keenan Anderson, who were recently killed by police.

SUDPS did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment about the status of the Jan. 28 incident. A Stanford Report post said the Jan. 28 gun incident is currently under investigation by SUDPS leadership. SUDPS has also asked the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office — which oversees the sworn officers who work at Stanford — to review the incident, according to the article. 

An “outside consultant” has been hired to investigate the incident, and “conduct an independent review … in response to the concerns it has prompted in our community,” according to a Feb. 5 update to the report.

'The only way': Students protest for police abolition on campus
(Photo: ANANYA NAVALE/The Stanford Daily)

“I feel like the Black community just exists in a constant state of grief — seeing our community members just die on TV all the time,” protest organizer Lois Williams ’23 said in an interview with The Daily. “This is definitely a chance for us to re-examine what we can do as students, of how we feel as students, in order to exact change, better our community, make our community safer away from police violence.”

Growing up in Georgia, Williams said they felt afraid in the presence of police. 

“My dad was incarcerated growing up. We had police come into our house in the middle [of] the night looking for him,” said Williams. “So I’ve always grown up knowing, you know, the power of police, the power that can yield against us.”

Williams said they thought policing in California would be different, but even now at Stanford, they said they still feel unsafe around the police.

“You can really feel the presence of policing and surveillance on campus as you walk around. It’s definitely something you can’t escape as a Black student,” Williams said. “I think that we feel that fear every time we see a police officer, see the gun on their hips.”

'The only way': Students protest for police abolition on campus
Around 100 protestors marched from White Plaza to the Stanford University Department of Public Safety for the “Cops Off Campus” protests on Monday evening to show solidarity and support for the Black community and to advocate for abolition. (Photo: ANANYA NAVALE/The Stanford Daily)

SUDPS did not immediately respond to a request for comment about how officer presence may impact student feelings of safety on campus.

Students gathered at White Plaza for the vigil to make protest signs and chalk art, which was followed by speeches from student and faculty advocates.

Comparative literature professor and faculty advocate David Palumbo-Liu spoke about instances of police violence throughout American history and ways he thought it could be addressed.

“I’m curious about this term ‘public safety.’ Who the hell is the public? We are the public. Do you feel safe?” Palumbo-Liu said. “The only way we can make it through is to teach each other different ways of living together, different ways of handling issues that don’t all need to be handled by any one agency.”

The ultimate goal of the “Cops Off Campus” campaign was to fully defund the police station on campus and reallocate SUDPS resources to fund “mental health, sexual liberation and community in general,” according to Williams. After the protest, SLAP hosted a meeting at EVGR-A to plan further advocacy for abolition of campus police.

“SLAP holds the position that abolition is the only way to solve the issue of police violence,” Williams said. “There’s no other option — it’s a system that’s created to uphold the white patriarchal capitalism that we see in this country, to continuously oppress and exact violence on marginalized communities.”

SLAP member and protest organizer Alyssa Murray ’24 expressed a similar sentiment in her speech. “We cannot keep telling communities of color to do better. We are the best that this world has to offer.”

'The only way': Students protest for police abolition on campus
Students share experiences of police brutality in White Plaza at a student-led vigil. (Photo: ANANYA NAVALE/The Stanford Daily)

At 5:30 p.m., roughly 100 protestors marched through campus from White Plaza to the SUDPS building, with chants including, “No justice! No peace! No racist ass police!” and “Hey hey, ho ho, SUDPS has got to go!”

The University noted that the Community Board on Public Safety is charged with “fostering trust, relationships, communication and transparency between the Department of Public Safety,” and will continue to provide advice and counsel about the Jan. 28 incident.

“The board will take into consideration the circumstances surrounding this incident and the process for addressing it as part of the ongoing process of reviewing and making recommendations on campus public safety policies and protocols,” University spokesperson Luisa Rapport wrote in an email to The Daily.

Williams said that they want to see a future of public safety on campus where marginalized groups do not have to “live in fear.”

“I think any Black person, marginalized person or anybody really, knows that cops don’t help any situation. They just bring violence to communities rather than bring care and safety,” Williams said. “It’s just about life.”

Sophia Artandi contributed reporting to this article.

A previous version of this article stated that around 60 people attended the protest. According to SLAP Organizers, over 100 people attended. The Daily regrets this error.

Caroline Chen '26 is a Vol. 265 News Managing Editor. She is from Chapel Hill, N.C. and enjoys vegetable farms and long walks. Contact cqchen 'at' stanforddaily.com.Rani Chor is a Vol. 264 University News Desk Editor and previously the Vol. 263 Public Safety Beat Reporter. Outside of writing for The Daily, she enjoys singing to her pet duck. Contact her at rchor 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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