School districts and local governments will often cite the threat of a school shooting as justification to increase the presence of cops on school grounds. The Uvalde school district was one of these. They doubled their spending on school security and monitoring services over the past four years, including adding two police officers to their force (NYTimes). Unfortunately, none of these prevented the shooting on May 24th. We need to shift our dependency on policing, and that work needs to happen in schools.
Cops Off Campus Coalition is a network of students, educators, staff, and community members passionate about abolishing policing at all levels of education. Last spring, I chatted with Alecia Harger (she/they), a then-sophomore at UC Berkeley and representative for both UC Berkeley Cops Off Campus and the transnational Cops Off Campus Coalition. We discussed today’s Day of Refusal, Abolition May, and the significance of getting cops off of campuses. You can listen to this episode on our podcast.
Thank you so much for being here. I know you just got out of class, and it’s finals week. And you have a pretty big day of action coming up on May 3rd.
Yep. May 3rd, we are having a Transnational Day of Refusal. We are encouraging people to withhold their labor in whatever form that may take, whether that’s paid labor, that’s compensated by the university, academic labor, like turning in assignments and going to class, or the labor of graduate student instructors who are grading assignments. For one day this month, we’re encouraging everybody to withhold their labor in solidarity with activists and organizers who are trying to get cops off campus. And this is clearly connected to May Day, which was May 1st. It’s just the first school day after May Day.
Can you explain May Day for people that might not be familiar?
Yeah. It’s a day of solidarity between workers that often takes the form of labor refusals and strikes. In the Bay Area, there are always a lot of protests. And I know that across the country, it’s often used as the date to bring solidarity across many issues – labor issues, human rights issues, the issues of political prisoners, racial justice, environmental justice, etc. Learn more about May Day, or International Workers’ Day.
Yes, thank you. Refusing labor has been a powerful act of protest across social and political movements throughout history.
Absolutely. And by withholding our labor, we demonstrate how we hold universities up. It is our labor that maintains these universities – our sweat, our blood. They cannot function without the underpaid and exploited labor of graduate students and other underpaid staff.
Talk a little bit more about getting cops off campus. That’s something that we had discussed at length here at the Anti-Racism Daily. It’s certainly a small, substantial step towards abolition. Can you share a little bit more about how this is affecting your school?
I go to UC Berkeley and the UC schools have their own police department. It is a statewide police department with statewide jurisdiction. There are very few departments with statewide jurisdiction, except for, like, the California Highway Patrol. And on the UC Berkeley campus, there have been several instances of police brutality across the decades – like the fight to liberate People’s Park in Berkeley in 1969, which was met with extreme amounts of police violence. We have seen this pattern of violence continue to the present. Our institution of higher education functions as a carceral branch of the state when our campuses are infested with police officers who brutalize and victimize marginalized students and community members.
Yeah. And by centering this directly into the academic environment, it acts as education that safety is correlated with law enforcement, right?
Absolutely. There’s a 2019 survey of UC Berkeley students that showed the majority of Black and trans students do not trust the campus police department. And that’s not a surprise. When we define safety on our campuses, we’re defining safety based on the safety and comfort of privileged students, namely white students. We completely ignore what safety looks like for marginalized people. When we say get cops off campus, we mean re-imagining safety to being inclusive of everyone, and creating a space that’s genuinely safe for even the most marginalized and victimized people.
I’d like to hear a bit more about how y’all organized this coalition. Y’all have created such a depth of resources that empower anyone to take action. What has that process been like?
So initially, our transnational coalition was two different groups. One was primarily students and one was primarily faculty. At some point, we decided to merge groups. We all came together under the charge of creating abolition. The coalition has grown organically, and rapidly.
How can parents, family members, or community members support?
I think that we all know college students. Simply spreading this information is incredibly helpful. Additionally, if you live in a town with a college, you are welcome at our actions. You don’t just have to be a university student. We want to draw on community members because campus policing affects everyone in a campus community. It does not just affect students. I believe at UC Berkeley, Black and Latinx drivers are more likely to be stopped by UCPD. You don’t have to be a student to get stopped by UCPD. These are issues that affect our entire community. And when we say Cops Off Campus, we don’t just mean to limit it to institutions of higher education. We mean, we want cops off of high school campuses. We want cops off of elementary school campuses. We want cops off of diversion schools for youth who are considered to be wayward. We want cops out of our hearts and cops out of our minds. So this is not just a fight for college campuses. This is a full-on abolitionist fight that just so happens to start in our institutions of higher learning.
Our goal is to see cops off of this earth and that’s why that’s our social media handle – @copsoffearth – because this abolition does not stop at our campuses. We know that abolition is the only thing that can keep us safe. Everything else just kicks the can down the road, and continues to endanger Black, Brown, Indigenous, disabled, and queer people. Abolition is the only path to our safety and we know that to be true. That is our goal.
• The Cops Off Campus Coalition organizes to remove police from school campuses.
• Last year, they hosted a Transnational Day of Refusal, a day for students, teachers, and staff to withhold labor from their higher institutions to protest policing.
• This series of action is part of a broader call for abolition, urging institutions to adopt alternative practices that reimagine safety for those most marginalized.