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Education Must Divest from the Police

A night spent detained at UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium and what it represents for our over-policed education system

The LAPD corralled us on Main Street between Fourth and Fifth Street. It was 6:15 P.M. on June 1st, fifteen minutes after curfew began. The group of 100 peaceful protestors gathering in the name of George Floyd sat down on the pavement and prepared ourselves for arrest.

On the prison bus, spirits remained high despite wrists and shoulders aching from our zip-tie handcuffs. The sixteen men alongside me in the bus’s rear cage checked on one another frequently, introducing themselves, sharing their reasons for joining this movement. Police brutality, income inequality, poor social services — despite our nights ending identically, the reasons we had taken to the streets varied widely.

For several protestors, this process was old news. A young man of color announced, “they’re gonna take us somewhere downtown, fingerprint us and everything. They take your shoelaces and all. Last time it took twelve hours.”

After the bus shifted into gear, another arrestee stood to look out of the five-inch grate offering us a view of the outside. “We’re on I-10 West! We’re leaving downtown!” As we eventually slowed, I struggled to my feet and looked out for myself. I saw what one would expect from a parking lot converted into a police field headquarters: vehicles, generators, tents, tables, and scores of cops. What was unexpected was the lot’s backdrop: a baseball field adorned with the UCLA Bruins logo. We were at Jackie Robinson Stadium, the publicly funded university’s baseball field. A protestor awkwardly pulled out his phone, hands still bound, and inspected a GPS app from his hip. “It was a COVID testing site,” he said with a laugh.

Several buses held 40 protestors each in tight spaces for up to seven hours during a pandemic that night. We had no access to food, water, restrooms, or medical attention. Unsupervised detainees on another bus called 911 themselves when one protestor began feeling faint. No police wore masks.

Two days after Mayor Eric Garcetti shut down the City’s COVID testing centers, our police state replaced a needed medical facility with an inhumane viral breeding ground. Here, at a field named after the man who broke baseball’s racial barrier, we were detained and processed for advocating for Black lives. Public outcry forced the police to vacate the location the following night.

As the authoritarian LAPD continues to embarrass itself with its violence during this nationwide uprising, I feel no need to criticize them further here. However, UCLA, who initially claimed that the police used the site without their knowledge or permission, remains culpable. This institution is one of many schools that maintains a troubling relationship with the police. Throughout this country, educational institutions accommodate and protect police interests rather than Black lives or the safety and well-being of their own students.

As the University of Minnesota severed all ties with the Minneapolis Police Department, UCLA fell asleep at the wheel. Their shame, however, should be felt widely. Some may recall how UCLA’s collaboration echoes a decision by USC to allow the National Guard on its campus during the 1992 Uprising. That school, my alma mater, continues to maintain an antagonistic relationship with the neighborhood of South Los Angeles, with cameras and security guards surveilling public streets near campus nightly.

Meanwhile, an inspection of Los Angeles Unified School District data by UCLA shows this to be a pervasive problem in our city. While students across Los Angeles struggle with housing, food insecurity and access, and mental health problems, LAUSD dumps money into maintaining its own police force. LASPD made 3,389 arrests and issued 2,724 citations between 2014 and 2017. These faceless statistics gloss over the fact that the arrestees are indeed children. Unsurprisingly, the data showed Black students made up 25% of total encounters with the school system’s police, despite being only 9% of the student body. The school-to-prison pipeline is a well-oiled machine: once our schools expel a child, they are three times more likely to contact the juvenile justice system within a year, according to the ACLU.

The response to bloodshed at the hands of the police has been too tepid for too long. The time for our educational institutions to resist is now. LAPD outposts at universities to process protest arrestees is three steps in the wrong direction. The answer is clear and has been for decades: we must divest all our systems from the police with urgency. Doing so will save countless lives.

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