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Jackie Robinson Stadium: Prisoners Made Here

Reckoning with stolen lives and stolen land at UCLA

November 1, 2020, marked five months since Jackie Robinson Stadium, UCLA’s baseball stadium, was used by LAPD as a field jail to detain protesters standing up for Black Lives Matter. Arrested in different parts of the city for curfew violations, hundreds were brought on buses to the parking lots of the stadium where they were held for many hours, and without access to restrooms, food, water, information, or medical attention. Disoriented and zipcuffed, detainees ascertained that they were at UCLA because they caught glimpses of Bruins banners through the windows of prison buses. COVID-19 safety and health protocols were willfully violated by LAPD officers and Sheriff’s deputies, a cruel irony given that the Jackie Robinson Stadium parking lots are used during the day as a COVID-19 testing site.

On November 1, faculty and students from UCLA, specifically Divest/Invest UCLA Faculty Collective, No UCPD Coalition, and Cops off Campus Coalition, joined with Black Lives Matter LA, LA CAN, Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, WP4BL, Ground Game LA, Ktown for All, NOlympics LA, People’s City Council, Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, Westside Local of the LA Tenants Union, and Justice LA, for a collective remembrance at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Why did we come together amidst the flurry of pre-election activity for such an action?

First, while all eyes have been trained on the national spectacle of Trumpism, there is much to be concerned about in our liberal cities, including Los Angeles. Aided and abetted by UCLA, LAPD turned the Jackie Robinson Stadium into a space of detention. There has been neither serious apology nor material accountability for such an act. But this incident is not an exception. Repeatedly, spaces of life and joy, including celebrations by Lakers and Dodgers fans, have become police frontlines. Repeatedly, emergency rule has been rolled out to criminalize protest.

We laid down hundreds of tiles printed with handcuffs, designed by the artist Filomena Cruz, on the mundane asphalt of the Jackie Robinson Stadium parking lot, to draw attention to such occupation. We did so to remind institutions such as UCLA that as long as they actively collaborate with police, they will be found to make prisoners, not champions.

Remembrance tiles designed by Filomena Cruz. (Photo by Kemal Cilengir)

As we did so, different police forces including the VA Police, UCPD, and the LAPD, targeted us with harassment and escalating threats, criminalizing a gathering of art and songs, words and marigolds. Here was yet another cruel irony: as we gathered for a collective remembrance of buses of detention, police forces, many of them without jurisdiction at the Jackie Robinson Stadium, brought out a prison transport bus to prepare for our arrest.

As is the case in many parts of our cities and communities, the police create jurisdictions of over-policing. That this takes place on university campuses should be a stark reminder of the urgent necessity of dismantling such unchecked power.

Second, the City of Angels is haunted by the theft of life. Our Dia de los Muertos altar bore witness to these lives, including Joseph Reyes, unhoused neighbor, who died shortly after his belongings were destroyed in a sweep in Koreatown; Mely Corado shot by police in the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s at which she worked; Charly “Africa” Keunang, killed on Skid Row by police, Andres Guardado gunned down by Sheriff’s deputies; and Juan Becerra who fell to his death in unsafe work conditions building SoFi Stadium.

These lives were taken not only through police killings, but also through other forms of state violence, including the criminalization of the unhoused and the abandonment of the essential workers who build and sustain our cities.

What does it mean to remember stolen lives at the Jackie Robinson Stadium?

Repeatedly UCLA has invoked Jackie Robinson as an icon of racial justice. In addition to the stadium, in 2014, it renamed 22 facilities as the Jackie Robinson Athletics and Recreation Complex, and in 2016, unveiled a monument to Robinson featuring his famed number, 42. The monument was funded by the Wasserman Foundation, whose CEO, Casey Wasserman, UCLA alumnus, is Chairman of LA 2028. As a recent convening by NOlympics LA laid out, one cannot support both the Olympics and the Movement for Black Lives. Indeed, the Olympics is serving as an excuse to expand police forces, deepen systems of surveillance, and push forms of urban development that are sure to harm working-class communities of color.

Jackie Robinson Stadium sits on land gifted to the federal government in 1888 for the purpose of being “a national home for disabled volunteer soldiers.” But by the time of the Vietnam War, the VA abandoned such a mandate, eventually leasing chunks of the 387-acre property to various entities including UCLA. In 2011, homeless veterans sued the VA for the lack of housing. When a court ruling declared UCLA’s lease of the Jackie Robinson Stadium illegal, the university joined the lawsuit and argued that its baseball team would be rendered “homeless.” UCLA also started a frenzy of Jackie Robinson namings.

But such gestures cannot cover up the stark fact that UCLA and the VA are trespassers on this land. The 1888 deed of land erases the histories of the Tongva peoples. Today, these “healing acres” are a vast stretch of abandoned buildings and dead gardens, whose obscene vacancy is in juxtaposition to “Veterans Row,” the makeshift shelters of houseless veterans at the fence of the VA campus, and to the thousands of unhoused Angelenos struggling to exist on the city’s sidewalks and freeway underpasses.

Racial justice requires an end to institutional complicity in racial violence and a reckoning with stolen lives and stolen land. This is why we were at Jackie Robinson Stadium on November 1. This is why we demand divestment from policing at UCLA as part of the broader struggle for racial justice in Los Angeles.

Ananya Roy is a member of the Divest/Invest UCLA Faculty Collective.