In the wake of Black Lives Matter, some students ask for funding from campus police while administration has other plans
Even though it was over a year ago and 3,000 kilometers away, the murder of George Floyd continues to reverberate across the country. The timing and images of his death renewed a heated debate over the state of US policing and shone the spotlight on its role in the United States. world leader in mass incarceration.
Some argue that the system itself is down, while others might view Floyd’s murder as freakish and only existing on the fringes.
In no institution is this felt more than in schools, where social justice activists say the use of police on campus is fueling the school to prison pipeline, which traps young people, disproportionately those of black and Hispanic / Latino descent, in a cycle of criminalization that ends up self-fulfilling.
Last year the two Unified San José and Union on the east side school districts voted to end their partnerships with campus police for this reason. AT San José State University, student organizations recently organized themselves to ask their school to do the same.
Because community colleges are among the last state educational institutions to back in person On hearing, the debate is just starting to kick in at De Anza College, located in the suburban city of Cupertino.
When Black Lives Matter protests erupted nationwide, the school was quick to publish several statements denounce racism and began to host multiracial panel conversations this continue to this day.
During these conversations, De Anza’s students began to wonder if the school was to live to its goal of creating an equitable and safe educational environment, especially for those most affected
Tamara Williams, a De Anza graduate shortly after Floyd’s murder, was the first to speak. She said to La Voz that year of the harassment she suffered from campus police, who declined to comment on her claims and questioned whether the money spent on armed police could perhaps be reallocated to scholarships studies and resources for black students that were on the chopping block years earlier.
Today, these reflections have spread to the real political positions of the student government, starting with the “Fund FHDA Students! “ campaign that tried to stop the hiring of two new officers for the district police department in late 2020.
In the current 2021-22 school year, the president and vice-president of the student government of De Anza both stated that the definancing or reducing the police presence on campus was a goal of their new administration.
“I don’t really see the use of having police officers on campus, especially knowing how uncomfortable they can make students of color after last year’s unrest,” said Sarah Morales. , vice-president of DASG. “When it comes to campus security, we need to look at the root of the problem and look for other options so that we don’t always depend on the police.
DASG president Anahi Ruvalcaba told La Voz in November that she viewed the issue in an almost practical sense.
“Their main responsibility is to hand out parking tickets,” she said. “We firmly believe that the funding allocated to them would be better used for our students. ”
In order to implement such changes, Ruvalcaba and Morales must work with faculty and staff, whose tenures will endure even after student leaders leave or transfer to other universities.
When Lloyd Holmes was named De Anza’s new chairman Days later Floyd’s murder he said he recognized the moment and understood that as a “black man who has lived through the experiences of our many black students, faculty and staff,” there was a need for “real change”.
But on the issue of maintaining or reforming the police presence on campus, it seems he already has strong disagreements with student leadership.
“If getting rid of the police is one of the student government priorities, how did they get there if they are supposed to represent all of our students? Said Holmes.
He added that while the campus is not dangerous, he felt that students could be lulled into a false sense of security when they “don’t really know what’s going on.”
“So I wonder what research you did before you released the statement that says this is what all students want,” Holmes said. “It’s interesting, when I first got here, the people who came forward for the first time to talk about their negative interactions with the police always seemed to refer to experiences with the San Jose police. It was never our police on campus that they were talking about.
Holmes has the thankless task of balancing these two perspectives. On the one hand, activists are calling for him and district leaders to divert police funding to much-needed student resources; on the other hand, he must define the campus security perimeter with a limited police force and the return students on campus.
By Anza actions its law enforcement resources with its sister school Foothill College. Together, the two schools currently have around six officers and two sergeants.
Although students at both schools are still primarily in distance learning, campus police have handled a variety of documented incidents in their police blotter. For example, officers provide courtesy services, such as unlocking doors for teachers, occupational safety for sports games, and investigating more serious offenses such as harassment or vandalism.
Marcus Carson is a California State Police Officer and has been patrolling the De Anza and Foothill campuses for four months now. He said that while things may seem slow for students who aren’t in person, he and his colleagues still rely on and off campus.
“To be in law enforcement, you have skills that are perishable if you don’t use them,” Carson said. “So when there is downtime on campus, I look for things off campus to keep my investigative skills up to scratch.
He added that he helped deal with DUIs on the freeways between campuses and made an effort to engage with the students in preparation for their return.
“Instead of sitting in the car, I try to talk to the students whenever we’re in contact, answer their questions and sometimes help them get to where they need to be,” Carson added. “I don’t feel like there is any kind of ‘hate’ on their part. They were mostly positive so I can feel the support from the students.
Supporters of police reform argue that there should be alternatives armed officers who respond to each incident. To reduce the risk of deadly confrontations, they suggest that the affected community police itself or at least work with local authorities to defuse tensions or deal with non-violent issues.
At De Anza, some of this thinking has already been implemented for some time. In addition to the eight officers mentioned, the department also employs three unarmed “community service officers”, commonly referred to as CSOs, and even hires students, known as “student police assistants” or PSAs, to perform administrative duties and conduct cases. patrols.
In this model, CSOs and PSAs act as a kind of buffer and only escalate issues to agents when there is something they cannot or cannot handle.
Khanh Vy Ho, 21, major in economics, has been a student assistant in the police force since September 2021. She said her superiors were “nice people” who prepared her well to communicate with students and that they insisted on it. that his team was friendly. to everyone “to make people feel good about letting us help them, which is the goal of our work. ”
“I think it’s good that the school has a police station. It means that they really care about security and invest in it, “Ho said.” In our staff we have people who are Mexican, Russian, Vietnamese and French. We love each other and we all really support each other. Racism is not a problem at our station.
At its peak, before the pandemic ended life on campus, Ho said the PSA team once had more than 25 students, but today that number is closer to six or eight depending on availability. .
As an international student with limited employment options, she said that PSA’s work has helped her stay on track in school while also supporting her financially. She also gives part-time private lessons in the economics department and mentions that she is allowed to study and do her homework if the work at the station is slow.
All this to say that the question of how the De Anza community is moving forward in this debate remains unclear.
The call for police funding also comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated socio-economic inequalities. Some claim police are getting funds out of control while student government has had to cut back budget available and even took a hiatus a week earlier this quarter, citing senator exhaustion.
Parts of the DASG’s operating budget are also earmarked for income generated by the De Anza flea market, which was closed during the pandemic.
Michelle Fernandez said she felt for both sides now that she had spent time as a student administrator at De Anza District Council, bringing the student concerns to leaders who are truly in a position to put into practice. implement change.
“As a person of color, I understand these negative feelings towards the police and would rather have some of the money that funds them go to us,” Fernandez said. “On the other hand, I understand wanting the security of our campuses. I have meetings that sometimes end late at night and having that kind of presence on campus is important to me as a woman.
She added that a change in policing on campus doesn’t have to be immediate, and that perhaps Foothill-De Anza can follow in the footsteps of Peralta Community College who voted to phase out their partnership with the local sheriff last year.
Until then, De Anza students who have advocated for police reform wonder what will happen to their efforts as time passes and institutional memory fades.
“We can work as hard as we want, but most of us won’t be here next year,” Morales said. “That’s why it’s hard to get things done. Many times our agenda is just not consistent with those who step up to these positions in the Senate. So after we leave, who continues to advocate for these specific issues? “