Who are you and how did you get started?
We are a coalition of students and workers at colleges and universities nationwide organizing to abolish policing on campuses. All of our affiliated campuses started working on our respective campaigns in summer 2020, driven by the police executions of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and so many others, and by the uprisings against policing nationwide. Our movement to remove cops from campus comprise one part of these uprisings for Black lives, arguably the largest in U.S. history.
Each of our campus campaigns began and continue to work locally. Our coalition came together organically, through preexisting relationships among organizers across institutions and connections made through teach-ins and similar events. We began initially exchanging challenges and strategies and hosted our first national strategy call in October 2020.
As we grow into a larger formation, we seek to support each others’ campaigns by strategizing collectively, crowd-sourcing solutions to shared and unique challenges, and sharing resources. By naming ourselves the Cops Off Campus Coalition with dozens of #CopsOffCampus, PoliceFree, and CareNotCops campus chapters proliferating across the U.S. and Canada, we are communicating to each other and to our university administrators the full extent of our collective power.
We seek to continue to grow and foster cops off campus campaigns nationally at a range of higher education institutions–SLACs, public research universities, private elite universities, state colleges, community colleges, and so on. We recognize that each of our affiliates faces challenges both unique to their particular institution and shared across the neoliberal academy that invests its resources into law-and-order and social control, rather than their core missions of education, research, and community engagement.
What is are your demands? What are your goals?
Our growing coalition demands cops off of all campuses be they public or private, K-12, university, or college. Further, we demand the abolition of all policing. For more, check out our Demands page!
Why Abolish (Campus) Police?
Amidst a global pandemic, relentless state and vigilante violence against Black, brown, and Indigenous people, and national calls for abolition, schools across North America have committed to increasing police budgets. College police forces are increasingly militarized. The University of California has a history of using its police departments to brutalize students and to surveil and assault activists. UC also has a history of using its research and prestige to lend academic credibility to racialized policing and incarceration regimes off campus and around the world. In the past decade, California State University police officers have killed 2 unarmed people of color and kept jail on the CSU Northridge campus! Despite being required by law to make info on use of force incidents public, the UC has rarely complied. Like all policing, policing on UC and CSU campuses is violent by design and cannot be reformed.
Do you want all policing gone (municipal, county, private security companies, ICE), or just campus police?
We say Cops Off Campus, Cops Off Earth. Our immediate goals include the abolition of all policing, but we focus on our respective campuses and the simultaneous reinvestment of funds towards reparative public goods: education, cost of living adjustment for student workers, housing, mental healthcare, and other means of transformative social justice.
What do you mean by abolition?
Following decades of abolitionist praxis (and, really, centuries of revolutionary praxis), we understand abolition as defined so succinctly by Ruth Wilson Gilmore: “Abolition is about presence, not absence. It’s about building life-affirming institutions.” Or, in the words of Angela Y. Davis, abolition “is not only, or not even primarily, about abolition as a negative process of tearing down, but it is also about building up, about creating new institutions.”
Put differently, abolition works to dismantle and eliminate institutions of state and capitalist violence and harm, like policing, prisons, surveillance, and other techniques of social control. More important, abolition works to build the world we want in its place, creating new structures for economic distribution, political empowerment, and social equity. One of abolition’s guiding principles is that life is precious.
Abolitionists seek to eliminate institutions of violent harm, rather than reform them, because more than 200 years of U.S. history has proven that these systems were designed to maintain social control over a social order rooted in white supremacy, patriarchal subordination, capitalist dispossession, and settler colonialism. The anticipated outcome of these harmful systems is the most incarcerated country in world history; regular murders of minoritized people by police; and the valuing of property over all life. When we witness yet another cop killing of a Black person, we see the system doing what it was intended to do.
Police forces have had more than 200 years to reform themselves. More than 200 years of history shows that reform is designed to fail at what it purports to do. Reform only legitimizes, empowers, and provides more resources to institutions of harm, ultimately widening the scope and intensity of their destructive power.
With this history informing our work, we understand that the best way to reduce the violence of prisons, policing, and other modes of social control is to abolish them and replace them with institutions of reciprocity, accountability, and mutual care.
You are a group of academics – are you collaborating with community members?
Abolition is about dissolving the borders that policing creates between universities and their surrounding communities. So, yes, our coalition building goes well beyond the university! In addition to being in and of the surrounding communities where our schools are located, we have and are always working to deepen relationships with a variety of grassroots organizations and trade unions, especially those that have been university-impacted.
Do you just want police-prohibited university campuses?
We want campus cops eliminated. We also seek to dismantle the connections between universities and other police forces at the local, county, state, and federal level, such as collusions with Immigration and Customs Enforcement that menace our undocumented, DACA-mented, and international students. This type of collusion allowed for UCLA’s collaboration with the LAPD to convert Jackie Robinson stadium into an outdoor prison to incarcerated BLM protesters on June 1, 2020 in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota on May 25th 2020.
We understand that campus cops became full service organizations in response to a prior moment of crisis and to quash the uprisings of the Second Reconstruction during the 1960s and 1970s. Students at college campuses across the nation rose up in this global moment of revolution against the same forces we confront today. In response, colleges and universities began investing more resources and power campus cops to protect their property and control their students.
What about mandatory reporting on campuses?
Most colleges and universities have instituted policies that require administrators, faculty, and other workers with supervisory responsibilities (often called “Designated Reporters” or “Responsible Employees”) to report disclosures of sexual violence and sexual harassment to the Title IX office, regardless of whether the survivor consents to have this information shared or not.
Contrary to popular belief, mandatory disclosure is NOT legally required of institutions of higher education. The 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter” from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights upon which many of these policies were based recommends but does not require that campuses designate mandatory reporters. Further, campuses can decide for themselves who falls under the “Responsible Employee” category. For example, the University of Oregon does not require faculty to be designated reporters. [Note: DCL 2011 and the 2014 related guidance was rescinded in 2017.]
Title IX offices operate on an adjudicatory model that prioritizes investigating whether an incident occurred or not, and if found to have occurred, what kinds of sanctions and punishments are meted out to the perpetrator. Thus, even when Title IX processes are not linked to the literal police or to the criminal legal system, it is organized around a logic of punishment. As an AAUP report notes, Title IX policies are often implemented to protect institutions from investigations and lawsuits, rather than to advance gender equality or to protect or support survivors.
We already know that many survivors do not have access to the criminal legal system. We also know that the small percentage who do pursue criminal charges find the experience retraumatizing and violent, and do not feel that justice has been served. Further, focusing on punishment as a response to sexual violence refortifies the police state and replicates state violence, making survivors in general, and in particular survivors of color and Indigenous survivors, LGBTQIA survivors, immigrant and refugee survivors, incarcerated survivors, and many other groups more vulnerable, rather than less.
Shifting away from a responsible employees model can only work with corresponding training and accountability for employees to understand how to best respond to reports and support survivors, be aware of the appropriate referrals for support, and the accountability process for employees who leverage their power as a means to silence/dissuade reporters/survivors.
Finally, transformative justice advocates have developed better models for building communities based on care and for addressing harm through genuine accountability instead of policing and punishment. An important part of any abolitionist movement is mobilizing against policies that seek to remedy harm through mandatory reporting, investigation, adjudication, and punishment, and demanding the redistribution of resources toward building alternative relations of care and mutuality.
What’s wrong with task forces to help reform the police?
Dylan Rodríguez, noted abolition scholar and Cops Off Campus Coalition member (with UCFTP in California), has written a clear argument against task forces here: Campus Safety Forces as Police Power and a specific statement for UC Riverside FTP.