Tampa, FL – On October 9, student and youth activists held a webinar to launch a national campaign to fight for police accountability, on and off campus, under the headline, “Students and Youth Demand Police Accountability.” The main organizations represented were New Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), AnakBayan USA, and the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.
Normally, SDS and other student groups host their conventions around this time of year. Instead, with the White House refusing to respond to the pandemic and with coronavirus cases on the rise, these student groups took to Zoom to launch a new national campaign.
Speakers promoted the demand for community control of the police and for convictions of killer cops like Rusten Sheskey; the recently bailed-out Derek Chauvin; the recently released killer of Alvin Cole, Joseph Mensah, who faces no charges; and many others who murdered Black folks, as well as Chicano and Latino folks. Then they called for campus police departments to be defunded, disbanded and in some places even held accountable by campus civilian police accountability councils.
They shared stories of their experiences organizing for Justice for Jacob Blake, Elijah McClain and George Floyd. One recurring message was the importance of community control of the police and democratically elected CPACs, or civilian police accountability councils that would hire, fire, investigate, defund and overall control police departments.
Michael Sampson from the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression said, “People have a democratic right to control the institutions that affect their lives. Community control is about oppressed people taking power.”
Adrian Bonifacio from AnakBayan USA compared the tactics of the police here in the U.S. to the military and police tactics used by the U.S.-backed Philippine government of Duterte, which has responded to the pandemic with door-to-door military brutality in place of health care and testing: “As a youth organization fighting fascism and state terror, we know that the police are one of the most dangerous tools for maintaining political repression and violence. Not just Trump, but every president before him has deployed the police to terrorize poor and working class people here in the United States, most particularly Black folks.”
Student activists from SDS and AnakBayan said university police are used to harass student activists and have profiled and even killed community members. Victor Garcia from the University of Wisconsin Parkside SDS pointed out that Rusten Sheskey, who killed Jacob Blake in Kenosha, was actually a university police officer up until 2013.
“Campus police have been getting away with too much for too long,” Garcia said.
One speaker warned students not to fall for university administrations’ talk of diversity measures without any actions to curb their police. At the University of Minnesota, the SDS chapter has signed on to a student government resolution with other student groups that calls for the university to form a campus police accountability council, a campus version of CPAC.
Nadia Shaarawi from the University of Minnesota SDS chapter said, “Our university president has tried to co-opt the language of ‘accountability.’” Shaarawi added, “but where the concessions stop is at community control because they’ll do anything to maintain the status quo.”
In light of the economic crisis, most public universities around the United States have instituted hiring freezes and announced layoffs of workers and large-scale academic cuts. But one place activists found the universities were not cutting from was their police budgets.
Such is the case at the universities of South Florida and North Florida. That is why, speakers said, they are turning an eye towards campus police and calling for the defunding, disbandment and campus control of university police departments.
Enya Silva from the Tampa Bay SDS chapter asked, “If they aren’t here to serve the people, why do they need this money?” Katelyn Scott from the University of North Florida SDS chapter compared this to other wasteful expenditures taken on by the university, pointing out, “UNF says they don’t have the money for things on campus and for community resources, but they have $8 million for a pool.”
Then the student activists recounted their own instances of being detained, tear gassed and repressed by cops and university administrators alike. In one shocking moment, the SDS speaker Victor Garcia made an emergency announcement that a member of UW Parkside SDS had just been arrested protesting Mensah’s release.
But activists made a point of saying that we can’t be afraid in the face of shootings and repression, and that we need to fight back.
Kyle Burroughs from Denver SDS made this point crystal clear. “”The governor didn’t care about the Elijah McClain case for over a year, and he didn’t reopen it out of the kindness of his heart. He opened it out of public pressure. As you fight for justice in this way, the people will come to your side. You just need to be loud enough.”
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