Since the I.V. Tragedy there has been a considerable increase in police presence. This doesn’t really come as a surprise, and neither is it a surprise that there is increasing animosity between police and I.V. residents. There are several issues that need to be discussed about the way the Isla Vista Foot Patrol operate, especially in light of the recent controversial police shootings across the country.
I was in I.V. during both the riots and the shooting earlier this year. I was personally glad that police were there at the time, and I think they handled both issues as best as they could. After the incidents I heard of I.V. residents both praising and hating on the IVFP. The IVFP seem to have done little since then to gain community support and I believe that they are losing it. The IVFP may be a part of our community, but it is obvious that they stand apart from our community. The IVFP seem to be getting restless the same way the out-of-towners during Deltopia did. And they’re taking it out on the residents of I.V. through various forms of harassment. Let me give you examples.
Earlier in the quarter, I was out at a house party on DP. I’ve been to a lot of house parties in I.V., and many of them have been shut down by police while I was there. This particular night the police arrived just after midnight. My friends who lived there drunkenly freaked out, so I answered the door. The officer asked me if I was a resident to which I replied “no.” I was then told that I was trespassing (which I was not, as I was invited) and that I had to leave. I didn’t want to give the officer any reason to become more aggressive with me, so I stepped outside. The rest of the party soon followed, and soon even the residents were out on the street and there was an empty house. The officers, a group of five or six on the street, were just standing around watching us do nothing. One officer had his flashlight out. It wasn’t on, and he was holding it just under the head like a baton. He tossed it in his hands, never turning it on – how could he when his finger was nowhere near the on button? This made me extremely uncomfortable because I could only register the foot long aluminum alloy stick as a weapon. The officer may as well have had his gun out because he was obviously ready for violence. By taking an aggressive stance, the officer created an aggressive atmosphere that could have easily lead to physical confrontation. Aggression is a positive feedback loop, it brings out more and more aggression from both parties unless one backs down. It is apparent then that the police want to intimidate I.V. residents into compliance. This is a problem that needs to be resolved because of what happens when someone isn’t intimidated into submission.
The police are supposed to be a reactionary force. They should not be looking for physical altercations. They definitely should not be instigating a physical altercation. But I believe that this is the direction the IVFP are headed in. This is because of a combination of the police being fairly militarized already and their aggressive and unprofessional attitudes towards I.V. residents and visitors. If you don’t believe me, let’s run through these points.
The average IVFP officer is wearing body armor, a foot long flashlight (which easily doubles as a club), pepper spray, a stun gun and a real gun. And that’s just what I can see by looking at them. Maybe all this is necessary; after all, we did have a riot. But then, riot police were brought in. I don’t think shutting down a house party necessitates so much potential for violence. Handling drunk people on the streets of I.V. and shutting down house parties should not require multiple, redundant forms of lethal and non-lethal force. I think that the militarization of the police, both on the streets and in training, is a direct cause of increased police aggression. These are normal people given excessive force to use at their discretion, and that discretion is more often than not backed up by juries. That kind of power gets to everyone’s heads. And it shows in the attitudes and actions of the officers that their power is getting to their heads. Here’s another anecdote; this happened to me very recently.
I went to I.V. Market to get some red Solo cups. I left the store with my cups and there were two officers outside, one arresting someone sitting on the street curb. The other was talking to two homeless men sitting on the planter; this officer then looked at me and asked, “Are you 21?” I didn’t reply – I didn’t have any alcohol on me or in me, so why would that matter? He asked again, more aggressively this time. Before I answered he took steps towards me and began speaking into his radio. I told him that I’m not because I wasn’t about to lie to the officer. He then told me that there is a new ordinance in Isla Vista that requires everyone that purchases red Solo cups to be 21 or over. Having voted in the recent election and the fact that I wasn’t carded in the market led me to believe that the officer was lying. When I told him that I didn’t believe him he told me that he had, in fact, made up the ordinance. He then told me not to drink and to stay safe.
Okay, so what’s wrong with all this? A lot. First off, a police officer lied to me for no other reason than he was bored. His profession is to make people feel safe and actually keep them safe, and in that moment he was doing neither. He was acting unprofessionally. Lying on the clock to the people you are supposed to be serving and protecting is a sign of total disrespect for the people you are serving and protecting. Before we move on, let me remind you one more time that the police are a PUBLIC SERVICE, funded to SERVE THE PUBLIC. Fucking with the public is not, as far as I know, part of the job description, nor should it be a job perk.
Telling me to stay safe is a nice sentiment, but it ultimately shows an indifference on the part of the officer. His job is to help keep I.V. safe. As a part of the community, I don’t want to create an unsafe space for my community members. But the officer seemed to not consider it his responsibility that I stay safe. So what, then, is the officer’s primary responsibility? Arresting drunk teens and shutting down house parties? That seems to be the case.
If the officer considered himself a part of the I.V. community, he would have at least treated me with some basic human respect (i.e. not lying to me to get a scare out of me). I know this because, having been a part of the I.V. community for over two years now, I have seen the way community members interact with each other. Surprisingly, I’ve been met with overwhelmingly positive reactions to almost everyone I’ve met in I.V. This is from meeting people at parties, at my own house, out on the streets of I.V. and even just in line for food. The people of I.V. don’t seem to be the problem most nights. Even the homeless residents of I.V. are kind, and I have had more positive interactions with them than with police.
Across the country, police shoot to kill, often with debatable justifiability at best. It happens more in areas where the police do not respect those they are supposed to protect. With power on their side and the citizens they serve dehumanized because of age or race, it makes sense that police do not see those they serve as equals. They do not treat people with empathy because they know they do not have to. I fear that this is the sentiment in Isla Vista. The IVFP are militarized and they are paid to essentially babysit adults on the weekend. It comes as no surprise that they do not respect us. But we don’t need babysitting. We need protection from those few people per year who perform extreme acts of violence. If the police do not start to believe this themselves, then it is only a matter of time before they are the perpetrators of violence against us, the residents of Isla Vista, whom they seem to think of as full-sized children.
“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars … Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
We, the residents of Isla Vista, have a responsibility to act with compassion towards the IVFP, despite their actions towards us, and we must facilitate dialogues with the IVFP to recognize our common humanity and let respect for both sides grow mutually. The consequences of not taking empathetic action may be the loss of more lives, and everyone will be to blame.
Benji Lampel can’t wait to turn 21 so he can buy red Solo cups in peace.