Black Student Union (BSU) hosted “A Week of Education and Action” which began Monday and ends tomorrow to address issues regarding racism and police brutality on a local and national level.

During the week of action there were lectures on law enforcement rights and the importance of education, there was a workshop on the formation of a task force to address police brutality and there was a screening of the drama film “Fruitvale Station” with a follow-up discussion. The week will conclude with the Afrikan Black Coalition Conference at UC Irvine, an annual gathering black students from across the state aiming to build leadership skills among students over the weekend.

According to BSU outreach chair and third-year sociology and black studies major Jamelia Harris, the week not only aims to educate students about prevalent issues related to police brutality and racism, but is also meant to encourage students to take action through strategy building and development.

“Our main goals are to raise community consciousness, develop strategies to enforce police accountability, develop a task force on police brutality, and create productive spaces where we can continue this dialogue and share ideas and visions with one another,” Harris said in an email. “It’s about inspiring developing leaders to emerge.”

The week began on Monday with English professor Felice Blake facilitating a workshop on individual rights and was followed by a lecture on Tuesday by black studies and sociology professor George Lipsitz, who spoke about “education as a tool for dismantling systems of oppression.”

According to Lipsitz, BSU’s week of education and action is an illustration of students’ desire to instigate change in the local and national political climate.

“It shows that intelligent young people don’t want to be passive spectators to what is happening in this world,” Lipsitz said. “It is extremely encouraging for me to see these students engaging in self-education and activism that is designed to know about the world but also to change it.”

Lipsitz also said BSU’s grassroots mobilization is a vital part of prompting societal change, especially in light of recent events regarding police brutality that have put issues of race in the national spotlight.

“We spend a lot of time looking for leaders,” Lipsitz said. “But we can solve our own problems. Nobody is going to do for us what we fail to do for ourselves.”

According to Harris, the involvement of Blake and Lipsitz in the week of events is crucial for the continuation of the Black Lives Matter movement, a black rights movement ongoing since the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012 and amplified by the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner last year.

“Dr. George Lipsitz has been called to serve and guest speak in Ferguson following the non-indictments, and Dr. Felice Blake holds a significant position in the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and has devoted much of her work to servicing marginalized communities,” Harris said in an email. “We’re blessed to have faculty members who have demonstrated their commitment to progression within the Black community through several avenues.”

According to Harris, police brutality against citizens occurs both nationally and locally, including in Santa Barbara.

“SB is not innocent or estranged from the poisons of police brutality,” Harris said in an email. “In 2013, the amount of deaths caused by SBPD was double that of deaths caused by civilian murders.”

However, Santa Barbara Police Department Sgt. Riley Harwood said the statistic is not valid and cannot be linked to police brutality.

“In 2013 we had two officer-involved shootings, one of which the suspect was killed,” Harwood said. “In 2013 we had more people killed in vehicular homicides than officer-involved shootings, so I don’t really know where that [statistic] is coming from.”

According to third-year global studies major and BSU member Harper Howell, the topics discussed during the week allow students like her to question the role of law enforcement in American culture.

“It’s not the fact that all police are bad people, it’s just we need to question the way that they are being taught,” Howell said. “So that’s something as a nation we need to start getting involved in, and I’m glad we’re doing it here.”


A version of this story appeared on page 6 of Thursday, January 15, 2015’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.