[Editor’s note]: We do not want to speak on behalf of Black students in this editorial but instead use the information we’ve learned while reporting on the UC Police Department lawsuits to hold UC Santa Barbara and the University of California system accountable.
UCSB and the UC system at large are complicit in the police brutality that has incited protests and escalated violence across the country in recent days. UCSB’s failure to address the lawsuits against its campus police department and the UC’s failure to be transparent about police misconduct throughout the system is unacceptable.
Police officers, current or former, are responsible for the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and countless other Black people — neglecting to say this is to conceal the injustice of their deaths.
Chancellor Henry T. Yang, in an email sent out on Saturday afternoon that attempted to acknowledge the pain that these deaths have caused Black students, did not once mention the role that police officers played in these deaths.
Yang sent this email in the middle of a demonstration for George Floyd organized by a Black UCSB student, Michael Sanders, that drew close to 1,000 people. Many people at the demonstration condemned Yang for his empty words and his failure to show up that day. Others referenced the lawsuits filed against the UC Police Department (UCPD) on the Santa Barbara campus.
In May 2019, the Nexus reported that there were three active lawsuits against current and former members of the UCPD. Since then, more current and former officers have filed their own lawsuits. There are currently six active lawsuits against the department.
These lawsuits allege serious misconduct by police officers within the department, including widespread racism and sexism.
To date, the university has failed to publicly address these lawsuits, or student concerns that stemmed from learning about them. Students, staff and faculty did not hear a single public assurance that these lawsuits or the misconduct alleged in them would be independently investigated, or that the department would be making any internal changes.
When the Nexus tried to interview Brock after he was first hired in April 2019 and after The Current published a story about his “open-door policy” and “the importance of creating relationships with students and building trust between the student body and the department,” we were stonewalled.
Any emails we sent to Brock were either ignored or directed to the public affairs department, who told us that Brock was too busy to speak with us directly and that we should email our questions to them, despite us emailing numerous times over the course of a month and offering flexibility in interview times.
The lawsuits are also not being dealt with publicly. Despite continuously reaching out to the lawyers, the Nexus has not been able to learn much about the progress of any internal mediations. As of April 2020, the university has been conducting an internal investigation into the allegations, according to a lawyer representing several plaintiffs in the lawsuits.
To this day, the student body knows very little about what is happening within the UCSB Police Department.
Last December, Yang announced the creation of the Police Advisory Board. A memo about the board’s creation was posted to the Office of the Chancellor website, but there was no campus-wide email sent to the student body. Despite its goal of “enhanc[ing] communication between the police department and the campus community,” not a single email has been sent to students about the board’s progress.
Police officers across the nation are protected by a lack of transparency and accountability within the criminal justice system that the UC and UCSB are perpetuating.
If Yang wants to condemn and address the effects of police misconduct, he needs to start on this campus. Start by being transparent with the student body about what changes were made after the lawsuits were filed and about the disciplinary records of all the officers within the department. Students on this campus deserve to know who is policing them.
Beyond UCSB, the UC system as a whole needs to do more. UC President Janet Napolitano and Board of Regents Chair John A. Pérez sent out a statement on Sunday condemning the recent racist killings of Black people and committing to “re-examine our own practices and ensure we continue to implement the recommendations of the Presidential Task Force on Universitywide Policing that we established two years ago.”
This is not enough.
A former UC student journalist, Gabe Schneider, recently published an article titled “UC Campuses Have Disclosed Virtually No Records Under Police Transparency Law,” that drew attention to how little transparency there is within UC police departments across the state.
Schneider noted that the UC system “is aware of more than 200 incidents involving police use of force on its 10 campuses in recent years. Nearly half of those incidents resulted in the injury of an officer or another person.”
“Yet only two police use of force case files have been released publicly,” Schneider wrote.
“That’s despite California Senate Bill 1421, a landmark transparency law that went into effect last year. It requires police to turn over internal records involving police shootings and use of force, and instances of sexual assault or lying by on-duty officers,” Schneider continued.
The UC needs to release these records, and it needs to be more transparent with students about the misconduct within its police departments. It is not enough to write platitudes in a statement, and it is certainly not enough to say that the UC will “continue to implement the recommendations of the Presidential Task Force on Universitywide Policing” without explaining what those steps will look like, and how students will directly be impacted.
The UC system and UCSB cannot claim to condemn these acts of police violence across the nation while simultaneously shielding records of misconduct within its own police departments.
We encourage anyone with an affiliation with UCSB or Isla Vista to submit an op-ed to the Nexus’ opinion section at firstname.lastname@example.org.