While the UC Santa Barbara campus fell to a hush on the first day of fall quarter instruction, the streets of Isla Vista clamored with energy from an orchestra of pots, pans and impassioned chants to abolish the University of California police.
Thursday’s Cops Off Campus Rally — part of a UC-wide movement to remove police from all UC campuses by Sept. 1, 2021 — drew a crowd of over 100 students, instructors and community members who assembled at I.V. Theater around noon before marching through I.V.
Felice Blake, an assistant professor in UCSB’s English Department, said the systemic racism and mistreatment of marginalized communities is no exception to the UC Police Department (UCPD).
“We are scholars, faculty, staff [and] students who are deeply concerned with what the whole nation has been seeing in regards to the police, their use of violence and murder, especially [on] Black and Brown people,” Blake said. “We know the UC is involved in this, unfortunately, with the astronomical budgets that they give and contribute to UCPD all over our state.”
“We’re here because we want change,” she added. “We want it now, and we’re arguing for abolition.”
Around 12:30 p.m., demonstrators that had been gathering poured onto Embarcadero del Norte, filling up the entire street as they marched — by bike and by foot — toward Pardall Road.
Protesters demanded that the UC divert funds to social services, away from the millions currently spent on policing. During the 2019-2020 academic year, UCSB’s police department budget totaled almost $9.7 million, while the UC’s overall budget for all 10 campuses combined was over $136 million.
“How many times has this university nickel-and-dimed you for everything for your books, for your food, for your right to be in this space?” Felicity Stone-Richards, a political science doctoral candidate at UCSB, asked the crowd.
“They’re saying, ‘We can’t invest in your social services, we can’t invest in your education, we can’t invest in the thing you’re here to do, but we can invest millions of dollars on a police force that abuses you?’”
The rally in I.V. was one of 10 Cops Off Campus events scheduled across the state at UC campuses. The events included a teach-in at UC Riverside, a bike and car caravan at UC Santa Cruz (UCSC), a march through campus at UC Merced and an “abolition party” at UC Los Angeles (UCLA).
Many of the protests’ organizers were also active in the UC-wide Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) movement. The COLA movement is ongoing, but in-person picketing ended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic and after UCSC and UCSB teaching assistants submitted grades and ended their wildcat strike.
“We saw the UC call on the police to quell protests for COLA, and we acknowledge that the police are involved in limiting student’s labor rights,” Blake said, adding that Cops Off Campus will be hosting Zoom teach-ins and 10 days of public education after Thursday’s protest.
Once on Pardall Road, the rally headed south on Embarcadero del Mar, drawing the gaze of onlookers as it made its way around the loop. By 1 p.m., ralliers had gathered in front of the I.V. Foot Patrol (IVFP) building, the local enforcement branch for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, to listen to a series of speeches from attendees.
Representatives from the National Lawyers Guild — an organization designed to protect activist rights — were present, but no police were visibly present at the protest. Events at other UC campuses, such as UCLA, had more police presence, where protestors jumped a set of barricades in front of the UCLA Police Department station.
“Because we are out in the streets, we know the university is now talking about diversity, equity and inclusion,” Blake said. “But we know that you cannot have diversity, equity and inclusion while also giving hundreds of millions of dollars to the police.”
“We are here because it’s time for us to be here, it’s more than time,” Blake said on the steps of the IVFP building. “It’s time for us to make a demand to abolish — and when I say abolish, I mean abolish — the police.”
Other speakers, including Professor Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval, chair of UCSB’s Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies, talked about “the impoverishment of imagination” of those opposed to abolishing the police system.
“There is a different way to become safe. There is a different way to address the reasons why there are different forms of crime. How can we address joblessness, poverty, the poor conditions people have to live in that create crime?” he said.
Sandoval’s remarks brought the event to a close around 1:30 p.m., after which the rally dispersed into the streets. Some attendees lingered at I.V. Theater, however, where strewn signs and miscellaneous cookware marked the end of a high-octane afternoon.